Less than two years ago, Tavon Young was distraught after tearing his ACL, concerned about his future with the Ravens.
No worries. Young’s future is very secure. He sat proudly Friday between General Manager Eric DeCosta and Head Coach John Harbaugh after signing a three-year contract extension that reportedly makes Young the NFL’s highest-paid nickel cornerback.
The Ravens are banking on Young because they believe in his talent and character. Toughness is part of his DNA.
DeCosta witnessed Young’s tenacity in 2017, watching how hard Young rehabbed to recover from his knee injury. Harbaugh sees Young’s determination daily, both in practice and in games. Despite playing with a painful sports hernia for much of 2018 that required surgery, Young had his best season, part of a Ravens defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
To say Young was “given” an extension doesn’t describe how coaches and teammates feel. They believe he earned it.
“To see him last year overcome the knee injury in the manner that he did, the work ethic his intensity and desire to be the best, is really impressive,” DeCosta said. “We look at what we think of the player and how he approaches his job day-to-day. We see him in the building. For me personally, seeing Tavon, watching him rehab, spoke volumes.”
Listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Young said he was measured as the shortest cornerback at the NFL combine. Questions about Young’s size have driven him since his prep days at Potomac High in Oxon Hill, Md. Young was a two-star recruit who wasn’t heavily recruited by colleges, which narrowed his list of choices.
“(I) got two offers – Towson and Temple – so I took Temple,” Young said.
After Young stood out as a leader and talented player at Temple, the Ravens drafted him in the fourth round in 2016. Young admitted he was nervous about how his size would transfer to the NFL, but he immediately fought his way into the Ravens’ secondary rotation as a rookie, playing all 16 games and making 44 tackles. Though his primary position is slot cornerback, Young proved he can also play outside, showing the versatility, intelligence, and sure-tackling that Harbaugh demands from his secondary.
“We’re not running a simple system that we play the same coverage all the time,” Harbaugh said. “We’re playing about every coverage you can run. You want to have smart players like Tavon.
“This is a big contract. This is a big number. This is a record-setting number. It’s not something that you enter into lightly at all. You enter into it with a lot of thought, and we’ve done a great job. The math works because of who the player is.”
Mistakes in the secondary can produce disastrous results for any defense, but Young barely makes mental errors. He also has a nose for the football, returning two fumble recoveries for touchdowns in 2018. If anything, Young looks quicker now than before knee surgery – a testament to how hard he worked on his recovery.
The knee injury suffered during OTA’s in 2017 was a defining moment. Initially, Young did not think it was serious. Once doctors informed Young he would miss the 2017 season, he was devastated.
“I cried,” Young said. “It hurt me. It broke me down. Once I got in the house I was just sitting there like, ‘Man, I’m about to miss a whole season. I might get replaced right away, and it might be over.’”
It wasn’t over. Young made sure of that. He mentioned safety Eric Weddle and former Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace as two teammates who immediately provided inspiration. Young also received advice from former Ravens cornerback/safety Lardarius Webb, who suffered a similar injury early in his career before also getting a big contract extension from the Ravens.
Now at age 24, Young’s best football is ahead of him, and he has a long-term deal. The Ravens have other offseason questions to answer in the secondary regarding the futures of Weddle and cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr. All of them could be back, but it’s also possible that one or more could be let go for salary cap reasons.
However, the Ravens identified Young as a defensive cornerstone they wanted to keep. The slot corner position is becoming more and more important in the pass-happy NFL, and in Young the Ravens have re-signed one of the best.
Young’s Ravens teammates joked with him on Twitter about celebrating after a huge payday. But what does Young have planned?
“Just go out with my family, probably – take my mom and my dad out,” Young said. “I’m just happy for them. I called my mom [and] she couldn’t believe it. She was like, ‘Are you lying? Is you for real?’I’m like, ‘Yes, mom!’ I’m just so happy I can just take care of them now. It’s a blessing.”