Eisenberg: Not A Sexy Pick, But A Very Sound One

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It isn't a sexy pick that's going to electrify the fan base, as a wide receiver would have. It doesn't address an immediate need, as a right tackle, pass rusher, center or inside linebacker would have.

But I'm not about to quibble with the Ravens' selection of Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft Thursday night.

It's a sound move … very sound.

I'll be honest: Upon hearing Humphrey's name announced, my first thought was about the sinking feeling that washed over Ravenstown last December when cornerback Jimmy Smith went down and out with a serious ankle sprain just as the Ravens' challenging final month of the 2016 season began. A lot of people shrugged and said, "Well, that's it; no playoffs this year." And they were right. Because the Ravens didn't have adequate cornerback depth.

Well, the Ravens won't be walking that tightrope again in 2017, praying that Smith stays healthy because their backup plan in the secondary isn't sufficient to get them where they want to go.

They obviously, finally, have found religion on the subject of secondary depth.

Since the 2016 season ended, they've signed safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr in free agency, and re-signed Lardarius Webb for depth. That's a serious investment, and now they've added another valuable asset to the mix, their first-round draft pick -- a tall, fast cornerback known for playing physical football.

Suddenly, the Ravens' cup runneth over in the secondary with Smith, Carr, Humphrey and Tavon Young at the corners and Jefferson and Eric Weddle at safety. The Ravens are deeper in quality players in their secondary than in any other area of their team.

Given the importance of defending the pass in today's NFL, I can't quibble with the emphasis … or the Humphrey pick.

Yes, they still have immediate needs to address, including several starting jobs. But they have three picks in the second and third rounds Friday night, and the season doesn't begin for months. So there are still opportunities and time, in other words.

Meanwhile, they've finally addressed an area that has been their biggest problem for several years. For too long, the Ravens have – no pun intended – tried to cut corners at the corners, going with a pair of starters and then fringe veterans and third-day draft picks as depth. Before Thursday night, they hadn't picked a cornerback in the first three rounds in six years.

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was frustrated enough to express his feelings publicly after the 2016 season, admitting he was tired of playing shorthanded in the secondary.

When asked Thursday night if his prayers had been answered about bolstering his pass defense, Harbaugh smiled and acknowledged that, yes, he was satisfied.

"We're going to be darn tough to throw against," he said.

Understand, the Ravens didn't begin Thursday's first round planning to draft a cornerback. They have those other needs, and I'm sure they had their eyes on several receivers and pass rushers.

But the top three receivers in the draft were all gone after nine picks, and two of the top pass rushers also were gone shortly after that.

So much for using the pick to address a pressing need.

Actually, Newsome did try to trade up several slots, he said Thursday, to somewhere "in the teens." My guess is he wanted a pass rusher, perhaps Derek Barnett or Haason Reddick.

"But it didn't work out," Newsome said of his attempt to move up.

He also received offers to trade back once the Ravens were on the clock, he said. If one of the offers had suited him, the Ravens would have made the deal, passing on Humphrey at No. 16.

But when none of the offers moved Newsome, he looked at the Ravens' draft board. Several other Alabama players who received more attention in the pre-draft media storm – tight end O.J. Howard, linebacker Reuben Foster and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen --were still available. But Humphrey was the highest-rated available player on the Ravens' board -- "by far," Newsome said.

I'm not about to argue with the move, which is sound and (cough) perhaps a tad overdue.

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