During the final five weeks of the 2021 season, the Ravens relied on Kevon Seymour, Robert Jackson, Daryl Worley and Chris Westry to play significant snaps at cornerback.
This wasn’t the plan for a franchise that’s invested so much cap space in its secondary in recent seasons, one that’s turned away qualified cornerbacks in training camp. It’s been a well-known nightmare for coach John Harbaugh, who has navigated many Decembers and Januarys with starting defenders on the injury ward. But this time, the Ravens couldn’t come up with a workable solution; They finished the league last in pass defense and ranked 29th in forced turnovers.
Better luck alone would promise better performance in 2022. The Ravens played all of last season without their top ballhawk Marcus Peters. They played the last five games without Marlon Humphrey, their other former All-Pro cornerback. Both expect 100% by September. In addition to those expected returns, they reinforced their backline by signing Marcus Williams, one of the best cover-collaterals in the sport.
However, the Ravens have learned not to assume they’ll end the season with the same cornerbacks it started with, and what they’re lacking right now is depth behind Humphrey and Peters.
“I think we’re definitely concerned,” general manager Eric DeCosta said at the team’s pre-draft press conference earlier this month. “If you guys know us, we always want to have a strong runner-up and get as many corners as possible. We have referred to these guys as race cars in the past. This year we’ve been decimated across the board in that position. We have outstanding players coming back, but until they come back it’s question marks.”
In other words, the Ravens will be in the cornerback market when the draft begins Thursday night. Will this hunt start with Pick #14?
Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, the consensus top cornerback in the class, will likely be long gone by the time the Ravens decide. That might not be the case for LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., who looked like the next prodigy in the position of true freshman for the 2019 Tigers national championship team. He didn’t play at the same level in 2020 or 2021 as injuries and occasional neglect raised questions from some scouts. Will those questions keep Stingley, who has the rare ability to shadow wide receivers one-on-one on the outside, on the board until midway through the first round?
His former LSU teammate, Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen, hopes so. “Derek was different the day he walked in,” Queen recalled. “He came in early while we were practicing for the bowl game my sophomore year, and he came in and practiced, and he took on Ja’Marr [Chase] and these guys, and he was clenching back then. So when he got there that first year, you could really see it.
Many Ravens fans would also be happy if an 0 cornerback was available with such a high ceiling on the #14 pick. However, that may not be the most realistic scenario for Thursday night. Instead, the Ravens could take a long look at a less-glamorous cornerback who overplayed Stingley in 2021.
Trent McDuffie is 5-foot-11 with relatively short arms and didn’t intercept a single pass for Washington last season. With those caveats on the table, he might be the perfect candidate to round out the Ravens’ high school and allow every other player to fill their ideal role.
The case for Trent McDuffie
The Ravens covet the versatility of their top defensemen, and that’s McDuffie’s calling card. He can cover a receiver from the outside, but is perhaps even more comfortable in zone coverage, which he’s played often and well in Washington. He’s very fast, powerfully built and Pro Football Focus described him as the best tackling corner in his class, meaning he could thrive in some slot or even safety situations.
Beginning in a program known as the NFL Defenseman Factory (including Peters) for three years, he received rave reviews for his maturity and acumen with football on top of his obvious athletic ability.
“We used to do something in Baltimore, and they still do it today, with Red Star players,” said Daniel Jeremiah, draft analyst and former NFL Network Ravens scout. “You put the red star on the guy you just want in the building. Maybe not the best draft player for his position, maybe not the best player at his school, but he’s someone who fits into the culture. He Is hard. He is intelligent. He’s competitive. For me, Trent McDuffie is a red star. He’s a Redstar guy. Just everything about him, how he plays, everything I hear about him from an immaterial point of view. I would think it would be a good fit. They have bigger corners than they’ve had over the years, but I think he’s kind of a DNA match for their style of play.”
It’s easy to imagine McDuffie’s fit. He could play alongside Humphrey and Peters and would give defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald more flexibility to move safeties Brandon Stephens and Chuck Clark on the field.
“McDuffie gives them versatility and depth in a position that was plagued by injuries last season,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper wrote when he recently sent McDuffie to the Ravens in a three-round mock draft with colleague Todd McShay.
Why wouldn’t the Ravens call up this guy when he’s 14th? Well, it comes back to McDuffie’s arms, measured at 29 3/4 inches on the NFL scouting combine. He ranks in the bottom 10% for his position. Gardner’s arms were nearly four inches longer. Because of McDuffie’s stature, scouts aren’t confident he’ll win fights over contested balls.
Here are some other cornerbacks the Ravens might consider later in the draft:
Florida’s Kaiir Elam: Elam’s Uncle Matt was one of the least successful first-round picks in Ravens history, but that wouldn’t deter the team from their interest in this long, aggressive cornerback, who held up well against SEC competition and the 40-yard -Dash ran in 4.39 seconds at the combine. He is error-prone and his performance has waned over the last season, but there are only a limited number of players who combine his versatile athleticism and eagerness for press coverage.
Nebraska’s Cam Taylor-Britt: Taylor-Britt, like McDuffie, is a heavily built hitting machine that could play in the slot or play safe. He has a longer frame and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds at the combine, meaning he may be gone if the Ravens finish 76th overall. Unlike McDuffie, Taylor-Britt often let his aggression get the better of him, resulting in penalties, missed tackles and gaps in coverage.
Alabama’s Jalyn Armor-Davis: We know how much the Ravens value Crimson Tide defenders. Armor-Davis tore ligaments in his knee prior to his freshman season and only started last year, but made all-SEC when his opportunity presented itself. It checks all size and speed boxes and has no trouble sticking with receivers in the bottom box. His lack of stamina – he missed four games in 2021 with a hip injury – is the factor that will put teams off.
Thursday, 8 p.m
Friday, 7 p.m
TV: ESPN, NFL Network, Chs. 2, 7
https://www.twincities.com/2022/04/26/ravens-draft-preview-why-versatile-cornerback-trent-mcduffie-might-be-the-perfect-player-to-fill-out-a-thin-secondary/ Why versatile cornerback Trent McDuffie might be the perfect player to fill a thin supporting role — Twin Cities