Rookie CB Has The Makings of a Rising Star
For this week’s Rookie Report, we place the spotlight on one of the Ravens’ most important players. Cornerback Tavon Young shines and among a talented 2016 draft class, his star has burned brightest thus far.
So let’s take a look at what makes this fourth-round pick such a quality defender.
The most important prerequisite of all cornerbacks, of course, is the ability to mirror receivers’ routes and cover against the pass.
Most scouts saw Tavon Young exclusively as a slot cover man due to his lack of size—we all know high schoolers who are bigger than him, as he is officially listed at 5’9” 177 lbs. However, the Temple graduate has leveraged his quickness and aggressiveness to compete with larger receivers closer to the boundary in recent weeks, showcasing his all-around ability at the position.
Let’s look at his interception against the Giants. Speedy rookie receiver Sterling Shepard runs right at him before extending his inside arm and turning on a 45-degree angle towards the sideline on a corner route.
Young didn’t have much time to react, but he instantly flips his hips and it takes just 3 yards before he’s running stride-for-stride with Shepard.
Young is in perfect position when Shepard trips, and makes a fantastic diving interception.
Moving to Thursday night against the Browns: it’s rare that I compliment negative plays, but I absolutely loved Young’s second quarter pass interference penalty when covering another pacey wideout: Corey Coleman. It was the type of aggressive, yet sensible play on the ball that Baltimore fans have to appreciate. He mirrored Coleman’s deep-out, accelerated at the stem of the route to undercut (something he is becoming very good at doing), and made a heck of a play to close on the ball, knocking it away. As you can see, the mistake here was Young’s trailing hand grabbing Coleman’s shoulder, drawing the flag.
Even if he didn’t grab the back shoulder, the officials would have been tempted to throw a flag because he absolutely smothered the receiver. Young will need to continue cleaning up his hand placement, but this type of aggressive, exciting penalty is far preferable to (a) being nowhere in the television frame when the catch is made or (b) tackling the receiver mid-route just to prevent a touchdown (to which Ravens fans have seen too many times in recent seasons).
Young’s ability to tackle will serve him well in a division where there are numerous receivers who can create after the catch, with hands-down the best such receiver in the league playing in Pittsburgh. In fact, on a wide receiver screen to Antonio Brown in Week 9, Eli Rogers attempted to cut Young, but the rookie somehow quickly regained his balance, kept his head up, and launched himself to make a solo tackle for a gain of just 4 yards. This still shot [on the left] below shows the absurdity of that play. Young goes from neither foot on the playing surface to making a crunching tackle in about one second.
In the Ravens’ secondary, only tackling machine Eric Weddle has more tackles than Young’s 29. He plays with his head up, and despite his quickness and growing confidence, he consistently chops his feet before contact to limit missed tackles.
Generating turnovers in today’s NFL is often a fluky business, but there is something to be said for someone who at this time last year was taking college mid-terms and has now been involved in four takeaways for a previously turnover-starved defense. In Weeks 2 through 4, he returned a blocked extra point for a touchdown, grabbed an interception, and scooped up a fumble recovery, respectively. As we saw above, he added another pick against the Giants in Week 6. On each takeaway, Young has displayed excellent hustle and field awareness.
As if we needed another reason to like Tavon, he is a Maryland boy who grew up in Oxon Hill and played his high school ball at Potomac. Let’s keep an eye on Young and see how Dean Pees uses his skills to stifle the talented offensive attacks that Baltimore will face down the stretch.
• Kenneth Dixon’s role continues to expand. He posted an impressive 6.4 yard/carry average on Thursday night and also proved his usefulness as a pass-catching back adding 5 receptions for 42 yards.
• Michael Pierce and Matt Judon refuse to quit highlight plays along the defensive line. Pierce’s penetration and Judon’s ability to set the edge will be crucial against the vaunted Cowboys rushing attack.
• They’re no longer rookies of course, but shout out to Breshad Perriman and Darren Waller, two young pass catchers who we didn’t get much of a chance to cover last year via Rookie Report, but both of whom caught their first NFL touchdown last week.
• Offensive linemen Alex Lewis and Ronnie Stanley put in decent (definitely not spectacular) performances, but for Stanley that sort of evening still represented a significant bounce-back game after his embarrassing effort against the Steelers.