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Don’t Count Out Rashaan Melvin

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If you are like most Baltimore Ravens fans, you had never even heard the name Rashaan Melvin until the team signed him on November 8, 2014.

A relative unknown with little NFL experience, Melvin was stationed on the Miami Dolphins practice squad before earning a promotion to Baltimore’s active roster last season in response to cornerback Jimmy Smith’s season-ending foot injury.

The lengthy (6’2″) 25-year-old was in his second NFL season, and despite stints in Miami and Tampa Bay, Melvin had not touched the field during a regular season game.

Thanks to Baltimore’s depleted cornerback depth due to repeated injuries in 2014, Melvin earned his first NFL snaps during a Week 15 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which paved the way for 306 defensive snaps over the final five games (including the playoffs), according to Pro Football Focus.

From the time Melvin was subbed on in his first game with the Ravens, he was a full-time player and starter for a team that nearly earned an AFC Championship Game berth. But now with a secondary that includes a healthy Smith, a healthier Lardarius Webb, and Kyle Arrington, Melvin will likely be sent back to reality, having to earn his defensive snaps – and roster spot – for the 2015 season.

With a crowded depth chart at cornerback that also includes Cassius Vaughn, Tray Walker and Asa Jackson, Melvin is no lock for a spot on the final 53-man roster, but given the promise he showed during limited play last season, it would be an astute decision by the Ravens to keep Melvin in purple and back and further his development within the organization.

Let’s look back at Melvin’s play last season to see why he may be worth keeping around.

In his first NFL start, Melvin was met with the task of handling two talented receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans. Outside of allowing an early-game deep reception, Melvin was one of Baltimore’s most consistent performers that day.

One way he kept the opposition in check was by limiting the opportunities of the receivers. With desirable length for his position, Melvin’s physical traits would mean nothing without field awareness. For cornerbacks, knowing how close they are to the sideline can work wonders for minimizing chances for inbounds receptions.

Lined up one-on-one against Hopkins, Melvin is essentially on his own given that the Ravens are working with a single-high-safety.

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The mismatch increased Houston’s chances of attacking Melvin downfield. Hopkins gets a clean release off the line, but Melvin manages to turn and run with the receiver step-for-step downfield.

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The positioning puts Melvin in the right spot to make a play on a 50/50 ball. With Hopkins so close to the sideline and Melvin’s back initially to the quarterback, the best bet for the cornerback is to seal off the field and focus on keeping Hopkins out of bounds; a play on the ball itself is not necessary here.

Melvin does just that, and allows Hopkins to catch the ball, but positions his body so that Hopkins cannot maintain possession inside the boundary.

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A quick-witted and savvy move by a player in his first start as a pro. Much of Melvin’s five-game stretch offered plays such as this: nothing spectacular, but ones that inexperienced players do not typically make, which offers hope that Melvin has a rather high ceiling as he further develops.

Unfortunately for Melvin, last season ended on a sour note, as was the case for the secondary as a whole. Melvin’s inability to put a stop to New England’s dink-and-dunk short passing attack contributed to the offensive success of the Patriots.

The poor performance should not overpower the quality four-game stretch prior to his final game, especially because Melvin still provided some things to build on in that playoff game.

For example, late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots took the lead on a 23-yard touchdown reception by Brandon LaFell. Melvin was the defender on the play.

The problem was not Melvin’s coverage. Throughout the play, Melvin maintains a fairly close hold on LaFell.

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For a downfield pass on such a quickly developing play, it would have been hard for Melvin to provide much better coverage than this:

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So what was the issue? Not once did Melvin ever turn his head to locate the ball, and even though he would have been in perfect position to make a play and potentially either deflect or intercept a pass, the result is LaFell unnecessarily making an uncontested reception for the score.

The bright side? Melvin got one part of the process down: the coverage. For a player in his fifth NFL game and in his first Divisional Round matchup, that is a good sign given the stakes of the game. If he can become consistent enough to get the entire process of playing cornerback down, Melvin could become more than the roster filler he was in November of 2014.

There are ample positive qualities to Melvin’s game, and allowing him to stick around on the 2015 roster and continue to improve could provide the Ravens some skillful depth at the position.

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