The NFL began rolling out its Top-100 Players of 2019 list this past Monday and, like every year, it came with some controversy. The list is continually criticized on a yearly basis for having players ranked too high or too low. This, of course, happens with almost any list in the NFL community, whether it’s ranking quarterbacks, receivers, or any other position that draws immediate attention from the viewer’s eye.
However, this year an apparently somewhat unknown corner for the Baltimore Ravens by the name of Marlon Humphrey made his first appearance on the list in his third year in the NFL. Humphrey has played each of his three seasons in the league for one of its most historically great defensive franchises, but is seldom heard about when it comes to the ‘top corner in the NFL’ discussion.
If you have consistently watched the Ravens over the past three seasons, you know how good this guy is. Humphrey is a player who plays with a good motor, elite ball skills, and great speed. He has shut down a number of the game’s best receivers in full-game 1-on-1 matchups. Last season he even made both his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro appearance and yet he was still ranked just 86th on the NFL’s Top-100.
At just 24 years old, Humphrey has been one of the hands-down top-10 corners in pro football over the past two seasons. His position on the NFL’s Top-100 from 2019 is just another form of disrespect to one of the best defensive backs in football. As one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, Humphrey deserves more respect.
Marlon Humphrey Deserves More Respect
Who is Marlon Humphrey?
Humphrey was Baltimore’s first-round draft choice (16th overall) in 2017 out of the University of Alabama. He was coming off of his final season in college where he played as the number-one corner on the 2017 National Championship Crimson Tide team. The cornerback received his only first-team All-American nod following his final season at Alabama — finishing the year with 36 total tackles, five pass defenses, two picks, and a forced fumble. His team finished as the number-one scoring defense and tied for the number-one yardage defense in the NCAA. Humphrey was the first of seven players taken in the 2017 draft from that defense.
During his rookie season in 2017, Humphrey found his way into an already solid Ravens secondary. At the time, Jimmy Smith was holding down the number-one cornerback job with Brandon Carr taking the number-two job. Humphrey grew into his own as the season progressed and saw his role expand exponentially when Smith was forced to miss the Ravens last four games of the season due to injury.
Week 14 against Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers was Humphrey’s first game playing 100 percent of defensive snaps. While Brown abused the older Carr in coverage all game, Humphrey kept both Eli Rogers and Martavis Bryant to 33 yards each. This was the signaling of the changing of the guard at the position. Next season, with Smith suspended the first four games of the year, Humphrey was cemented as the number-one corner on the roster and has not relinquished the role up to this point.
What Has Humphrey Done Since Entering the League?
There were growing pains for Humphrey entering the league out of college but most have been flattened out three years into his career. He had a tough introduction to his new number-one role in Week 2 of 2018, where he matched up against A.J. Green. The veteran Cincinnati Bengal posted up on the second-year Humphrey and Tavon Young all game on his way to five grabs for 69 yards and three touchdowns.
While Humphrey hasn’t been perfect since this game, his numbers have been great while the names he’s locked down are scattered on the Top-100. Julio Jones (#11) saw Humphrey for the first time in Week 12 of 2018 and was held to two catches and 18 yards on eight targets. Odell Beckham (#59) went toe-to-toe with Humphrey in Week 4 of 2019 and was also held to just two catches for 20 yards on seven targets.
The Seattle Seahawks D.K. Metcalf (#81) was five spots above Humphrey. The Ravens and Seahawks met in Week 7 of 2019 and while Metcalf was not Humphrey’s primary responsibility that game – he was covering the Seahawks number-one receiver in Tyler Lockett (#65) for the majority of snaps – there are two lasting images from that game that are most prevalent looking back at it. First, Lamar Jackson running quarterback power on 4th and 2 for the game-winning touchdown. Second, Metcalf fumbling a crucial possession and Humphrey recovering it for a scoop-and-score with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Since entering the league, Humphrey has forced the fourth-most incompletions per Pro Football Focus. They also gave him the fourth-highest man coverage grade in 2019. The only corners in front of him were his teammate Marcus Peters, Stephon Gilmore, and Tre’Davious White. Humphrey locks receivers down and if you challenge him, he’ll more times than not make a play.
How Does Humphrey Stack Up Against the Cornerbacks in Front of Him?
Despite the Ravens defense finishing as the sixth-best passing defense, and third-best scoring defense, many other corners got more love than their two All-Pro corners did in 2019. Peters deserved the higher spot, as the former-Los Angeles Ram turned the entire Ravens defense around after his acquisition, but Marlon Humphrey ranked far below a number of corners he has outplayed.
Logan Ryan (#60), who currently does not have a team for the 2020 season, ranks far above Humphrey and while his eight turnovers forced ranked tied for first among corners, his ability in coverage far undercuts Humphrey’s. Humphrey had a better grade per PFF in completion percentage when targeted, passer rating when targeted, and yards per completion allowed in 2019. Ryan also allowed the most completions against of any player in the NFL with 80.
Marshon Lattimore (#76) was another played ranked above Humphrey with a lower grade per PFF. Lattimore’s production last season has been a lot closer to Humphrey’s than most, but the Ravens corner still nudges him in a lot of important categories. Humphrey allowed a lower passer rating, fewer yards per target (by 2.0), fewer yards after the catch on completions, and he forced more turnovers in 2019.
Here’s where things get thrown into perspective a little more. Jalen Ramsey (#37), one of the most well-known cornerbacks in the NFL, ranked 49 spots above Humphrey. Over the past two seasons, Humphrey has allowed a lower completion percentage, lower quarterback rating, and fewer yards per completion when targeted. He has also forced more turnovers, registered more pass defenses, and has more tackles for loss. Ramsey’s grade per PFF was 1.0 points higher than Humphrey’s in 2019, likely due to Ramsey being a more sound tackler. In short, Humphrey is a better cornerback than Ramsey by almost every important statistical metric.
Why Don’t More People Know About Humphrey?
Marlon Humphrey was a big part of Baltimore finishing fourth in total defense in 2019 and first in 2018. However, it seems he is undervalued when it comes to league-wide recognition. The Baltimore defense as a whole has been somewhat faceless outside of Terrell Suggs since the retirements of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Despite this, they’ve ranked within the top-ten six of the eight seasons since the departures of Reed and Lewis in total defense. Their worst finish was 12th in both 2013 and 2017.
Perhaps the reason people aren’t as familiar with Humphrey is that Baltimore’s dominance this past season came through their offense. Behind the MVP Jackson in 2019, the Ravens had their best regular-season finish in history at 14-2. Baltimore hadn’t finished with more than 10 wins since 2011.
The Ravens are also a team that despite being impressive on defense for a long time, have not had a number of dominant shutdown corners. Their best players are usually part of their front-seven. Before Humphrey and Peters this past season, Chris McAlister was the only other Ravens cornerback to be named a first-team All-Pro. That was back in 2003.
So whether it’s the entire team being an identity or the dearth of elite cornerbacks coming through the system, Humphrey is currently in an unfamiliar category when it comes to Ravens players. This year was his first year on the Top-100 and as an All-Pro, and he still hit just #86 on the list. Maybe he’ll begin to carve out a new niche for great corner play in Baltimore and then garner more attention as the secondary remains reputable.
Marlon Humphrey is an Elite Cornerback and There is No Debate
When talking about the top-10 corners in football, no discussion is complete without Humphrey. He’s been one of the best at blanketing receivers in man coverage since stepping into the league and is a threat to take it to the house any time he forces a turnover. There are very few players that impact the game from the secondary like Humphrey and he deserves more recognition for his stellar play over the past two seasons.
Here’s a crazy stat: only 75 offensive skill players (excluding quarterbacks) have more touchdowns than Humphrey has had over the past two seasons. What else needs to be said before people see Humphrey as one of the best playmaking corners in the NFL? The Ravens are a complete team but there is no denying that Humphrey’s ability to cover and make plays places him in a realm much higher than #86 on the NFL’s Top-100.
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