Los Angeles Rams: Is Jalen Ramsey the Best Cornerback in the NFL?

by Blaine Grisak
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When it comes to the Los Angeles Rams defense, the team has two players who are arguably the best at their position – Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Donald is undoubtedly the best defensive tackle in game and his three-time Defensive Player of the Year resume would say he’s outright the best defender.

However, when it comes to Jalen Ramsey being the best cornerback, there is much more of a debate.

At cornerback, players like Xavien Howard, Jaire Alexander, Stephon Gilmore, and Tre’Davious White are all names that get brought up in the best cornerback discussion. However, there is one guy that separates himself from the rest and that is Ramsey.

That’s not to say that the others don’t belong in the discussion, but Jalen Ramsey has been a model of consistency at the cornerback position. He’s also done so while playing for two different teams in two different systems which is not an easy feat.

When it comes to Jalen Ramsey, it’s important to note how he makes everybody around him and the secondary as a whole better because of him. Not many players in NFL history have been able to completely take away half of the field because of how much of a threat that they present. One that comes to mind is Darrell Revis.

After ranking 11th in pass defense DVOA according to Football Outsiders in 2018, the Los Angeles Rams improved to eighth in 2019 after trading for the star cornerback. The Rams then moved all the way into the top-5 last season at number four.

In 2015, the Jacksonville Jaguars ranked 31st in pass defense DVOA. The Jaguars selected Jalen Ramsey with the fifth overall pick in 2016 and saw immediate results. The Jaguars ranked 17th in 2016 during Ramsey’s rookie season. They then jumped to the number one pass defense according to DVOA in 2017. Jacksonville again ranked in the top-10 in 2018 at number seven.

What’s even more incredible is that after trading Ramsey, the Jaguars pass defense dropped from inside the top-10 to 24th according to DVOA.

Ramsey’s effect on a defense is obvious. There aren’t many individual players who can have that type of effect on any single unit in the NFL. Most of those players would be quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

While Aaron Donald is a great player and has a positive effect on those around him, it’s not quite to the extent of Ramsey. A defensive lineman can only effect the game so much.

It’s not only the units as a whole that Ramsey has had a positive effect on, but individual players around him as well. AJ Bouye was seen as a top cornerback playing alongside Ramsey. Two of Bouye’s best seasons came with Ramsey on the opposite side.

Similar things could be said about Troy Hill and Darious Williams for the Los Angeles Rams. Hill might not have ever been seen as a top cornerback like Bouye. However, Troy Hill had his most career interceptions and two of his best seasons with Ramsey. Hill also earned a four-year contract extension with the Cleveland Browns.

Williams on the other hand went from undrafted free agent on the roster bubble, to star cornerback. Ramsey is a big reason for Williams’ rise over the last two seasons and is a part of why Williams will be due for a big contract this offseason.

Ramsey’s biggest effect is simply his ability to take away half of the field. Last season, after a forgettable Week 1, Ramsey allowed just 24 receptions in the final 15 games and gave up 25 or fewer yards in 11 of those games.

Ramsey allowed just 50% of his targets to be caught which ranked first among players with 80% of their teams’ coverage snaps. Ramsey’s 309 yards allowed also ranked first in the same category.

A defensive back knows when they are a threat when quarterbacks refuse to throw in their direction. Ramsey was the least targeted cornerback among players with 80% of their teams coverage snaps.

Players like Xavien Howard and Marlon Humphrey were targeted more than 90 times. This is a large reason why their pass breakup numbers and interception numbers are typically better. In Ramsey’s case, it’s difficult to break up a pass when there is no pass to break up. Even still, Ramsey broke up a higher percentage of his targets than Howard.

Last season, Ramsey allowed just a 68.1 quarterback rating which was the best of his career.

What’s also unique about Ramsey is that the Los Angeles Rams are able to play him all over the field. Jalen Ramsey played 114 snaps from the slot last season which is something that players like Alexander, Gilmore, and Howard can’t say.

To make it even more impressive, Ramsey allowed the second worst passer rating from the slot last season among players with 20% or more snaps.

Ramsey lines up in the box, in the slot, out wide, and even took a handful of snaps at free safety last season.

We’ve talked about the effect that Ramsey has on a defense a whole and how he makes individual players better. His dominant play ranks among the best in the league. Ramsey is also versatile and able to play all over the field.

However, to be the best, you have to be able to have success against the best. To say Ramsey did that is an understatement.

The only top wide receiver to have more than 50 yards against Ramsey was Amari Cooper. Stefon Diggs had one reception for four yards. Ramsey shutout Terry McLaurin. Allen Robinson was held to one big reception. Mike Evans had four receptions, but was held to 40 yards.

In two games, DeAndre Hopkins didn’t eclipse three receptions or the 30-yard mark. Hopkins was held to two receptions for 20 yards and three receptions for 28 yards. Lastly, DK Metcalf was basically nonexistent. Ramsey held Metcalf to one reception for 11 yards in the first meeting and three receptions for 33 yards in the final meeting. It was a similar story in the Wild Card game.

All seven of those wide receivers put up 1,000 yards receiving last season. Combined, Ramsey allowed 22 catches for 235 yards and one touchdown against that group.

Not very many players are able to have such an effect on an entire unit. Even then, most of the time it’s the quarterback. Jalen Ramsey has established himself as the best cornerback in the league. While others are in the conversation, none are able to do the same things as Ramsey and have that same success.

Ramsey makes any secondary that he’s on instantly one of the best in the league. As mentioned, he simply makes the players around him better. Defensive coordinators can put Ramsey outside or in the slot and he’ll have that same dominance. Ramsey can line up against the league’s best wide receivers and completely shut them out. There aren’t many cornerbacks who are able to do that.

That’s why Ramsey is not only just the best cornerback, but should be considered among the league’s best defenders.

 

 

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