Ravens Position Preview: CB
No other position has been a constant problem for the Ravens over the past half-decade quite like CB. Even in their Super Bowl winning 2012 season, the Ravens lost Lardarius Webb for the season and saw Jimmy Smith go down for an extended period. Since then, it has been a constant string of injuries and names that even the most die-hard fans had never heard of.
When Ozzie Newsome had the opportunity to draft a highly rated CB in the first round of the 2017, he pulled the trigger no questions asked, even though the Ravens had just inked free agent Brandon Carr to a 4 year deal to start opposite of Smith. “You can never have enough good CBs” seems to be a mantra that Ozzie and the Ravens front office lives by.
When the Ravens 2nd year break-out star CB Tavon Young tore his ACL in the first week of OTAs, that decision to draft a CB in the first round became that much more prescient. Since Young’s injury the Ravens have added even more depth to the position with Brandon Boykin and Al-Hajj Shabazz. So with all of these players, many of them being new to the team, how does the CB position figure to shake out?
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The Ravens had an uncharacteristically busy free agency period this past offseason, signing a number of unrestricted free agents headlined by safety Tony Jefferson. One signing that has flown a bit under the radar was the addition of Brandon Carr, who signed a 4 year, $24 million dollar deal. Carr, who figures to start for the Ravens at outside CB, may have seen his best days pass him by, but he is still remarkably reliable and consistent having never missed a game in his 9 year career. He has good size standing 6’0 and possesses the ability to play press coverage which may open up Dean Pees’ box of tools. He may not be a flashy player, but his addition brings stability to a position that has been severely lacking for several seasons.
With the unfortunate injury to Tavon Young, an opportunity arose for 2nd year CB Maurice Canady. At 6’1 Canady has prototypical length to play outside, but the Ravens may look to move him inside if he proves capable in the slot. He only played in 4 games as a rookie without much impact, so it is difficult to project what abilities he might bring to the defense. That said, he flashed some playmaking ability in OTAs so he will certainly be a name to watch in training camp.
Canady’s stiffest competition for the nickel CB job may come from Brandon Boykin, the 6th year vet who was recently signed after Young’s injury. Early in his career, Boykin made a name for himself as a slot CB specialist and performed admirably for the Eagles in that role, even notching 6 interceptions in his breakout 2013 season. Since then he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers where he was used mostly as a reserve, and then missed the entire 2016 season due to a pectoral injury. Boykin was signed to a one year veteran minimum contract, so he will have to prove his worth to make the 53 man roster.
It will be interesting to see how the Ravens use 1st round pick Marlon Humphrey in his rookie season. He will certainly be the primary backup at outside CB, but he was never used in the slot during his college days at Alabama. Will the Ravens try to get him as many reps as possible by trying him out inside? Humphrey does possess very impressive athleticism and quickness in addition to being a strong run defender, which are important skills for slot CBs, but playing inside is almost like learning a new position. The Ravens could opt to bring him along slowly and have him start out playing ST or maybe have him play some reps at outside CB and move Carr into the slot in certain sub packages. However the Ravens choose to handle Humphrey, he is brimming with raw talent and could be a wild card for the Ravens defense in 2017.
The Ravens also have a number of fringe players at CB who will have to prove their worth in training camp to crack the 53 man roster. Sheldon Price probably has the best shot at making the team as he appeared in 4 games for the Ravens in 2016 and even started one game before suffering an injury that landed him on IR. Robertson Daniel spent several weeks on the Ravens PS in 2016 and Al-Hajj Shabazz is another recent signing that likely figures to be a ST/depth player/PS candidate. Finally, the Ravens signed UDFA Jaylen Hill to the 90 man roster who will also look to carve out a role as a back-up and ST contributor.
Last but not least we come to Jimmy Smith, whose name perhaps draws more ire from Ravens fans than anyone not named Joe Flacco. Drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft, Smith was heralded by many as the next Chris McAlister, a big, fast, rangy shutdown corner that will lock down a top WR and shrink the field for the rest of the defense. Unfortunately he has never fully lived up to the expectations. Throughout his career in Baltimore, Smith has flashed immense talent at times, but very rarely has he been able to play at a high level for a full season before an injury crops up.
Now entering into his seventh season, the Ravens have finally seemed to grasp the notion that Smith may not be able to make it through the entire year healthy. That said, all one has to do is look at the Ravens defense in 2016 with and without Smith on the field to see the kind of impact he can have on the field. He got hurt midway through the game against the New York Giants and Odell Beckham goes off in the second half. A bad back kept him out of the game vs the Dallas Cowboys and rookie QB Dak Prescott picks apart a hapless Ravens defense. When Smith went out again vs the Patriots, Tom Brady similarly picked apart the secondary. Barring injury, Jimmy Smith will be one of the Ravens two starting outside CBs and he may still be the most talented CB on the Ravens roster, but by drafting Marlon Humphrey and signing Brandon Carr, the team has taken strides to make sure his absence doesn’t curtail the entire season.
Overall, the Ravens have a deep group of players at CB. It’s not the most talented unit on the Ravens defense, but it has a good mix of youth and veterans and more than anything it’s success does not hinge on the health of one player.