Defensive back is the Baltimore Ravens most overlooked need

There’s a possibility that someone in the Baltimore Ravens secondary is going to suffer a significant injury this year. It comes down to a numbers game.

Since the Ravens began their resurgence in 2008, a key defensive back has gotten injured every single year except 2013. See below:

2008: Chris McAlister

2009: Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington

2010: Domonique Foxworth

2011: Foxworth 

2012: Webb

2014: Jimmy Smith

2015: An injury plagued season for the entire group

2016: Maurice Canady and Smith

2017: Smith and Jaylen Hill

The $48 million man Smith will begin the season at age 30 coming off an Achilles injury. There are even reports that he may not be able to get on the field in time for Week 1.

Intriguing second year corner Hill will also be coming off significant knee injury. Not only that, he is best served playing the nickel role because of his size. The same goes for third year player Tavon Young. Both are very talented defensive backs, but they have not proven capable of providing consistent coverage on the outside.

Young stole the hearts of Baltimore fans to begin his infant career, but when he had to take over for Smith on the outside, he struggled mightily. Dez Bryant beat him consistently, when the Ravens faced the Cowboys in 2016.

In 2018, the Ravens will face the likes of Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, Kelvin Benjamin, along with Josh Gordon and A.J. Green. Ravens fans would not rest easy at night knowing diminutive players like Hill or Young would have to be matched up with those big, physical threats for 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, Canady played like a stud all of 2017. However, when the Ravens needed him most, 4th and 12 happened. Canady was the one who overran the play and got turned around. Canady was the one in position to tackle Tyler Boyd. If he would have played disciplined, played under control, Ravens still live to fight another down and possibly make a return to the postseason. Canady has surely went back and looked at that play time and time again. He knows he was in position to save the fragile spirit of thousands of Ravens fans across the country. But, he ultimately let them down.

Yes, 4th and 12 was a complete defensive breakdown. Andy Dalton and Boyd both found the soft spot in the zone. Dalton did a great job of distributing the ball over the outstretched finger tips of linebacker C.J. Mosley. Canady was the first person in position to bring Boyd down, and he failed. Cornerback Brandon Carr was unable to chase down the young receiver with less mileage on his legs. That leaves Canady as the best bet to possibly extend the game to overtime. He knows that.

Plays like that can make or break a young player’s confidence, so Canady will be someone to keep an eye on throughout 2018.

Carr is a solid veteran player who will be on the wrong side of 32 when the season begins. He may perform well against slightly above average receivers, but as Antonio Brown showed in Week 14, he can be torched by the game’s elite. As is the case for elderly defensive backs, Carr should start to see a decrease in snaps next year (pending Jimmy Smith’s questionable ability to stay healthy.)

The only cornerback without a question mark going into 2018 is Marlon Humphrey. He was everything the Ravens expected and more. Big, fast, physical and aggressive. His biggest problem in college still showed up at times (tracking the deep ball), but he is a Smith-clone that will lock down his side of the field for the next four years in Baltimore.

If Humphrey and Smith are both healthy, they are easily a top five cornerback duo in the league. But the Ravens cornerback group is largely dependent on Smith’s ability to stay on the field. Everyone else just fits into a specific role, which allows teams to attack those weaknesses.

But the Ravens’ potential issues don’t just stop with the cornerbacks. The team may need to take a long, hard look at the top two safeties: Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson.

Weddle was tied for third in the league with six interceptions, but he was a step slow getting over to help with the deep ball at times. He has been an absolute blessing since coming to Baltimore, and he is one of the team’s top leaders. But players don’t all of a sudden regain a lost step at age 33.

Meanwhile, strong safety Jefferson is a mixed bag. He was dubbed as an active player who thrives at the line of scrimmage, but there were times where he either disappeared, or just simply underwhelmed. He’s emotional, he cares and he breathes the passion for football that lines up with the philosophy of what it means to be a Baltimore Raven. But caring doesn’t win games necessarily. Showing up on Sundays does. And Jefferson simply did not justify the hype that surrounded his signing last off-season.

All in all, the Ravens own one of the most top-heavy secondaries in the league. Despite being one of the most talented, there are real issues that can cause the entire operation to go south in a heartbeat.

Ravens fans are rightfully starving to get a playmaking receiver that can help finish out Joe Flacco’s career in Baltimore, similar to how Bryant did for Tony Romo. But right now, it’s “Calvin Ridley or bust” and he plays a premier position and lower tier teams with young quarterbacks will have a shot at him before the Ravens.

There is a real chance that Ridley will be gone before the 16th. If that happens, where does the franchise go from there? It wouldn’t be a popular decision, but maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to target a Derwin James or Mike Hughes or whoever the top secondary player is available.

Ravens fans have witnessed key injuries to the secondary completely derail their season for two years straight. It might not hurt to continue to pump valuable resources into the unit as present players start to get older.

Follow Milton on Twitter @_callmeRichard

(Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America)

Milton Woolley