To be the best, you've got to beat the best. That's why Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey is pumped up for Thursday night's matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sure, shutting down the Buffalo Bills and grading out as one of the NFL's top cornerbacks in Week 1 is great. But Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, who has gone to the Pro Bowl in all seven of his NFL seasons, will be a better barometer.
"It's always a good test when you're going against a guy that's probably going to be wearing a gold jacket one day," Humphrey said Tuesday, referencing the Hall of Fame. "It's a challenge to show people who say, 'Well, how good are you?'"
A first-round pick out of Alabama last year, Humphrey is good – really good.
Per Pro Football Focus, only four NFL cornerbacks held quarterbacks to a lower rating when throwing in their direction: Jacksonville's A.J. Bouye, Cincinnati's William Jackson, New Orleans' Marshon Lattimore and Humphrey's teammate, Jimmy Smith. In terms of overall grade, Humphrey came in at No. 37 in the NFL. Smith was No. 21.
Now, with Smith suspended for the season's first four games, Humphrey is stepping into a leading role. Brandon Carr is 10 years older and still playing at a high level, but everybody knows who the Ravens' rising star is at cornerback.
"I felt like last year, going into my first year, everyone was like, 'Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy!' He's CB1," Humphrey said. "With him out, I try to pick up the slack to try to match what he's done in the past."
Humphrey did the job and more in Week 1. He received the third-highest PFF grade of the week among NFL cornerbacks and got the Ravens' highest defensive marks. Humphrey was targeted six times but gave up just two catches for 12 yards and broke up two passes.
That was against Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman and wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones. On Thursday, it will be Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, Green, John Ross and Tyler Boyd.
The first time Humphrey stepped on the field opposite Green, he was a rookie playing in his first NFL regular-season game and didn't see a single pass come his way.
The second time Humphrey faced Green was in Week 17 when Smith was also sidelined. While Boyd beat the Ravens with his fourth-and-12 touchdown, Green caught two passes for 17 yards that evening. He was targeted three times with Humphrey in coverage and didn't catch any of them.
"Even though we lost, I thought we did a decent job of stopping him a little bit," Humphrey said. "But now they have Ross healthy and I kind of know a little bit of him from college. Now you're going into the game being like, 'Man, they've got two guys that command a double team.'"
Humphrey came out of college among a super-talented group of cornerbacks. He was drafted second among the group (No. 16 overall) behind Lattimore. Adoree' Jackson went to the Titans two picks later, Gareon Conley was selected by the Raiders at No. 24-overall and Tre'Davious White went to Buffalo at No. 27.
In August, Humphrey talked about wanting to measure up to his draft mates. Lattimore was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year last season and he and White took the two cornerback spots on the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team.
"I kind of want to go down in history," Humphrey said. "[I want] people looking back 10 years from now and we're still in the league and they're like, 'Man, we can't even figure out who's the best corner in that class.' Definitely, I'm trying to raise the bar and get up there like those guys."
Humphrey may already be there, or not far off. He outshined White in Sunday's season-opener. Another standout game against Green, followed by strong showings versus the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas and Steelers' Antonio Brown would go a long way in cementing what many people feel is coming.
"I knew Marlon would be the guy that he is," Carr said. "He's steadily evolving into a lockdown corner."