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No longer 'Marvin'? Ravens' Marlon Humphrey making big name for himself

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens safety Tony Jefferson was asked about Marlon Humphrey just before the season began and he couldn't resist giving a playful jab at the young cornerback.

"Marvin?" Jefferson said with a grin.

That's the nickname that veteran teammates frequently used to tease Humphrey on social media, and this is believed to be the last time anyone referred to Humphrey by that publicly.

Humphrey is now known as the defender who physically shut down Odell Beckham Jr. in a loss to the Cleveland Browns. He is being celebrated for delivering the game-turning forced fumble against JuJu Smith-Schuster in an overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He’s one of the best players on defense so far," Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon said. "All the talk and the credit he’s getting, he deserves it."

Humphrey, 23, could become the first Ravens cornerback to reach the Pro Bowl since Chris McAlister in 2006. But he has already brought something valuable to Baltimore.

On Sunday, the Ravens faced a potentially disastrous situation if they had lost to the Steelers and undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges. Baltimore won that game because of Humphrey's fearlessness. Humphrey allowed a touchdown to Smith-Schuster in the first quarter after whiffing on a forced fumble. A teammate told Humphrey that he has to make that tackle, and all Humphrey could think about was getting another shot at that turnover.

In overtime, Humphrey gambled and went for the forced fumble again, punching the ball out of Smith-Schuster's grasp and recovering the loose ball to set up the game-winning field goal. The biggest play of the Ravens' season lifted Baltimore (3-2) to the top of the AFC North standings.

Was there any hesitancy by Humphrey to go for the ball after failing to strip it previously?

"There wasn’t really any doubt," Humphrey said. "I just made sure to secure the tackle this time. If you go for a second one, you have to make sure you tackle a guy first."

Earning a name isn't anything new to Humphrey. When he attended his father's alma mater Alabama, he was called "Bobby Humphrey's son." But Humphrey embraced the pressure and carved out his own legacy in becoming a first-team All-American and won the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship.

It was the same way with the Ravens. Humphrey was the best player on the NFL's top-ranked defense last year, but he was overshadowed by more established players like Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley.

Humphrey is now unquestioned as the top defender in Baltimore. He held Beckham to career lows in receptions (two) and receiving yards (20). He kept Smith-Schuster contained to 75 yards receiving (35 of which came on a touchdown).

"We ask him to have tough matchups with following No. 1 [wide receivers] around," safety Earl Thomas said, "and he’s been stepping up."

Through five weeks, Humphrey has the fifth-best defender passer rating (53.5), breaking up five of the 23 passes targeted at him.

Asked about the added responsibility of covering the other team's top target, Humphrey casually responded, "It's cool, I guess. When I was in college, I would look up Pat [Peterson] vs. Calvin Johnson or Darelle Revis. When you see some of the top corners, that is what you usually see. To say you’re one of the better corners, you got to do that."

Humphrey has been one of the few bright spots on Baltimore's defense. The pass-rush has disappeared, the inside linebackers have been shuffled around because of inconsistency and the secondary has been hit with injuries.

Jefferson (knee) and nickelback Tavon Young (neck) are out for the season, and cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) has an undetermined timetable after missing the past four games. Only Humphrey and Thomas remain from the projected starting defensive backfield.

On a defense that has uncharacteristically struggled, Humphrey has been among the most disruptive players the league. He is the only NFL player with an interception along with multiple forced fumbles and pass break-ups.

"He has played at a very high level, but he'll be the first to tell you that he needs to play better," coach John Harbaugh said. "He wants to play better, and he works hard to play better. The best players think that way. He has that kind of a mindset. So, we'll determine that at the end of the year."

But has Humphrey at least played good enough to shed that "Marvin" moniker?

“No, that’s my guy," Judon said. "I’m always going to make fun of him no matter how good he plays."