OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Head coach John Harbaugh said it didn't take long to see cornerback Tavon Young the college player stand out on tape. Watching Young in the No. 1 jersey at Temple -- awarded by then-Owls coaching staff to the toughest player on the team -- Harbaugh saw Young shut down top receivers at some of the best programs in the country.
Three years after the Ravens selected Young in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, Harbaugh said the slot cornerback has been "everything that you hoped he would be … and more."
That explains why Harbaugh, Young, and new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta were gathered at the team facility Feb. 22 to announce a three-year contract extension for Young.
Young had one year left on his rookie contract, and DeCosta noted that this deal illustrates a goal he stated at his introductory news conference to retain the team's top young players.
"I think that Tavon really is the definition of that," DeCosta said. "[I'm] very excited for him. He's earned it."
According to ESPN, the total outlay is for four years and roughly $27.8 million, and Young is now under contract through 2022.
"I'm blessed to be here," said Young, who flashed a broad smile as he sat between DeCosta and Harbaugh, "blessed to be in this situation and I'm just ready to keep working."
Young recalled how he was just a two-star recruit coming out of Potomac High School in Oxon Hill, Md., how he received just two scholarship offers (Temple and Towson), and how he was the shortest defensive back at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2016. Now, despite missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, he is among the highest paid nickel backs in the league, a development that he said stunned even his mother.
Young said he called his mother after signing the extension and, "She couldn't believe it. She's like 'Are you lying? Is this for real?' I'm like, 'Yes, Mom.' I'm just so happy I can take care of them now, and it's a blessing."
DeCosta said Young was quickly identified as one of the Ravens he wanted to extend, and when the subject came up at the team's organizational meetings in Florida last month, "Everybody was obviously on board with that."
Young, who turns 25 next month, is one of the smallest players on the roster at 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, but he plays with a consistently physical, hard-nosed style that coaches love.
He played in 15 games this past season and finished with 36 tackles, two sacks and one interception for a Ravens defense that ranked No. 1 overall and No. 5 against the pass. He also had a pair of fumble recoveries, both of which he returned for touchdowns, becoming the second player in team history with two fumble-recovery touchdowns in a season.
Young played through a sports hernia injury much of the season and missed the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. He had surgery after the season and said, "It's all fixed now, and I'm ready to go."
Young had missed all of the 2017 season with a torn ACL suffered in an OTA workout.
"To see him last year overcome the knee injury in the manner that he did, the work ethic, his intensity and desire to be the best, is really impressive," DeCosta said.
As a rookie, Young started 11 games and recorded 50 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes defensed.
The new deal is not only a nod to Young's ability, but also an acknowledgement by the Ravens of the importance of the slot cornerback position in a league heavily skewed toward the passing attack.
"I've been here 23 years," DeCosta said, "and the fastest way to lose a game is to play poorly in the secondary. We've had the chance to watch Tavon. We've been around a lot of good corners in the past. … This is a guy that really compares to all those guys."
Harbaugh noted that the Ravens played their base defense, minus a nickel back, just 16 percent of the time last year.
"That's kind of stunning, and it's been going down pretty much every year," he said. "Offenses are attacking you in a lot of different ways. … So if you have a versatile player that can … cover receivers but is also willing to blitz, also willing to go in there and make tackles against the run like this guy is, it's a big plus for you."
The Ravens face other significant questions in their secondary, most notably whether to bring back veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith at his current cap number of $15.85 million -- the largest on the team once the trade of Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos becomes official next month. Veteran cornerback Brandon Carr has a cap figure of $7 million.
Regardless of whether one or both of those veterans return, the Ravens' secondary now has two anchors for 2020 and beyond with Young and former first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, who this past season established himself as one of the top cover cornerbacks in the league.
DeCosta has several pressing contract issues still to tend to, most notably Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, who is set to hit free agency next month. Linebackers Za'Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs and wide receiver John Brown are among other key Ravens who are pending free agents.
DeCosta didn't touch on those contracts during Young's news conference except to say the organization will be holding "a lot of important discussions" at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next week.
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