Marlon Humphrey had heard the whispers regarding the inability of Alabama cornerbacks picked in the first round of recent drafts to meet their potential in the NFL. The Houston Texans’ Kareem Jackson, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Dre Kirkpatrick and the New York Jets’ Dee Milliner (who hasn’t played a game since 2015) are cited as examples.
But Humphrey defied the trend. The 16th overall selection in April’s draft replaced Ravens starter Jimmy Smith (torn left Achilles tendon) and held his own as a starter in the final four games, including Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked Humphrey fifth among cornerbacks in lowest passer rating in coverage and lowest catch percentage allowed.
Humphrey was buoyed by the results.
“Coming into the league, I think everybody says that Alabama DBs are going to be a bust,” he said Monday. “So that was one of the things I was trying to change that trend around. Me and [Chicago Bears safety] Eddie Jackson, that was one of the things where we were like, ‘That’s going to have to change.’ [New Orleans Saints cornerback] Marshon Lattimore is probably the [Rookie] Defensive Player of the Year, but I think all of the rookie cornerbacks balled pretty well this year. So it’s definitely a big thing for me to be in that top five.”
The 6-foot, 197-pound Humphrey was the crown jewel of the Ravens’ 2017 draft class, which got some contributions from outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (second round) and safety Chuck Clark (sixth round). Fullback-defensive tackle Patrick Ricard, who caught two touchdown passes, was the star of an undrafted free agent crop.
But there were just as many misses as hits from the group of first-year players.
Defensive end Chris Wormley (third round) was a healthy scratch for nine games. Outside linebacker Tim Williams (third round) and guard Jermaine Eluemunor (fifth round) were inactive for eight games each. And guard Nico Siragusa (fourth round) missed the entire year after tearing the ACL, MCL and PCL in his left knee during training camp.
Undrafted cornerback Jaylen Hill played in only six games before tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee, and undrafted wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo remained on the practice squad until playing in Sunday’s season finale.
Many coaches would love to give their rookies time to get seasoned and acclimated to the rigors of playing in the NFL. But with injuries and ineffectiveness hindering veterans, coaching staffs have little choice but to send their first-year players into the trenches.
For instance, Bowser, the former University of Houston standout, tied for fifth on the team with three sacks, but played only 14.7 percent of the defensive snaps. He was more frequently used on special teams, but insisted he had no objections to learning the strong-side linebacker position behind starter Matthew Judon.
“It wasn’t really difficult,” the 6-2, 240-pound Bowser said. “Just having good coaches around and good people around to help me out, to introduce me to the NFL life and how the system works around here. Being a SAM linebacker like I was in college, that really helped smooth that out a little bit more. As far as the journey here, it’s been pretty smooth for me. It’s just getting into the process and learning everything.”
On the other side of the scale was Williams, who compiled 19½ sacks in his final two years at Alabama but was shut out in eight games with the Ravens. A healthy scratch for the last three games, Williams looked ill-prepared to set the edge as a rush linebacker, which might explain why he remained behind starter Terrell Suggs and backup Za’Darius Smith on the depth chart.
But the 6-3, 260-pound Williams said he never had a problem with his limited role.
“I’m only a rookie,” he said. “It’s my first year. So at the same time, I’m learning. As far as a rookie, you’ve got to sit back and listen because I’ve never been through this before. I’m pretty much confident in what I need to do now to come back here and have a successful season in my second year.”
Perhaps the most encouraging thing for the 2017 rookies is that they are no longer considered rookies, a label that will shift to the franchise’s next draft class in a little more than three months. That release will signal a rise in expectations and responsibilities, but Bowser said he and his classmates are looking forward to the challenge.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “We’ve got guys who care about football and love the game of football and want to be the best players they can be to help this team win and not sit here out of the playoffs. Our goal is to get to a Super Bowl and win it, and those guys have the mentality that they’re going to come in here and make a huge impact and be contributors to helping this team reach that goal.”
Rating the rookies
The Ravens have never been shy about employing their rookies, and this year was no exception. But for every Marlon Humphrey, there was a Chris Wormley. Here is a look at how members of the 2017 draft class fared in their NFL debut seasons.
Round (No.); Pos.; Name; Comment
1st (16); CB; Marlon Humphrey; Had two interceptions, 11 breakups
2nd (47); OLB; Tyus Bowser; Had one interception, three sacks
3rd (74); DE; Chris Wormley; Had five tackles, two starts
3rd (78); OLB; Tim Williams; Had six tackles in eight games
4th (122); G; Nico Siuragusa; Missed the season with knee injury
5th (159); G; Jermaine Eluemunor; Started two games for RG Matt Skura
6th (186); S; Chuck Clark; Had eight tackles on special teams