The Baltimore Ravens currently have one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL. Led by former All-Pro cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, general manager Eric DeCosta has created an almost flawless unit. Their blend of youth and experience is what has helped them allow the lowest completion percentage and fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL since 2018. They have also allowed the second-lowest passer rating over that time span.
While Humphrey and Peters are typically the players that get most of the spotlight, Tavon Young used to be a name synonymous with the Ravens secondary. After being selected in the fourth round out of Temple in 2016, he showed out as a rookie and was looked like one of the biggest steals of the draft. However, his inability to stay healthy over the past four years has seen him falling out of the lineup every year. Young has played just two games for the Ravens over the past two seasons and he very well may on his last strike with the team in 2021.
An NFL secondary can never be too deep but Young’s history with the Ravens makes him one of their biggest questions for next season. He has shown the ability to be very effective when on the field and should be a regular starter in Baltimore if he can play the bulk of their games in 2021. Young is one of the most polarizing players on the Ravens roster and now needs to prove he is worthy of a role on the team in the future.
2021 Could be the Last Chance for Tavon Young with the Baltimore Ravens
How Young has fared when he’s been healthy
Young was a surprise impact player during his first year with the Ravens. Baltimore’s secondary wasn’t particularly deep in 2016 but they were not planning on relying on a fourth-round rookie to play such a prominent role at a premium position. The 104th overall pick started the season seeing limited snaps. However, due to Shareece Wright experiencing back spasms, Young was forced into a greatly expanded role for the Ravens Week 5 matchup against the Washington Football Team. Here, he played his largest volume of snaps (62) to that point in the season.
Young would go on to start a total of 11 games on the season — the most of any Ravens cornerback. He finished the season with two interceptions, eight pass defenses, and an overall grade per Pro Football Focus of 76.3. The majority of his work came from Young’s 429 snaps at outside cornerback.
The Ravens were expecting big things from Young as a second-year player but tore his ACL before the start of the 2017 season. He was then asked to transition to a full-time slot cornerback in 2018 due to the emergence of Marlon Humphrey and the signing of Brandon Carr. Young would play in 15 games on the season while notching one interception, five pass defenses, and a passer rating allowed of 111.8. His PFF grade dropped to 62.7 on the season but that could largely be chalked up to learning a new position.
Young’s Contract Looms Large
Before the start of the 2019 season, the Ravens signed Young to a brand new three-year(s)/$25.8 million contract. The deal made Young the highest-paid slot cornerback in the NFL despite only having one year of experience at the position. At the time, Humphrey had just two years of NFL experience, Jimmy Smith was about to turn 31 years old, and Marcus Peters was playing for the Los Angeles Rams.
Young then sustained the second major injury of his young career just six months after signing his new deal. The neck injury wiped out his entire 2019 season. He looked poised to get back to the field in 2020 but suffered a knee injury in Week 2 against the Houston Texans. The injury would be Young’s third season-ending injury in four seasons. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, Young has now missed 51 of a possible 68 Ravens games.
Young may no longer be the highest-paid slot cornerback in the NFL (in fact, he’s no longer even in the top five) but unless he can get on the field, his cap hit just becomes dead money every season he is under contract. It is hard to determine the kind of impact Young may have had if he was healthy over the past four years but he is effectively useless to the Ravens from the sidelines.
Where Does Young Fit on the 2021 Ravens?
The Ravens are incredibly deep at cornerback and have only continued to bolster their secondary in the draft. Six different cornerbacks, none of which were Young, started at least one game for the Ravens in 2020. Eric DeCosta then added two more defensive backs in the draft in Shaun Wade and Brandon Stephens. Young will likely return to his starting slot-cornerback role next season but he may see his reps dissipate. Don Martindale typically uses a large rotation of players and he may want to limit Young’s snaps because of his extensive injury history.
Due to the ever-changing status of Young, the Ravens are used to adjusting to his absence. Humphrey has become maybe the best hybrid cornerback in the NFL when asked to play on both the inside and outside. He has been one of the best man-cover cornerbacks in the league from any alignment and should continue to see snaps from the slot. Wade and UDFA safety Ar’Darius Washington also both have experience from playing the slot in college.
Young saw 35 defensive snaps in the Ravens 2020 season opener against the Cleveland Browns — 48 percent of total snaps in the game. He would likely see a similar figure on a game-to-game basis in 2021 if he can stay relatively healthy. It wouldn’t be surprising if Young saw reps on the outside due to the Ravens depth at the nickel. The Ravens have plenty of options when implementing a healthy Young into their defense but he likely won’t play the 832 snaps he saw as a rookie in 2016.
Make or break season for Ravens Tavon Young
Despite Young’s injury history not entirely being his fault, 2021 should be his last strike with the Ravens. DeCosta put a lot of faith in him by offering him such an expensive contract and he is yet to see any real return on his investment. Per Over the Cap, Young’s cap hit for the upcoming season is just under $6 million. That figure balloons to roughly $9.2 million in 2022.
If Young were to suffer another major injury next season, it would be very hard for DeCosta to keep him around for another season. Cutting him would create almost $6 million in cap space next off-season and cornerback is debatably the Ravens deepest position. Young has a history of success when he has been on the field but he needs to stay healthy and play to his highest ability in 2021.
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