Quiet corner: Ravens' Marlon Humphrey must slow down boisterous OBJ

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- This tweet from Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey comes every Friday during the regular season:

What’s the best high school game today in the Baltimore area?

Humphrey goes from Baltimore City to the suburbs, standing in line with all the other fans to buy a ticket. Not wearing any of his Ravens gear, Humphrey is more likely to buy a hoodie from that local high school.

"It's just cool to see the local talent," Humphrey said. "Sometimes I sit in the stands like everyone else. Sometimes, if I stand near the fence, somebody on the sidelines might recognize me."

Humphrey remains the best NFL cornerback who regularly goes unnoticed, and some of it is his own doing. He was the best player on the NFL’s top-ranked defense last season, but he didn’t make the Pro Bowl or receive All-Pro honors. When ESPN named its top 100 players, Humphrey didn’t make the list even though 10 other cornerbacks did.

The one time he gained recognition was at the end of last season, when the Baltimore-area reporters voted him the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player. Humphrey, though, declined to accept it because he acknowledges that he doesn’t enjoy the media obligation of the job.

Humphrey doesn’t seek out the spotlight, and he jokes that fans are more interested in his cat’s Instagram account -- the one he set up for Snowflake -- than his own.

On Sunday, the Ravens’ quietest and most recluse superstar must stop the NFL’s brashest receiver. Considering how Humphrey doesn’t like talking, those in the Ravens secondary spoke up for him, saying he’s up to the task of shadowing and slowing down Cleveland Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

"I call him the $90 million man, and he’s probably going to make more than that,” safety Earl Thomas said of Humphrey. "He’s a great competitor. He’s a great tackler. He can be one of the better corners that I’ve ever played with.”

That’s high praise, given Thomas’ Legion of Boom credentials include playing with Pro Bowl cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. Thomas isn’t alone in his high assessment of the fast-rising 2017 first-round pick.

Humphrey has been the biggest bright spot for the NFL's No. 27 pass defense. He is just one of two cornerbacks who have allowed a zero passer rating when thrown against (Atlanta's Desmond Trufant is the other), according to Pro Football Reference.

The Ravens traditionally have their cornerbacks stick to lining up on one side of the field for the entire game. With Anthony Averett filling in for the injured Jimmy Smith (knee), it wouldn't be surprising if Baltimore asked Humphrey to follow Beckham all over the field.

Beckham is fourth in the NFL with 288 yards receiving on 19 catches.

Here is why Humphrey represents the Ravens' best chance to match up with the best receivers in the NFL:

Resilient mindset: “Cornerback is the art of finish. That’s what I noticed about him this year. Once he figured out who he is and who he’s destined to be, that sense of urgency within him and the confidence comes of course. He can run, jump and play with anybody. No matter what the first part of play is -- the receiver might beat him off the line -- if they get a step on him, he’s savvy enough to keep his composure and buckle down, find a way to get the ball down.” -- cornerback Brandon Carr

Understanding the nuances: "You can be a man-to-man corner but you can’t cover every route man-to-man. You have to know how to play the position, as far as what do you want to take away on certain downs, how do you want to play certain routes, how do you want to play certain people. I think that’s what he’s learning. That’s what is accelerating his process right now.” -- cornerback Jimmy Smith

Physical gifts: "The way he trained his body this offseason, he’s a totally different guy. His mentality is totally different. It’s hard to find a corner who is physical and fast. He’s a totally different level right now. He wants to be the best corner in the league." -- defensive back/linebacker Anthony Levine Sr.

The Ravens learned how badly they need Humphrey in Sunday's 33-28 loss in Kansas City, where he was sidelined for parts of the final two series of the first half with an undisclosed injury (both drives resulted in scores). On the first play without Humphrey, QB Patrick Mahomes hit rookie receiver Mecole Hardman for an 83-yard touchdown. On the next drive, Mahomes completed 6-of-7 passes for 69 yards to set up a field goal.

This season, quarterbacks have targeted Humphrey 10 times and completed three passes for 17 yards. He has one of two interceptions for Baltimore this season and ranks third with 11 tackles.

The Ravens saw signs of this talent last season and all through training camp, where he rarely gave up a catch.

"We’re depending on Marlon, obviously," safety Tony Jefferson said, "and I think he can be a top-2, maybe No. 1 cornerback in the league when it’s said and done.”

How Humphrey fares against Beckham on Sunday will show whether he can live up to those expectations.