Graduation time: Marlon Humphrey wants to take game to 'Bowl' level

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey fulfilled one important goal for himself and his family this spring, graduating from the University of Alabama with a degree in Human Environmental Sciences.

"I definitely didn’t think that would be something I would do so close to going into the league from when I left [college], but it definitely felt really good to walk across the stage and hug my mom, who is a trustee at Alabama," Humphrey said. "So, it definitely felt really good to get that -- something I started and finished. Now it’s back to football."

Humphrey is looking to move to the top of the class in the NFL as well. He was named the Ravens' Most Valuable Player last season by local media and finished as the 13th-best cornerback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

In a season in which Baltimore played five games against the top four passing attacks in the NFL (Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Atlanta), Humphrey allowed 43 receptions on 83 targets over 534 snaps in coverage. His rate of knocking away 22.5 percent of the passes thrown his way ranked as third-best in the league.

What's in Humphrey's sights this year?

“Anything that ends with a ‘Bowl,’ whether that’s Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, any of those things are always big goals," Humphrey said. "Just making big plays; big plays lead to Pro Bowls, Pro Bowl players lead to playoff teams and then playoff teams can have a chance to win the Super Bowl. So, whatever way you can help your team win. I think the best way to help your team win is to try to play your best ball that you can play."

In the 2017 draft, the Ravens came away with Humphrey but they were initially targeting cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Baltimore called the New Orleans Saints about trading up five spots to No. 11. The Saints declined and selected Lattimore, who went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Now, Humphrey has an opportunity to do the same and would become the first Ravens cornerback to reach the Pro Bowl since Chris McAlister in 2006. He'll get tested this season, lining up against the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins.

What has always stood out about Humphrey is the NFL game has never been too big for him, which can be traced back to playing big games at Alabama and growing up with a father who played in the league. That showed up in Humphrey's clutch play last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey was targeted 18 times in high-pressure situations and allowed eight receptions for 58 yards while picking off two passes and forcing five incompletions.

"The thing that jumps out to me about Marlon is the fact that he is a super detailed guy when it comes to technique and playing his position," coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s very coachable. He listens to every word you say, and then he tries to apply it in his way. He tries to understand. He’s very smart, so he can understand the point that’s being made, and then he goes to work on it. If you watch him play, he’s not just a talented guy. He is super talented, but he applies technique at a really high level, and that’s what makes him so good."

Humphrey has made his presence known this offseason. At one recent practice, he ran stride for stride with a receiver before making a leaping interception in the end zone.

Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale called Humphrey the best cornerback on the team by the end of last season. The biggest difference with Humphrey has been his number switch, giving No. 29 to Earl Thomas for a charitable donation to his mother's track team and taking No. 44 (the number his father, Bobby Humphrey, wore during his final NFL season in Miami).

There have been larger changes on the Ravens' defense as a whole. After finishing No. 1 in the NFL last year, Baltimore parted way with core leaders in Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley.

At the age of 22, Humphrey will be counted on to take that next step if Baltimore wants to maintain its tradition of strong defenses.

"There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces, and I see a lot of new opportunities," Humphrey said. "A lot of guys, especially in my draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles -- including myself. "So, I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves, to become those household names like C.J. Mosley and Weddle."