Jalen Ramsey was the highest rated player in the 2016 draft class. Some draft boards had him as high as the top pick in the draft during the weeks preceding the draft. He was chosen fifth overall by the Jaguars, and was the third non-quarterback selected behind the Ohio State duo Ezekiel Elliot and Joey Bosa.
A good shut down corner can be a game changer in the NFL. The ability to shut down an entire side of the field, or island a team’s top receiver, can render a passing attack near useless. Recent contracts given to the likes of Josh Norman and Darius Slay last offseason prove that teams around the league are valuing the position even more.
So on a struggling Jaguars team, Ramsey smashing through the “rookie wall” in his first year can prove to be huge for the team’s future.
Ramsey was the Jaguars CB1 this year, and saw a lot of time matched up against some of the better receivers in the league. Despite his inexperience, he matched up well with the likes of Emanuel Sanders, Steve Smith and Deandre Hopkins.
What made Ramsey so good? His raw strength and athleticism.
The rookie first caught the attention of the league during a chippy game against the Baltimore Ravens, the team he would most likely have been drafted by if the Jaguars did not take him. He and Ravens receiver Steve Smith had heated words for each other during post game interviews, but his on field play also deserves attention.
Late in the game Jalen Ramsey created a huge interception for a teammate.
Ramsey drops back into zone coverage initially, then trails Dennis Pitta (#88) as he passes through his zone. Flacco throws an awful pass way behind Pitta. Ramsey quickly closes down and makes a huge leap to tip the ball towards Tashaun Gipson for a pick.
From this angle you can see just how amazing of a play Ramsey makes to tip that ball. He shows off his speed and athleticism just by chasing down the pass to make a play, but even more important is his field vision and ability to be in the right place at the right time. He realized he was in a dead zone, and followed Pitta deeper down the field, and was fortunate enough to have the chance to take advantage of a bad pass.
He showed off his closing speed early on during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos.
Receiver Emanuel Sanders (#10) manages to slip through the Jaguars cover 3 zone coverage, and manages to get behind the defense when Jags Safety Johnathon Cyprien (#37) begins to tread forward towards Demarius Thomas (#88).
Ramsey comes from the same zone he occupied on the play against the Ravens, and crosses the field to catch up to Sanders. Broncos QB Paxton Lynch underthrows his target, allowing Ramsey nearly force an interception, but again Ramsey shows off his closing speed, play making ability and awareness of what is happening all over the field.
His speed and awareness give him the ability to cover multiple zones if needed, which is crucial for a team like the Jaguars who love playing in cover three.
During the first quarter against the Titans he nearly intercepts a pass meant for fellow rookie Tajae Sharp (#19).
Sharp starts the play lined up across Ramsey, but runs a crossing route out of his zone. Ramsey falls away for a second, but as the play breaks down and Titans QB Marcus Mariota escapes the pocket, Jaguars linebackers abandon their assignments to chase and cover shallower targets. Ramsey realizes this and sprints across the field. Mariota throws to Sharp, who was open for a few seconds, and Ramsey nearly comes up with an interception.
The overhead angle shows just how much ground Ramsey covered while the ball was in the air, and how close he came to taking it the other way.
Ramsey’s ability to read the field and overall closing speed also make him an asset on shallower passes as well.
On this play earlier during the Ravens game, Ramsey initially drops back into coverage before quickly making a play up field.
He instantly reads the out route coming out of the backfield, and sees Joe Flacco going that way. He breaks off his man and lays a mean hit on the Ravens back stopping the play for minimal gain.
Ramsey made a similar play against the Titans as well.
On this play, Ramsey begins to drop back into his regular zone for a cover three play, but see’s Kendall Wright (#13) run an out route into the flat. Ramsey rushes forward and manages to land a hard hit on Wright to knock the ball free for an incompletion.
Jalen Ramsey does not only make plays in zone coverage, though.
Week 15 saw Ramsey line up across the Texans Deandre Hopkins for much of the game. Hopkins is one of the NFLs better receivers, and this game proved to be one of Ramseys biggest tests.
Hopkins had a good day, catching 8 passes for 87 yards, but was targeted 17 times. That leads to total of only 5.12 yards per target for Hopkins, one of his lower totals on the year. Hopkins was shadowed by Ramsey for much of the game, and both were tested.
Ramsey gives Hopkins a big cushion to work with on this play, but again shows his closing speed and manages to force an incompletion on a shallow pass.
Before the snap Hopkins shifts from wide out into the slot. Ramsey shifts behind his fellow defender, and steps a few yards back. If not for an inaccurate pass from Brock Osweiler, Hopkins may have made the catch. Ramsey, though, managed to close in and lay a hit on him to send him flying out of bounds for an incompletion.
On a fourth and goal play earlier in the same game, Ramsey lined up right at the line of scrimmage across Hopkins.
They both begin to shove each other off the snap, and Hopkins runs a corner route into the end zone. The ball is not perfectly delivered, and Ramsey makes an athletic play to deflect the ball away, giving the ball back to the Jaguars.
Ramsey is still not a the perfect corner, he sometimes can get lost in between zones and many of the big plays that he does make happen to be against some of the NFL’s worst quarterbacks (Osweiler, Flacco, Lynch). He struggles sometimes in man coverage, but he can be trusted to secure his side of the field in a cover three look. When the Jaguars met the Cheifs this year he had quarterback Nick Foles (who belongs on the same list as the others) scared to even look his way, and was only targeted twice all game. He has the speed and athleticism to make plays on the ball, the strength to land hard hits on receivers to dislodge the ball and he has the ability to not only cover his own zone but to shift across field if he see’s a man about to run free.
After the combine we knew how athletic Ramsey was. He was among the top ranked prospects in every physical category which led to him flying up draft boards. His raw talent has translated well into the league so far, and as he get more used to the faster and more complex play in the NFL, he should only get better.
The Jaguars, despite consistently finding themselves towards the bottom of the NFL standings, have a very talented roster. They have a lot of young pieces who have showed individual flashes of talent but have been unable to find the consistency to put it all together. 2016 was supposed to be their break out season, and they ended up having one of the NFL’s worst records. They still show promise, though, and entering 2017 they yet again will find themselves as a dark horse to steal the AFC South. As players like Ramsey, Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson and many others gain more experience as a group, the entire team should only get better.
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