It seemed to be falling perfectly for the Ravens. A draft expected to be dominated by defense featured an early run on offensive players. The three top receivers went off the board in the top 10 picks, taking away that option for the Ravens.
However, everything else was in play. Two Alabama defensive standouts, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and inside linebacker Reuben Foster, were still available despite both being projected to go within the first dozen picks. Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, seen as a virtual lock for the top 10, also was sitting there.
But after listening to trade offers, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome decided to stand pat and pulled off a significant draft surprise, taking Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the 16th overall pick. Humphrey was considered the second or third best cornerback in the draft, but even he acknowledged that he was surprised to be selected by the Ravens because he hadn’t visited Baltimore in the predraft process.
“To be honest, I wasn’t even paying attention to what was on the screen really,” said Humphrey, who watched the draft with family and friends in Birmingham, Ala. “That’s how surprised I was because my name got called.”
Newsome said the Ravens tried to trade in the “teens” at one point Thursday night, presumably to get in position to select Temple linebacker Haason Reddick who went to the Arizona Cardinals at 13. However, they were unable to pull off the deal and team officials said that it reached the point where Humphrey was clearly the top guy on their board.
“He was by far the best player that we were going to take,” Newsome said. “If we were not going to take him, somebody was going to have to offer us something really good to move back.”
The Ravens’ first-round selection is the son of former NFL running back Bobby Humphrey, a first-round pick by the Denver Broncos in the 1989 supplemental draft. Humphrey, an Alabama native and a member of the Crimson Tide’s national championship-winning team in 2016, was the second cornerback off the board, following Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore who went 11th to the New Orleans Saints.
He is the fourth cornerback the Ravens have taken in the first round in team history, following Duane Starks in 1998, Chris McAlister in 1999 and Jimmy Smith in 2011. After taking Smith, a player Humphrey is compared to, with the 27th overall pick in 2011, the Ravens had drafted six cornerbacks, but all of them were taken in the fourth round or later.
Humphrey’s selection continues the Ravens’ aggressive overhaul of their secondary this offseason. The Ravens had already signed veteran Brandon Carr in March to join Smith and 2016 fourth-round pick Tavon Young, who had a strong rookie year. They also added top free-agent safety Tony Jefferson and re-signed fellow safety Lardarius Webb, who they had previously released.
Taking Humphrey underscores their recent problems at cornerback as the Ravens have struggled to keep Smith and other cornerbacks healthy and several of their other cover guys have played poorly.
With the additions of Humphrey and Carr, the Ravens are as deep at cornerback as they’ve been in a while. Behind their top four, they have three young corners who they believe have potential: Maurice Canady, a sixth-round pick last year, Robertson Daniel and Sheldon Price.
“He’s a great fit for us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s an opportunity to really strengthen our defense. We’re trying to build a great defense here. That’s one of our ambitions and he’s going to help us do that.
“We’ve gone after a portion of our team – the back end, the secondary – with a vengeance,” Harbaugh added. “We’ve done a great job as an organization in terms of getting that done. We’ve got some really good players back there and there’s going to be competition and we’re going to be darn tough to throw the ball against.”
A two-year starter for the Crimson Tide, Humphrey had five interceptions and 19 pass breakups in his college career. While there are some questions about his instincts and ball skills, Humphrey is 6 feet and 197 pounds and has the prototypical size, length and speed that teams are looking for in cornerbacks.
At his best, Humphrey is extremely aggressive in press coverage at the line of scrimmage and is able to use his size and strength to knock receivers off their routes or funnel them toward the sideline, where they can’t make a play.
He ran a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine so he has the necessary speed to stay with receivers on deep routes, and he also has the acceleration to break on balls quickly. While playing two years in the Southeastern Conference – he redshirted as a freshman – Humphrey was tested by some of the top receivers in the country.
Humphrey is also a physical player who fights through blocks and is a willing tackler both down the field and taking on running backs at the line of scrimmage.
Humphrey did fight consistency problems at times, and some scouts have expressed concern about breakdowns in his technique and eye discipline. His ball skills, an area the Ravens have focused on with their defensive backs in recent years to try to improve the number of forced turnovers, also don’t stand out.
However, the Ravens obviously feel comfortable that his skills will translate well to the NFL, and he’ll provide even more depth to a defense that they’ve spent considerable resources trying to improve this offseason.
They are also still expected to add a pass rusher to the group during the draft. The Ravens have six more picks in the three-day draft, which continues with rounds two and three Friday. The Ravens have one pick in the second round and two in the third. Rounds four through seven will be Saturday.
“In looking where our pick is, which is [pick] 47, I believe, we’re able to kind of calculate based on the last 22 years where that range of players is going to come from. We think it’s a really good area on our list. We think we’ll get a good player. We’re very sure of that,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “The same holds true with 74 and 78 as well. So I think tomorrow’s a critical day for the Ravens for our coaches and scouts. I’m excited about it. I’ve been making comparisons in my own mind to the fourth round for us last year when we had five picks, so it’s a big challenge for us and we’re excited about that and we embrace it. And hopefully we’re a lot better tomorrow night.”