The Ravens often talk about the high expectations they have for their draft classes. They put significant value on draft picks and count on rookies to make an immediate impact.
But even with those goals, it's still surprising to see what rookie cornerback Tavon Young is doing.
The fourth-round pick out of Temple, who also happens to be the smallest player on the team (5-foot-9, 177 pounds), has emerged as a starter and seems to have solidified the cornerback spot opposite of Jimmy Smith. Young has started the last three games since Shareece Wright came up with a thigh issues, and he has no intentions of giving up that starting gig.
He just earned a game ball for the job he did against All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown in Baltimore's 21-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I don't know if 'surprised' would be the word I would use, but he has not disappointed us in any way, that's for sure," Head Coach John Harbaugh said of Young.
The stellar outing against Brown was a testament to the quick strides Young has made this season. Just three weeks earlier against the New York Giants, in the first start of his career, he gave up a 66-yard touchdown to Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. late in the fourth quarter that proved to be the game winner.
Young faced reporters after the game, where Beckham had a career-high 222 receiving yards, and took responsibility for allowing that score. Harbaugh said that Young showed maturity and "high expectations for himself" in how he handled that moment.
"That's what we've seen from him from the first day he got here," Harbaugh said.
Young's development has been particularly impressive because the Ravens drafted him with the nickel cornerback spot in mind. They knew he could provide depth in the secondary, and that special teams would be his most likely immediate avenue onto the field.
But then Jerraud Powers and Wright got banged up and the Ravens also had cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Maurice Canady land on injured reserve. Suddenly they had a need outside, so they threw Young out there.
He's started on the outside and played virtually every defensive snap the last three weeks.
"We saw it in practice and training camp that he had the potential to [move outside]. But we felt like we would be stronger if he could hold up inside," Secondary Coach Leslie Frazier said before the Steelers game. "It has been a pleasant surprise for all of us that he could match up with some of these receivers and do as well as he has."
Young played inside and outside in college, and he insists he has no preference on which spot to play.
He also hasn't seemed intimidated by the NFL stage at any point this season. His two interceptions are more than anyone else in Baltimore's secondary, and his coaches and teammates regularly praise him for his competitiveness.
"He loves the game, and we love everything he brings to our team – his confidence, his energy and just [that] he has a quiet demeanor that kind of calms everyone when we are out there," safety Eric Weddle said.
Young has already had the challenge of matching up with Beckham and Brown, two of the game's best receivers, and he's well aware that he's going to get tested more in the coming weeks. As a rookie corner, veteran quarterbacks have tried to pick on him rather than throwing to Smith's side of the field.
He's been targeted 26 times over the last three games, according to Pro Football Focus, and he's counting on that trend to continue.
"I expect that," Young said. "They always tell me that they're going to attack the young guys. That's just how it is, and when you're a young guy you just have to show them what you can do."