With a $ 15.5 million cap hit this season, cornerback Marcus Peters has had some attention focused in his direction by those with an eye on relieving some salary-cap stress for the Ravens decision-makers.
After recently hearing John Harbaugh and Eric DeCosta both speak so highly of Peters and their desire to have him back in the fold next season, the easy assumption would be that an extension would be the play here. And, on a team that has struggled with turning the ball over, bringing back their one proven ball-hawk simply seems to make sense.
So, with Peters and Marlon Humphrey both expected back for the 2022 season, assuming their respective recoveries go as expected, the Ravens do not seem to have a glaring need at corner, right?
For starters, and let’s say this together, you can never have enough cornerbacks. In a pass-crazy modern NFL, with a new batch of ridiculously talented receivers entering the league’s ecosystem every April, it’s frankly kind of stupid not to keep adding to that position group. And in the Ravens’ case, one could logically see a scenario where the team sees an exodus from the position with the likely departures of Anthony Averett (priced out), Jimmy Smith (physically maxed out) and Tavon Young (possible salary-cap casualty, or reduced-price return).
With that many bodies potentially leaving town, well… that would seem to go against the grain in terms of stacking up corners to face modern offenses.
By most accounts, this is a pretty good draft for cornerbacks, and offers some depth. According to The Draft Network’s cumulative big board, 15 cornerbacks fall into the top 100 players coming out this year. On the flip side, they list 16 receivers in the top 100. It’s an arms race, folks, between guys who catch the ball, and guys who can try to stop the ball from being caught. I honestly would not be upset to see the Ravens draft two corners this year, even with those expected returns of Humphrey and Peters.
With so many teams going to quick-passing offenses, it’s easy to see why so many in the analytics world treasure coverage over pressure in terms of establishing a sound pass defense. The thought is that quarterbacks get rid of the ball too quickly now to mount a consistent down-after-down pass rush, so the best strategy is to get corners and sub-package backs who can disrupt passing lanes, get their hands on the ball or simply man up and throw off timing in that quick-hit offense. Though I do think if you do not have any semblance of a pass rush, those gifted defensive backs have to cover those equally-gifted receivers that much longer, and eventually the dam will break, but…
My point is that the Ravens NEED corners simply to replace the ones they lost this year, and that they’ll WANT corners because they historically value coverage, and it’s good to have a plethora of options in that defensive backfield to match up with modern offenses . Which, if you’ve read this far, is a really long way for me to say that I can 100-percent see the Ravens grabbing a cornerback in the first two days of the draft this April, and possibly another one after that.
With the 14th pick in the first round, there will probably be a good option for the Ravens. And, honestly, if a Derek Stingley Jr. or Andrew Booth Jr. is sitting there at 9 or 10, I do consider making a move if I’m DeCosta. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner is a guy who could also be there for the taking in that range, or even 14, as is Roger McCreary.
Other options fairly early in the draft could be Kaiir Elam, Mario Goodrich or, one of my crushes this year, Gardner’s college teammate Coby Bryant.
But the guy I’d really consider targeting this season is someone who might be had with a trade-back in the first round, or a trade-up in the second round – and that is Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie.
For the record, he is not my CB1 this season. I put Stingley and Booth in their own class, in my all-too-often-wrong opinion. But I think McDuffie is a guy who can contribute in a big way this year, even if both Humphreys and Peters return in game shape, and can be a cornerstone of the defense for years to come.
For starters, I think McDuffie can play outside, which is a major plus, particularly when considering that the Ravens have liked the ability to move Humphrey inside against certain match-ups. But I also feel he can thrive inside, covering slot receivers in traffic and offering good tackling support in the run game. If the Ravens lose Young, they do have some interesting options on the roster, but I do not think any of them would offer as much optimism or upside as McDuffie.
Look, corner is a prime position in today’s NFL, and while it’s not as sexy a position as quarterback, receiver or pass-rusher, it’s definitely on that list of premium priorities for any team. The Ravens have done a nice job with first-round corners in the past, going with Duane StarksChris McAlister, Smith and Humphrey, the last of which was selected in 2017.
It might be time to take another this season, and one guy who can offer the flexibility to help out now and into the future is McDuffie.