In a mere five starts this past season, Marlon Humphrey proved that the Ravens made the right decision using the 16th overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft on him. In fact, he played so well that the team has a tough decision to make with three starting-caliber cornerbacks in Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Humphrey and only two starting jobs.
Humphrey has accomplished enough to warrant consideration for increased playing time, but he declined to lobby for a promotion over Smith, who tore his left Achilles tendon Dec. 3 before earning a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
“That lies in the coaches’ hands,” Humphrey said a day after the team’s season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 31. “I know that Jimmy will come back better than ever. I don’t know if everyone knows, but he was playing more than half the year with a messed-up Achilles and was doing pretty well and I think would definitely have been a Pro Bowl guy if that [suspension] report didn’t come out. For him to do that coming off of injury, it’s definitely huge.”
Humphrey, the first cornerback off the bench when Smith or Carr needed a breather, held up well in his rookie year. He ranked second on the defense in pass breakups with 11 and intercepted a pair of passes. Pro Football Focus ranked Humphrey fifth among cornerbacks in lowest passer rating and lowest catch percentage allowed at the end of the regular season.
But if Humphrey was annoyed about how the defensive coaches eased him into the rotation, he didn’t say so.
“I enjoyed the way I came into the season, not coming in as the starter,” he said. “At the beginning, I never really enjoyed special teams as much as I have this year. I never thought I could have that much fun playing special teams, even running out on kickoffs and playing corner on punt returns. I was definitely blessed to receive some reps at the [No.] 1 or 2 corner. On all the teams that I’ve been on in the past, the third corners never really played as long as the [Nos.] 1 and 2 corners were healthy, and as the season came on, Jimmy went down and I was able to get out there and start. So they definitely used me in a pretty good way, and I felt like when I had to go in and start, I was ready to go.”
New defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale voiced high aspirations for Humphrey.
“I think he has tremendous upside,” Martindale said Thursday in his introductory news conference after succeeding Dean Pees, who announced his retirement Jan. 1. “He is tough. He is competitive. He has a great skill set. You guys have seen it; you have covered this team long enough. The jump from their rookie year to their sophomore season, where they actually get a little bit of an offseason to recover and start lifting again … he is going to take off.”
Because Smith’s injury occurred late in the season, there is some concern he might not be healthy in time for next season’s opener, which would pave the way for Humphrey to start opposite Carr. To that end, Humphrey sought out secondary coach Chris Hewitt and defensive backs coach Mike Macdonald to get an assessment of which areas of his game he needs to improve.
“Saw a little bit of off coverage,” Humphrey said. “So [I want to] continue to work on my ball skills. That’s one of the things I had to work on a lot before I came to the NFL. I had some pretty bad plays in college. So off coverage and ball skills and becoming faster and stronger.”