The ‘Superpower’ That Made Nate Wiggins the Ravens’ Pick

May 9, 2024

CB Nate Wiggins

The Ravens have had a lot of hits in the first round of the NFL Draft, but if there’s one position where they’ve consistently struck gold, it’s at cornerback.

Nate Wiggins is the Ravens’ fifth first-round cornerback, following Marlon Humphrey (2017), Jimmy Smith (2011), Chris McAlister (1999), and Duane Starks (1998).

Humphrey has gone to three Pro Bowls. McAlister also was named to three, and he, Starks, and Smith were all integral parts of the Ravens’ two Super Bowl victories.

At pick No. 30, Wiggins is the latest selected of them all, but General Manager Eric DeCosta is confident he can make a similar impact.

“I think his future is very, very bright,”

So how have the Ravens had so much success at picking good cornerbacks in the first round? Of course, you want a cornerback that does everything well. But when it comes to the first round, DeCosta said it’s about finding special traits – something that sets them apart from their peers.

Humphrey, Smith and McAlister were all special athletes – big and fast. Although Starks was a smaller guy, he had 4.4 speed and was pound-for-pound one of the toughest cornerbacks. Wiggins is the fastest of them all, blazing the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds.

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“I look at Nate as great feet, speed, coverability,” DeCosta said. “Guys don’t get open against him. He can just flat-out cover; that’s really important. His superpower is when he’s covering a guy, there’s going to be very little space.”

Wiggins has the height at 6-foot-1, but his 182-pound weight has raised questions among pundits and may have led to him being available at pick No. 30. He was the third cornerback drafted behind Quinyon Mitchell (Eagles, No. 22) and Terrion Arnold (Lions, No. 24), but the Ravens feel he was the best pure cover corner.

DeCosta said he has confidence in the team’s strength and conditioning staff and Director of Sports Nutrition Sarah Snyder to work with Wiggins. The Ravens general manager also said linebacker Roquan Smith and Humphrey are great mentors for the rookie when it comes to being a pro. Wiggins said last week that he’s already been in contact with both.

“There’s this perception that Nate is this skinny, skinny guy,” DeCosta said. “I don’t look at it as much of a problem. I think there’s an opportunity to get him stronger; I think we do a good job of that. I saw a guy that was a competitive player. I saw a guy that wanted to be a physical player. Getting stronger is only going to help his game. If you love his game right now, you have to be really excited about what he could be.”

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Ravens Believe Wiggins Can Play Nickel

While Wiggins has a bright future, he has two starters ahead of him right now on the depth chart in Humphrey and Brandon Stephens, who is coming off a breakout season.

Thus, one question about Wiggins is how he’ll get on the field as a rookie. Part of the answer is that none of the Ravens’ first-round cornerbacks were immediate starters. Humphrey didn’t become a full-time starter until his 13th game, Smith started his first in Week 12, Starks got there in Week 10, and McAlister took over in Week 5.

As Wiggins hones his craft and develops more physically, he could see rotational action in the Ravens secondary. Part of that mix could be playing in the slot, DeCosta said.

Humphrey has played nickel cornerback at a high level in the past, though he hasn’t done as much of it the past two seasons. DeCosta also said that Wiggins can line up inside, even though he played just 14 snaps at slot corner last season at Clemson, per Pro Football Focus.

“I think Wiggins can easily play inside,” DeCosta said. “I think Wiggins has a great skillset as well outside because I think he can cover a team’s best receiver and most teams will have their best receiver outside. But I think we’ll have great flexibility.”

DeCosta said he thinks Humphrey, Wiggins, T.J. Tampa (big nickel), safety Kyle Hamilton, and veteran nickel cornerback Arthur Maulet, who the team re-signed this offseason, can all play inside.

“What we’ve done is build a nice combination of players that can play multiple spots, which I think is going to give opposing offenses a tough time,” DeCosta said.

DeCosta Grabbed Value Like Jim Cramer

DeCosta is always looking for value in the draft, and he got it with the Ravens’ 2024 class.

Baltimore got offensive tackle Roger Rosengarten at No. 62 in part because he’s on the lighter side, particularly in his lower body (which can be fixed).

The Ravens got outside linebacker Adisa Isaac in the third round (No. 93) in part because he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.74 seconds.

Fourth-round wide receiver Devontez Walker likely fell because of drops at the Senior Bowl, which weren’t nearly as pervasive on his tape. Fourth-round cornerback Tampa may be the biggest steal in the fourth round because of a 40-yard dash time of 4.58 seconds.

Specifically in the case of Tampa, the Ravens have data that suggests he’s faster than his pro day 40-yard dash. Baltimore got steals in Terrell Suggs and Hamilton after they ran slower-than-expected 40s, and Tampa could be another.

The Ravens invited CNBC investing guru Jim Cramer to the Under Armour Performance Center years ago and his lesson was to always look for value opportunities. What maybe knocked a player down in others’ eyes presents value for somebody else.

“You might look at 40 time and say, ‘He’s too slow.’ I might look at it and say, ‘If you’ve run a fast 40 time, he would’ve gotten picked in the top 15,'” DeCosta said. “So if you love him as a player and he drops, that might be an opportunity.”