The Jaguars selected a superstar in cornerback Jalen Ramsey with the 5th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Ramsey played as a safety/slot corner hybrid as a sophomore in 2014, but settled in as Florida State’s boundary corner for his junior season. Jacksonville had the top of the draft fall perfectly for them after the Cowboys eschewed Ramsey for Ezekiel Elliot. Ramsey was the obvious pick at that point and he’s been a slam dunk so far.
Ramsey was the biggest addition to the Jaguars’ secondary for the 2016 season and boosted Jacksonville’s pass defense from day one. Here are some of Jacksonville’s 2015 pass defense stats vs 2016 stats.
The heavy Cover 3 scheme that the Jaguars adopted with Gus Bradley (and will continue to run) calls for big, athletic, physical corners to set the tone versus the run and play in the deep third of the field on passing downs. Ramsey’s job in pass coverage is essentially to dominate the area where the yellow oval is.
Tashaun Gipson is a solid, single high free safety, but he doesn’t provide the outrageous range that Earl Thomas does for the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a lot of ground for the cornerback to cover, especially in press situations. The cornerbacks that thrive in Cover 3 tend to be above average athletes at the position. Desmond Trufant, Richard Sherman, Marcus Peters, Patrick Peterson, and Xavier Rhodes are examples of players that fit the archetype.
Jalen Ramsey is next in line and he possesses the elite athletic profile that teams look for in top cornerbacks. Here are his athletic measurables compared to other cornerbacks in the league, courtesy of MockDraftable.com:
Jacksonville threw Ramsey into the fire against number one receivers. In their week six game against the Chicago Bears, Ramsey had an entertaining duel with Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery got the best of Ramsey in the early portion of the game, but Ramsey came out on top on a critical 4th down to seal the game for Jacksonville.
Two of Ramsey’s most appealing physical traits were his arm length (33 5/8″, 96th percentile among cornerbacks) and his speed (4.41 40 yard dash, 80th percentile among cornerbacks). Both are on display here. Jeffery actually as a step on him after he broke towards the middle of the field, but Ramsey quickly closed the space between himself and Jeffery. When the ball arrived (albeit a little late), Ramsey was able to use his length to knock the ball down and close the game for Jacksonville.
Here’s another example from the Jaguar’s Week 16 game against the Tennessee Titans. Watch how Ramsey slow plays the in-breaking route and baits Marcus Mariota into thinking his receiver is open.
This is a risky play by Ramsey. If he misjudges how fast the receiver is, Mariota is talented enough to hit that window for a big gain across the middle. Most cornerbacks can’t get away with plays like this, but Ramsey has the elite athleticism to accelerate to the catch point and make a play on the ball. That shows elite closing ability that’s only boosted by his arm length.
When the Legion of Boom first came onto the scene, one of their trademarks was physical play from the cornerback position. The corners are asked to be strong force players against the run so that the single high safety has an easier time filling the alley against the run. Ramsey absolutely has an intensity and physicality that’s eerily similar to the way Richard Sherman plays.
Ramsey doesn’t have the greatest stopping power when it comes to tackling, but he’s not at all afraid of contact. He tackles violently and leverages himself well with the sideline.
After Tyreek Hill motions behind the bunch set to set up the screen, he finds himself in a one on one open field situation against Jalen Ramsey. Since Ramsey is on an island against Hill, he needs to use the sideline as an extra defender. His first move after Hill caught the ball was to leverage himself inside Hill, forcing him to the sideline.
Once Hill declares that he’s going outside, Ramsey quickly explodes into a tackle and brings him down. The stopping power isn’t always there as Hill fought the tackle for a few steps, but the physicality Ramsey brings is unquestionable.
The game really started to slow down for Ramsey as the Jaguars closed the season. He had both of his interceptions in Weeks 15 & 16 and had a dominating performance against DeAndre Hopkins in their Week 15 loss to the Texans.
Again, Ramsey showed the edge he plays with as he dislodged an errant throw to DeAndre Hopkins on the sideline.
Even though he’ll drop easy interceptions (Desmond Trufant syndrome), Ramsey still showed fantastic ball skills for a rookie cornerback. He makes the transition from a backpedal to a run look easy and he consistently finds the ball when it’s in the air. Those traits make him tough to beat on vertical routes and endzone fades.
The two times Ramsey was able to get his hands on the ball, he showed off explosive run after the catch ability. Here are both of his interceptions from his rookie season.
Jalen Ramsey and free agent acquisition A.J. Bouye should be one of the best cornerback tandems in the league. Ramsey showed off elite talent throughout his rookie year and if he continues to build off of his late season stretch we’ll be talking about him as one of the elite cornerbacks in the game.