After the 2011 campaign that Lardarius Webb enjoyed, many observers were quick to favorably compare the cornerback to his peers like the Denver Broncos' Champ Bailey, the New York Jets' Darrelle Revis and the Green Bay Packers' Charles Woodson.
Webb himself, however, isn't as eager to jump into that discussion.
"Not yet," he said when asked if he deserved to be mentioned with the top cornerbacks in the NFL. "A lot of people are trying to put me there, but not yet. I still have a ways to go. It starts this year. Last year was just a step in the right direction, but if I want to be great and I want to be that guy that I said I wanted to be in my rookie year, then I have to keep doing what I do. I have to continue it and have an even bigger season this year."
Webb, the organization's third-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft, laid down a strong foundation last season, leading the defense with 20 pass breakups and five interceptions in the regular season and three more in the playoffs. Webb, who ranked sixth on the team in tackles with 68 and also finished with a sack and a forced fumble, generated some buzz for Pro Bowl consideration before those honors eventually went to Bailey, Revis and Johnathan Joseph of the Houston Texans in the AFC.
As far as Ravens cornerback Cary Williams is concerned, Webb is just as good as those cornerbacks.
"I think he's a great cover corner," Williams said . "He can play both inside and outside. Regardless of if you put him in the slot or you put him on the outside, he can go out there and cover everybody. He has great speed, great ball skills."
Webb's success last season tends to overshadow the fact that he spent most of his senior year at Division I-AA Nicholls State as the starting strong safety. Jeremy Atwell, the linebackers coach for the Colonels before being promoted to defensive coordinator during Webb's final season, said the departure of Kareem Moore — who was drafted in the sixth round in 2008 by the Washington Redskins — necessitated moving Webb from cornerback.
Atwell, who has watched several Ravens games when they are broadcast on local television in Thibodaux, La., said Webb appears much more refined since his playing days at Nicholls State.
"I've watched his footwork get better," Atwell said. "He transitions better out of the break. He used to have a little bit of a rounded edge to it. Now it's a crisper transition where he gets downhill quicker and just breaks on the ball. His technique is just better."
Webb, who confirmed Atwell's observation, directed much of the credit to secondary coach Teryl Austin, who worked with Webb on staying square while backpedaling.
"He didn't get turned as often because a lot of times, when you get turned early in the down, now the receiver has kind of got you at his mercy," Austin said. "So he's cleaned up some of those things in addition to a lot of other areas. But I think when you clean up the basic part of your game, it helps every other aspect. And I think when he got some success doing it that way, then his confidence level rose and he started making plays he's capable of making."
Webb graded out as the fourth-best cornerback in the NFL in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus which uses a formula after reviewing games. After grabbing four interceptions in the Raven's first 11games , Webb had just one interception in the last five games of the regular season.
Former Ravens wide receiver and current WBAL Radio analyst Qadry Ismail said he's not surprised that Webb saw fewer opportunities to make plays as the season unfolded.
"If I'm a quarterback, I would look for weakness in an opposing team's defense, and if I see Lardarius in the slot, and I just watched the last five game tapes and he gave the top-level receivers fits, I'll think, 'Well, maybe there's another [weakness] on the outside,'" Ismail said. "That's the cool thing about having a reputation. Your reputation isn't just by word of mouth. It's also by the eye in the sky and the eye in the sky doesn't lie. If he's putting up some strong tape, then guys are kind of going to go to the lesser of two or three evils."
Webb is cognizant that no one will remember last season if he doesn't play as well this year.
But more than personal numbers, Webb said he can cement his legacy if he can help the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans in February.
"I just want to win the Super Bowl," he said. "I want to be a starting corner that won the Super Bowl. All of that other stuff doesn't even matter. I don't even have to go to the Pro Bowl. If I can go to the Super Bowl, then we're all great. Then you can compare me and ask me if I'm the best corner in the league, and I'll guarantee that I will tell you that I am after I have that ring on my finger. But I don't have that ring, so not yet."