Marlon Humphrey living up to first-round billing for Ravens

NFL veterans generally resist lavishing praise on rookies.

They've seen too many guys flame out after an initial burst of promise, too many first-round picks who never could hack it on Sundays. Skepticism is their default setting.


Talk to Ravens players and coaches about Marlon Humphrey, however, and it's obvious they've already reached a basic conclusion: This kid can play.

Humphrey, the team's first-round pick in the 2017 draft, has played just 43 snaps at cornerback, fewer than a starter usually plays in a single game. But in that limited sample, he has confirmed everything general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff thought they saw when they picked Humphrey 16th overall, ahead of several more touted prospects.


The cornerback seems to eat up all of a wide receiver's space as soon as he releases from the line of scrimmage. And good luck shaking him with a burst of speed given his 4.41-second clocking in the 40-yard dash.

"He's exactly what we've expected him to be," says Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "He's smart, he's tough, he has the talents, and he has all the types of physical abilities to play the type of corner that we want to play with. That's exactly what we thought we were getting."

Harbaugh is reluctant to get ahead of himself because he sees plenty of skills the 21-year-old Humphrey needs to polish. But he smiles easily when talking about the rookie. The early evidence has been far more reassuring than it was with the last defensive back the Ravens picked in the first round, safety Matt Elam in 2013.

Baltimore Sun staff picks for Sunday's Steelers-Ravens game at M&T Bank Stadium.

In one sign of the coaches' confidence in him, Humphrey has gone from nine defensive snaps in Week 1 to 11 in Week 2 to 23 in Week 3. He'll likely play an important support role again on Sunday against the deep and gifted wide receiver corps of the Pittsburgh Steelers.


Veterans often talk about a player's first game in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry as a kind of baptism. Humphrey says he's eager to dip into those ferocious waters.

"When I got up here, not knowing a lot about this organization, a lot of the first things I heard were, 'Beat the Steelers,' " he says. "I realized right then this rivalry was something serious. It seems like the players turn it up a little bit. The coaches turn it up. So I'm excited. I think I kind of have an idea, but the way guys talk about it, I'm not sure I do. "

This kind of stage isn't new to Humphrey. At Alabama, he played in hallowed rivalry games with frenzied crowds that would put your average NFL audience to shame. Not to mention two national championship games. Before that, he starred at Hoover, the best high school program in football-obsessed Alabama. His dad, Bobby, was a former NFL star and Heisman Trophy candidate for the Crimson Tide.

None of that would help if Humphrey couldn't play. But he's not awed by his surroundings.

"I love his demeanor," Ravens safety Eric Weddle says. "I love how it hasn't been too big for him."

You don't see much rookie reticence from Humphrey in the locker room. He enjoys hanging out at his corner spot and gabbing with the players around him, whether it's kicker Justin Tucker, defensive tackle Michael Pierce or linebacker Patrick Onwuasor.

The man directly ahead of Humphrey on the depth chart, Brandon Carr, has watched first-round cornerbacks come and go during his 10 years in the league. And he was immediately struck by the rookie's comfort with the NFL game.

"He's a guy where off the jump, I knew he had confidence in himself," Carr says. "He played in one of the toughest, if not the toughest, conference in college football. So you know he's primed to play at this high level. He's got the size, the speed, the physicality, everything you need to play NFL cornerback. Now the rest is up to him with his film study and building knowledge of the game."

Humphrey is surrounded by decorated, experienced defensive backs, and they feel responsible for helping him become the shutdown corner they all believe he can be. But they try not to smother him with advice.

"Less is better," Carr says. "I don't want to overtalk and put too much into him. He's going to learn the ropes on his own and grow into his own person."

When Humphrey took the field for his first NFL defensive snap in Cincinnati and saw Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green staring across the line at him, he did have to remind himself of an old coach's advice to "stay calm, no matter good play or bad play."

But he says he's yet to face the receiver who could shake him out of his confident, pressing style. He's played the same way since he was a kid. And he expects that to remain the case if he ends up across from Steelers All-Pro Antonio Brown on Sunday.

"The press is kind of what we do here," he says. "When I get in there, whether he gets to me or not, I've got to stick with what I've got. I'm pretty excited."

Given how tightly pass coverage is officiated these days and how aggressively Humphrey plays, he'll have to be cautious about avoiding penalties. He was flagged for a 29-yard pass interference penalty on Sunday against Jacksonville, when his arm briefly became entwined with that of his cover target.

"I'd like to tell you what I thought about the penalty, but I'd probably get fined," says Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. "There's no fine line. Do what you do. Be aggressive. I'd rather see that than 20 yards off and being scared to death. I have no problem with that penalty. I have a problem with the penalty but I do not have a problem with Marlon Humphrey."

Nonetheless, Humphrey says he can't just shrug off such plays.

"I don't think I'll be out there long if I continue to do that," he says with a grin. "I usually just try to figure out what went wrong, talk to the ref and get him on my side."

The wise men around Humphrey don't want him to dial back his naturally feisty approach. They enjoy watching him as much as the fans do.

"He loves to get his hands on the receiver at the line of scrimmage," Carr says. "He plays just like me and Jimmy [Smith]."

Except Carr can't run a 4.4, as he notes with a laugh.

"He sure has been impressive," Weddle says of Humphrey. "He's physical at the line of scrimmage. He can run with anyone. The guy can fly. … He's been a joy to be around; he has a bright future."

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