It's Cornerback Week on Draft Bytes and Draftwatch so it's only fitting to focus one of the top overall players in the upcoming draft who just happens to spend most of his time lined up across from the opposing offense's top receiving target.
Jalen Ramsey, Cornerback, Florida State
Jalen Ramsey could be the next big thing in an NFL defensive backfield, but he's not there yet. Ramsey is an experienced junior with a ton of big games under his belt. He has good size (6'1", 201 pounds) and is very athletic. Don't let that athleticism fool you into thinking he is just an athlete who plays football. Jalen embodies that rare combination of a smart, tough football player who just happens to be an exceptional athlete.
On tape the first thing you notice is how smooth Ramsey is. He can mirror even the best outside receivers and look like he's hardly breaking a sweat while doing it. His ability to turn ("flip his hips" in scouting parlance) and easily run with very fast players is uncommon. He has an effortless stride that lulls you into thinking he's not that fast but when he really opens it up his acceleration is eye-popping. Mix in Jalen's impressive vertical leap and you have a player who is exceptionally well equipped to thrive in the demanding role of cornerback at the professional level.
Many CB's who have Ramsey's ability to run with WR's and make graceful plays on the ball while it is still in mid-flight are not overtly physical in roles on defense such as run support. Jalen is notably not limited in this regard, as he can be very aggressive and tremendously physical when the play requires it. He does not always play with this vigor but those lapses are few and far between. He does not physically back down from anyone and that is illustrated in rough fashion in the clip below. He absolutely wrecks the wideout trying to block him on a boundary screen and makes the tackle afterward.
Ramsey will bring a seriously diversified skill set to whichever roster he joins this spring. In addition to being an experienced boundary CB, he plays on several special teams (returner and gunner), has spent ample time at the nickelback spot and played some safety. Many analysts are listing him primarily at safety and I think that's a mistake. This past year he spent the vast majority of his snaps on the field as a cornerback and played quite well. Corners who can lock down the outside in the NFL are still much more valuable than a safety, so if Ramsey can play well as an outside CB I think that is where he ends up for the long haul.
In the opening I mentioned that Ramsey is not the next big thing with one important caveat: "not yet". He is a very good football player now but he has not hit his ceiling physically or mentally. He has room to grow and that is a scary concept. It means that if he applies himself in the pros and continues to improve (as I think he can) he could very well end up being the best defensive back drafted in the last few years. He has that level of potential and it is not far off.
The holes in Jalen's game are few and far between but they are there if you look hard enough. He is not a great form tackler so he fails to finish some plays. He hits up and high and tends to be more of "grab and haul" tackler and it leads to occasional penalties. When he keeps his head up and attacks the ball carrier with good leverage the results are impressive, but it is not the first thing he tries on most plays. Ramsey's hands are also not great. I watched 3 games and saw 4 possible interceptions that hit him in the hands and bounced off. He uses his knowledge of the game and excellent reaction time to put himself in spots to make plays and then doesn't finish. If he can spend some extra time in front of the JUGS machine and turn even half of those drops into picks, his value will increase exponentially.
If there is one fault to Ramsey's excellent coverage skills it is that he can be beat with very sharp cuts back to the QB on solid timing throws. Almost all other moves (double moves, stop-and-go's, in cuts, etc.) he smothers completely, but in the Miami game he got burned 3 times on good sharp cuts back to the QB. I am sure this is a coachable area of his coverage but I will be interested to see how his change-of-direction numbers (3-cone drill and short shuttle) play out at the combine. I have a feeling his testing numbers in general will be off the charts, but I'll watch to see if there is any significant dip in those areas.
Ramsey is a very good football player right now and his ultimate value comes from the fact that he is not done getting better. He can play in an NFL defense from day 1 and learn on the job while still being more effective than at least half of the corners playing professionally right now. When we look back in 2-3 years my guess is the prevalent question will be "Why wasn't he drafted higher?".