The Baltimore Ravens dealt with a substantial amount of injuries during the 2021 NFL season. Over 30 different Ravens missed game time due to injury including a number of notable mainstays. Quarterback Lamar Jackson missed the final four games of the season with an ankle injury while left tackle Ronnie Stanley, the highest-paid player on the Ravens, missed all but one game due to re-aggravating the ankle injury that kept him out for half of the 2020 season.
However, the Ravens secondary took perhaps the biggest blow of all. Starting cornerback Marcus Peters was lost for the season because of a preseason knee injury and All-Pro Marlon Humphrey was forced to miss the final five games of the year after suffering a shoulder injury in the Ravens Week 13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore did not have a single defensive back start every game in 2021. Only Tavon Young was able to play in each of his team’s 17 games.
Here are two graphs showing how impacted the Ravens were by injuries during the 2021 season
Graph One: NFL 2021 regular season games missed to injury vs. team wins via @ManGamesLostNFL
— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) January 19, 2022
Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has heavily prioritized building from the back of his defense and he will likely be looking to add depth going into next season. His secondaries have been amongst the best in the NFL over his tenure but the slew of injuries tested Baltimore’s passing defense in an extensive manner in 2021. If DeCosta and the Ravens want to get back to having perhaps the deepest secondary in football, they will have to add some new faces going into 2022.
Baltimore Ravens Cornerbacks a Top 2022 Offseason Priority
NFL’s Worst Passing Defense
It is an understatement to say the Ravens passing defense struggled last season. Baltimore finished the year giving up the most passing yards, the most passing yards per attempt, the most passing yards per completion, the second-most yards after the catch, and the sixth-highest passer rating in the NFL. This was despite having the league’s best-run defense. Baltimore only surrendered the 14th-most point per game but opposing teams clearly had a decisive game plan when playing the Ravens.
Since Don Martindale took over the Ravens defensive coordinator job in 2018, Baltimore has been a prolific passing defense. They had finished the year as a top-seven passing defense in three straight seasons. Their worst season came in 2020 when they finished seventh in passing yards allowed and their best came in 2019 when they finished fifth. In 2021, Matrindale’s defense gave up 278.9 passing yards per game –almost 60 yards per game than they gave up in 2020 (221.0 per game).
Baltimore’s thinnest areas in the secondary were attacked every week and very rarely yielded positive defensive results. The Ravens continuous rotation of cornerbacks was an obvious problem but the subpar play extended past the backups. Humphrey surrendered single-season highs in passing yards allowed, passer rating when targeted, and yards per target despite recording a career-low in games played. He also had the lowest completion percentage when targeted amongst Ravens defensive backs.
Chuck Clark took one question after today's game. His message:
“I really only have one message for all of the questions. … Every question that is going to come after this, as respectfully as I can say as possible, just watch how we bounce back. That’s all I have to say.”
— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) January 9, 2022
The NFL has transitioned into a passing league and the Ravens secondary needs to bounce back as a unit in 2022. Baltimore surrendered a franchise-high 299 first-half passing yards Week 16 to the Cincinnati Bengals and needs to be prepared for their division rivals as well as a number of other AFC powerhouse offenses.
Potential Ravens Cornerbacks Departing or Retiring
The Ravens are not typically a franchise that keeps players around past their expiry dates. DeCosta and former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome have always been big supporters of the compensatory pick formula and will likely continue to exercise this philosophy going forward.
Baltimore does not have an immediate defensive back discrepancy. Only Anthony Averett is set to hit the open market this upcoming March. However, the 2023 off-season could be far more unpredictable. Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Tavon Young will account for roughly $24.7 million in cap space next season and both require new contracts prior to the start of the 2023 season.
DeCosta also needs to consider the potential retirement of Jimmy Smith. Smith was a former first-round pick of the Ravens in 2011 and will be 34 years old when the 2022 NFL season kicks off. He has seen his play decline over the past two seasons but has been a mainstay in the Ravens secondary when healthy since 2012. Smith is one of only four players on the team remaining from the Ravens Super Bowl XLVII victory.
While Baltimore does not desperately need help at the cornerback position, they would be wise to stabilize their position group. Humphrey is the only cornerback on the Ravens with a contract that extends past the 2022 season.
Free Agency and the Draft
Baltimore will likely look to both the NFL Draft and free agency to address the cornerback position. While Humphrey, Peters, and Young are expected to be back healthy in 2022, DeCosta is still likely to bring in another promising corner. Peters could potentially sign an extension in Baltimore but will be 30 years old following the conclusion of the 2022 season.
DeCosta has recently shown he is not afraid to double down on a premium position. After selecting Marquise Brown with the 25th-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Ravens GM selected wide receiver Rashod Bateman with Baltimore’s 27th-overall pick in 2021. He also selected multiple defensive backs in last year’s draft in third-round pick Brandon Stephens and fifth-round pick Shaun Wade.
The 2022 NFL Draft is projected to be rich in cornerback depth. LSU’s Derick Stingley will likely be a top-10 pick and the most highly coveted of the cornerbacks. The Draft Network’s Joe Marino has four cornerbacks taken in his most recent mock draft while Pro Football Focus’s Austin Gayle projected six cornerbacks to be taken in the first round. Baltimore holds the 14th pick in this April’s draft — their highest pick since they chose Stanley sixth-overall in 2016.
Lowest career yards allowed per coverage snap at outside cornerback among 2022 NFL Draft CBs, per @PFF:
1. Trent McDuffie (0.6)
2. Kaiir Elam (0.7)
3. Kyler Gordon (0.7)
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) January 8, 2022
The Ravens may also look to add another cornerback through free agency. However, Baltimore already has a projected $42.1 million invested in the cornerback position in 2022. If DeCosta elects to add a corner in free agency, they will likely be a veteran or low-cost option.
The Only Place To Go is Up
After finishing 2021 as the NFL’s worst passing defense, the Ravens will be looking to bounce back in a big way. The additions of a healthy Humphrey and Peters will go a long way but DeCosta is likely looking to erase the possibility of a 2021-type scenario happening ever again. It might take some creativity but expect the Ravens cornerbacks to get back to being one of the deepest position groups in the NFL in 2022.
Embed from Getty Images