Marlon Humphrey has spent the last two seasons in the shadows.
Or, at least that’s what it seems like. In a stacked 2017 draft that boasts 15 Pro Bowl players in just two years, Humphrey’s name isn’t received with the same recognition as Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Alvin Kamara, and Jamal Adams. But for what reason?
Humphrey is a former five-star cornerback recruit who, after redshirting his first year at Alabama, locked up the starting job in his first ever game with the Crimson Tide against Wisconsin. He would later help the team capture their 16th national championship back in 2015 and ranked second on the team with three interceptions on the season. The next year, Humphrey repeated the success of his freshman campaign and earned first-team All-American honors. Alabama would eventually fall short of a title repeat in 2016 after Deshaun Watson’s heroics in the final seconds of his last game with Clemson.
Combining physical traits with fluid hips, desired speed, and complex coverage knowledge, Humphrey impressed scouts early on the draft process with his aggressive playstyle and dominance over his two-year tenure at Alabama. Largely regarded as the no. 2 cornerback prospect behind Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore, Humphrey was projected to be a first-round pick following a solid performance at the NFL Combine. Sure enough, the Baltimore Ravens selected him with the 16th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft a month later.
In his two NFL seasons, Humphrey has quietly become one of the most outstanding chips in Baltimore’s secondary. He’s seen his fair of action and built up a remarkable resume, notching 30 games in which he’s racked up 71 total tackles, 26 pass deflections, and 4 interceptions. Last season, Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey as the hardest cornerback to complete a pass against in the fourth quarter, ahead of Desmond King of the Chargers and Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots.
With the experience under his belt, Humphrey has set lofty expectations for himself in his third professional season.
“Anything that ends with a ‘Bowl,’ whether that’s Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, any of those things are always big goals,” Humphrey told reporters in May during voluntary OTAs. “Just making big plays; big plays lead to Pro Bowls, Pro Bowl players lead to playoff teams and then playoff teams can have a chance to win the Super Bowl. So, whatever way you can help your team win. I think the best way to help your team win is to try to play your best ball that you can play.”
So far, Humphrey is sticking to his word. Earlier this preseason, he impressed teammates and coaches alike when he perfectly tracked a deep pass thrown by Ravens backup quarterback Robert Griffin III down the right sideline and snatched it from the intended receiver. His full potential as a lockdown cornerback has yet to be unlocked and at only 23 years old, there is more than enough time to show that improvement. It’s safe to say that Humphrey has lived up to his label as the first-round talent. But, in 2019, he must be even better.
It’s no secret that the AFC North has quickly become one of football’s most competitive divisions over the last couple of years. The Steelers boast one of the league’s deepest receiver corps with JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer. The Browns found their franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield and have since surrounded their young star with weapons like Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, David Njoku, Nick Chubb, and three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham, acquired this offseason through a blockbuster trade with the New York Giants. Finally, the Bengals have terrorized their rivals for years with the dynamic duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green and have recently added dangerous complements such as John Ross, Tyler Boyd, and Joe Mixon.
And next season, Humphrey must be prepared to cover them all.
Luckily, he won’t have to do it alone. A Baltimore Ravens secondary that ranked as the league’s top defense against the pass last season is headlined by Humphrey and fellow cornerbacks Brandon Carr, Jimmy Smith, and Tavon Young. During the free agency period in March, the Ravens chose to part ways with Eric Weddle and replace him with longtime Seahawk and six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas. At the time, Humphrey and Thomas both wore the same jersey number, #29. This season, Humphrey will seek to command respect to #44, the same number his father, Bobby Humphrey, donned with the Denver Broncos in 1991.
“You guys see a lot of new faces, and I see a lot of new opportunities,” Humphrey said. “A lot of guys, especially in my draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles, including myself. So, I look forward to that as an opportunity for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves.”
Humphrey’s biggest challenge yet awaits him. Now, it’s up to him to decide if he’s ready to step into the spotlight as one of the NFL’s elite lockdown corners.
Cole Topham is a 17-year old sportswriter from Salt Lake City, UT. He is the lead editor and founder of snacktimefantasy.com. Besides journalism, his passions include fantasy rankings, drinking chai lattes, rock climbing, and absurd amounts of hair paste.