Time to Reconsider Who Is Ravens' No. 1 Corner?
Don't look now, but 2017 first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey is setting himself up for a breakout season.
Coaches and teammates are clearly excited about him and envision big things. His speed, confidence, intelligence and talent are undeniable.
If all goes according to plan, he could take over the mantle of shutdown corner and maybe even more …
"With Jimmy Smith still on the mend and carrying a $15.675 million cap figure next season, the Ravens would be wise to begin viewing Marlon Humphrey as their No. 1 cornerback," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "It's easy to see the potential for him to be a special player sooner than later."
Sometimes titles don't mean much, especially when distinguishing between the No. 1 and 2 cornerbacks as both start and get plenty of snaps. Eventually it will mean more, however, particularly when deciding who defends No. 1 receivers and at contract discussion time, as Jones points out. Smith's contract is scheduled to expire after the 2019 season.
But until then, the best-case scenario is that Smith (Achilles) is healthy by Week 1 AND Humphrey has a breakout year so that Baltimore has two corners playing like the No. 1.
With veteran Brandon Carr also on the roster last year, the Ravens had the luxury of easing Humphrey into the starting lineup. Humphrey played just 34.6 percent of the defensive snaps during the first nine weeks of the season, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), but that jumped to 80 percent from Week 11 on. Carr remains on the roster and has started 160-straight games in his NFL career.
"In his seven-week stretch to close the season, Humphrey put together a marquee performance against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, as he limited wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant to just three receptions for six yards on nine total targets en route to an 82.7 overall game grade," wrote PFF's Austin Gayle.
"Due in large part to his strong finish, Humphrey is expected to reclaim his starting role opposite of veteran Jimmy Smith at outside cornerback, setting the stage for a breakout year in 2018."
Michael Crabtree Stands out Like Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin Did
The Ravens have a rich history of finding veteran receivers that make a major impact on offense.
Derrick Mason notched four 1,000-yard seasons for the Ravens after being in Tennessee for eight years. Anquan Boldin never hit the 1,000-yard mark during his three seasons in Baltimore, but he was usually close and his role in the 2012 Super Bowl run was massive. Steve Smith Sr. totaled 2,534 yards in three years and brought an attitude to the offense that had been lacking.
Will Michael Crabtree be the next in a long string of successful veteran signings at the position?
"Crabtree is smooth and everything he does is done with such purpose and attention to detail," wrote the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "He's obviously a different player than Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith Sr., but how Crabtree goes about things reminds you of those two."
Zrebiec isn't the only one who sees the similarities.
"Many wide receivers can look great this time of year — Breshad Perriman has fit that description in the past — but Michael Crabtree stands out in a way similar to when Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin first arrived in Baltimore," added Jones. "You can tell Flacco is happy to have him."
Whatever Crabtree's style, all that matters is that the 30-year-old veteran produces as much (or more) than the former Ravens receivers. When he joined the Oakland Raiders three years ago, Crabtree developed an almost instant rapport with quarterback Derek Carr, and he's on his way to doing the same with Joe Flacco, who raved about Crabtree Thursday.
Crabtree hasn't always hit the 1,000-yard mark (twice in nine years), but he's a very dangerous red-zone target as evidenced by at least eight touchdown catches in each of the last three years. He showed off that ability in the practice open to the media last week when he made the "play of the day" by catching a fade route while reaching over cornerback Tavon Young in the end zone.
"The Ravens have been victimized enough times by Crabtree's ability to go up and make an acrobatic catch in the end zone," wrote Zrebiec. "They were just happy to see him do it on their side, even if it was in a practice setting."
Kenneth Dixon Has Some Rust to Knock Off, But Showed Burst and Shiftiness
Before media even caught a glimpse of running back Kenneth Dixon in his first practices back from suspension and a knee injury, he was being dubbed an X-factor in the Ravens offense.
Now that reporters have seen him practice, the idea can be even further perpetuated. Dixon has some rust to still knock off after a year on the sideline, but his talent was evident in just one two-hour practice session Thursday.
"Dixon could still stand to shed a couple pounds — Harbaugh acknowledged he hadn't been in the best shape returning from last year's knee injury and suspension — but he showed shifty moves in the open field," wrote Jones.
"He remains a wild card for this offense if healthy and committed to football."
Will This Be Terrell Suggs' Final Year in Baltimore?
With outside linebacker Terrell Suggs entering his 16th NFL season and final year under contract in Baltimore, it's only natural to wonder whether we are witnessing the potential Hall of Famer's final days in purple.
The folks at Ebony Bird are.
"[I]t's hard to believe that new General Manager Eric DeCosta will give a then 37-year-old pass rusher a contract extension [after this season]," wrote Cory Hughes. "At the end of the day, this is a 'what can you do for me now business' not 'what have you done for me.' Ravens fans could very likely be watching Terrell Suggs' final games as a Baltimore Raven in 2018."
I understand where Hughes is coming from, but I don't find it hard to believe DeCosta would extend Suggs. Obviously, it's not a guarantee as health and performance will dictate what happens. Also, Suggs' contract demands will be a factor. Money was one reason that Ed Reed signed with the Houston Texans instead of returning in 2013.
That said, Suggs has always wanted the distinction of playing for just one team his entire career. He wants to be a Raven for life. If the two sides can agree on a reasonable contract, there's no reason not to bring back a healthy Suggs, who at the very least would be a strong leader and could rotate more into the defense rather than trying to play all three downs. The decision may all depend on how much longer Suggs wants to continue his career.
"Expect the Ball so Hard University alum to play with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove in hopes of one more contract," Hughes wrote. "And let's hope he does such because seeing Terrell Suggs in a different uniform is something no Raven fan wants to see come to fruition."
Suggs also doesn't want to see that.
"I don't plan on going nowhere," Suggs told PSL owners two weeks ago.
Do LB Depth Issues Change Outlook of Signing Mychal Kendricks?
Last week, we discussed whether Baltimore would pursue inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks after he was cut by the Philadelphia Eagles.
To sum it up, the conclusion was that the Ravens would probably want to get a look at their current young options during Organized Team Activities and minicamp before adding another veteran to the mix. If nobody was to stand out in the position next to C.J. Mosley, then maybe they'd bring him in.
The problem is that several of the players expected to compete for the job aren't healthy enough to be on the field right now. Albert McClellan and Bam Bradley are still working back from ACL injuries, and while they could be back by training camp, the unit is currently thin.
Zrebiec says that a veteran signing is a possibility just to get more bodies on the field, but it would have to be a small contract.
- "Willie Snead looks the part of a slot receiver, using his running back-like frame to quickly change directions," wrote Jones. "I don't expect him to put up huge numbers in this offense, but that doesn't mean he won't be a productive addition." [WNST]