Eisenberg: Drafting Marlon Humphrey Was One of Ozzie Newsome's Boldest Moves

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Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has taken some gambles in the draft over the years, and in one sense, this year's first-round pick could rank among his biggest.

Marlon Humphrey, the Alabama cornerback taken with the No. 16 overall selection, isn't much of a risk on pure talent. He was widely regarded as one of the top prospects in this year's class at his position, and at 21, could easily develop into a lasting puzzle piece.

Remember Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees practically salivating to the media when envisioning using Humphrey in press coverage?

Still, the pick was a gamble – not because of what Humphrey is, but rather, what he isn't, at least for now.

Specifically, as training camp nears, he isn't projected as a starter.

A month before they drafted Humphrey, the Ravens signed Brandon Carr, a durable veteran cornerback, to a free-agent contract large enough to signal he's here to start. Carr, 31, earned that payday because of his long track record as a solid front-line contributor.

The Ravens also are counting on Jimmy Smith, their incumbent No. 1 cornerback, to have a strong 2017. After dealing with multiple injuries in recent years, Smith, 28, spent the offseason training in Baltimore for the first time and reports that he is in terrific shape.

Right now, it's hard to envision anyone other than Smith or Carr starting at cornerback. And the Ravens say they envision the athletic Humphrey playing an outside corner position in the long run rather than in the slot, so it seems he's not a candidate for the slot job that became available when Tavon Young suffered a knee injury.

Another injury could open up an opportunity for Humphrey to play, but right now, it appears he might be watching his share of football in 2017.

Meanwhile, many players taken ahead of him in the draft likely will be on the field. A year ago, most of the top half of the first round received that opportunity. It's a pretty standard practice.

If the Ravens had selected a linebacker, tight end, defensive lineman or offensive lineman in the first round, they could be starting their top pick, too. They certainly had vacancies at several positions.

The fact that they passed on O.J. Howard, this year's top tight end prospect, seemingly continues to gall a segment of the fan base. Howard ended up going No. 19 overall to Tampa Bay, where quarterback Jameis Winston gushed after working with him in spring practices.

The Ravens also took Humphrey over several other players who possibly could have filled immediate needs, such as inside linebacker Reuben Foster, outside linebacker Takkarist McKinley and tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

I understand the public handwringing. Coming off an 8-8 season, the Ravens could use a strong rookie season from a high draft pick. Drafting at No. 16 gives them access to quality talent.

But Newsome is adamant that the Ravens got the guy they wanted; the guy who'll benefit them the most in the long run.

How it all plays out remains to be seen, and the Ravens will hear about it if Howard or any of those other players become stars. But it's their job to see the bigger picture. Their selection of Haloti Ngata in 2006 also didn't fill an immediate need, and it worked out nicely.

I'm not going to argue with the selection of Humphrey. More and more games in the pass-happy NFL are won and lost in the secondary, and the Ravens admit they've been undermanned at cornerback in recent years. They've paid a price for not addressing the position in the draft. Humphrey's selection is their attempt to correct that and take some guesswork out of their cornerback depth chart. The move was overdue.

There's more to a pick than what happens right away. As a first-round selection, Humphrey becomes part of the architecture, likely to be here long after the other cornerbacks on this year's team are gone. The Ravens are investing in his potential. And long term, all that matters is whether he fulfills that potential.

If the Ravens have correctly judged him as worthy of a first-round pick, it won't matter who else was available or whether he started as a rookie. The Ravens will be thrilled they drafted him.

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