During the free agency period, the Baltimore Ravens strengthened an already stellar secondary by adding six-time Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback/special teamer Justin Bethel.
Earl Thomas parted ways with the Seattle Seahawks due to a contract dispute and some off-field issues. He fills a void left by free safety Eric Weddle after he was released by Baltimore. Thomas is considered a ball hawk and been compared to Hall of Famer Ed Reed. He patrols the middle of the field well, blocking and intercepting passes with ease. This six-time Pro Bowler earned first-team All-Pro honors three times while with the Seahawks. He joins strong safety Tony Jefferson, obviously leading to the Twitterverse dubbing the duo as “Thomas Jefferson.”
Tony Jefferson has been the starting strong safety since he signed with the Ravens in 2017 as an unrestricted free agent from the Arizona Cardinals. His specialty is making hard-hitting, open-field tackles. He is also very solid in coverage. He was teamed up with Weddle when the two played together. The two of them assisted the team in allowing the fewest yards in the league last season. During the 2018 season, through 864 snaps, Jefferson recorded 74 combined tackles, one sack, one interception, and one forced fumble. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the fifth best safety in 2018.
Jimmy Smith signed as a first-round draft pick in 2011 and has been the Ravens’ top cornerback ever since. Smith can be considered the “bad boy” of the Ravens. He has been suspended twice: once for violating the NFL’s drug policy and once for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. When Smith is on the field, he is hot, and excellent in coverage. Smith has only played two complete seasons, 2013 and 2015. All of the other seasons, Smith missed time courtesy of an injury or suspension, with his worst injury coming in December 2017 when he tore his Achilles. Facing his age 30 season, he can keep up with the likes of Antonio Brown and A.J. Green. Last season, Smith outdid himself by recording two interceptions in the same game on Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns. He also recorded 45 combined tackles, nine passes defended.
Justin Bethel is the Ravens’ most recently signed cornerback, and some have questioned Smith’s position on the team. Bethel was signed mainly as a special-teamer and it appears, at least for now, Smith’s position with the team is still solid.
Marlon Humphrey came onboard as a first-round cornerback draft pick in the 2017 NFL draft. He immediately stepped up to the defense. His first start was during Week 5 against the Oakland Raiders when he completed three combined tackles and assisted his team in winning 30-17. During Week 11, he started “playing like a Raven” and caught his first interception, returning it for 15 yards against the Green Bay Packers. He also hauled in an interception in Week 13 against the Detroit Lions. He became the starting cornerback for the remainder of the season after Smith tore his Achilles in December 2017. In 2018, he exploded on the field with pass deflections and interceptions in many games. During Weeks 11, 15, and 16, his plays were difference-makers.
Tavon Young was the first Raven to be re-signed of the season. His three-year deal is worth $25.8 million, making him the highest paid nickel cornerback in the NFL. New general manager Eric DeCosta stated that he wanted to keep the young players on the team. Young was signed as a fourth-round draft pick in the 2016 NFL draft and became a defensive playmaker immediately. He was assigned as a slot cornerback. During his rookie season, he returned a blocked extra point on a two-point conversion against the Cleveland Browns in just the second week of the season. He recorded his first interception in his rookie season a week later against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He became a starter behind Smith in Week 6 against the New York Giants, and he recorded his second interception for a 16-yard gain. He missed his entire 2017 season due to a knee injury that occurred during the OTAs but returned in 2018 and continued to play at a high level, although he dealt with hernia issues and missed one game. During Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills, he got the first two sacks of his career. During Week 16 against the Los Angeles Chargers, Young picked up a fumble and ran for 62 yards, which is currently a franchise record. Given his high level of playing, it was a no-brainer to resign him.
Brandon Carr is an 11-year veteran cornerback that spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a Raven in 2017. This iron man has 176 consecutive starts, which is the NFL’s longest active streak among defenders. He has not missed a start (let alone a game) since he was signed in 2008. He was on the field for 876 snaps in 2018 alone and has won the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award three times (2014, 2015, 2018).
The NFL has taken notice that the AFC rival Cleveland Browns having a potential playoff team and take over the division now that wide receiver Odell Beckham joined the offense. The Baltimore Ravens secondary heard the news and will be more than prepared for the upcoming season.