Even though he’s entering his third year in the league and had been playing football most of his life, Baltimore Ravens defensive back Brandon Stephens has only been playing defense for four years and has worn many hats in the secondary both in college and in the pros.
The converted college running back played two years at corner for the Southern Methodist University Mustangs and after getting drafted in the third round, he would start 11 games at free safety for the Ravens as a rookie before transitioning back to corner in his second season.
During a press conference at the team’s rookie minicamp, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh told reporters that they love his positional versatility and plan to have Stephens “focus more on safety” this year but could still deploy in other roles if and when needed.
‘We’re going to start him off at safety and work as a safety-corner combination,” he said. “He’s gotten a lot of reps at corner so far. [He will] try to really get that down. One of his superpowers is going to be he can play all five spots.”
Harbaugh believes that Stephens could assume the hybrid nickelback safety role that 2022 first-rounder Kyle Hamilton played and shined at as a rookie last year down the stretch. Heading into his second season, Hamilton is slotted to take over as the starting strong safety next to Marcus Williams after the trade of Chuck Clark to the New York Jets earlier this offseason.
“Those guys become interchangeable if they’re playing the nickel spot, too, and we probably more than anybody played a three-safety-type grouping out there in our nickel package,” Harbaugh said. “I would think he could do the same type of thing.”
Stephens entered the offseason as the projected starter opposite of three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey after he made four starts and showed some promise last season. However, after the team signed veteran cornerback Rock Ya-Sin to a one-year deal worth $6 million following the 2023 NFL Draft, the likelihood of that still being the case seemed low.
Nevertheless, Stephens made significant strides in coverage from his rookie year to his second season. He was especially much improved in coverage where he lowered his numbers across the board including completion percentage (62.7-75.6), yards per completion (11.1-12.5), yards per target (6.9-9.4), and opposing passer rating allowed (88.9-128.8) according to Pro Football Reference. He recorded 37 total tackles, seven pass deflections, and half a sack in 15 games.
Ravens Had Their Eyes on CB Rock Ya-Sin for a While
It’s rare to see young veterans at a premium position like cornerback, sit as long as the former second-rounder did on the open market especially when they come with a wealth of starting experience and desired measurables as he does at just 26 years old.
Harbaugh shared that the Ravens had been following Ya-Sin’s career for a while and that they have “always appreciated the way he plays” the game.
“He’s a very diligent player, he can run, he’s a good tackler,” he said. “He’s a tough player, a good man and zone player – both. We were impressed when we talked to him, and [we’re] just happy to get it done. So, we’re looking forward to seeing how he does.”
During his first four years in the league with the Indianapolis Colts and Las Vegas Raiders, he has started 38 of his 52 career games and has recorded 183 total tackles including two for a loss, 27 pass deflections, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles according to Pro Football Reference.
He was a highly rated prospect when he came out of Temple University and went on to get taken early in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft at No. 34 overall by the Colts and would get traded to the Raiders prior to the 2022 season.
Ravens Not Closing Door on Adding to Secondary
As excited as the team is about signing Ya-Sin, he likely won’t be the last veteran addition that they make to their defensive backfield. When asked if the move “closes the door” on another significant signing in the secondary, Harbaugh implied that it wouldn’t preclude them from bringing in another corner or safety.
“I don’t think you can ever really close the door on any personnel move,” he said. “Whoever it might be, you can probably ask me about Marcus [Peters] and whatever other corners are out there. I would say you don’t close the door on good players and good people. We’ll see how it goes.”
He beat reporters to the punch when by mentioning Peters as a potential option since many believed that once they signed Ya-Sin, it meant re-signing the three-time Pro Bowler was unlikely. However, with Stephens slated to focus on safety this year, that opens up a spot at outside cornerback as either a starter or primary back that the renowned ball hawk could fill.
The Ravens value experience and like having multiple starting-caliber cornerbacks because it provides injury insurance and gives them more schematic flexibility.
By bringing back Peters or signing another capable starter at the position, it would free up Humphrey to move inside to play the slot if and when needed where he has shown that he can be just as if not even more effective during his career.
Given that they were able to sign an ascending young talent like Ya-Sin to a short-term deal below his projected market value, a reunion with the 30-year-old Peters could potentially cost even less.
His knowledge and leadership would be invaluable for their young cornerback room and he has gone on the record several times about how much he loves being in Baltimore.
Another veteran defensive back to key an eye on as a possible addition down the road or near future could be safety Adrian Amos. The former Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers standout has spent his entire career in the NFC North and has 122 career starts under his belt out of 126 career games according to Pro Football Reference.
The team brought him in for a free agent visit prior to the draft and while spotrac.com has his projected market value at $6.8 million annually, he likely won’t command that much the longer he sits on the market.