The final part of our defensive spotlight brings us to the Los Angeles Rams secondary led by Jalen Ramsey. As discussed previously in the Defensive Line and Linebackers, newly appointed Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris will be looking to simplify the scheme while unleashing the speed and instincts of this defensive unit.
Morris played safety at Hofstra, and got his first start in the league coaching defensive backs. Therefore, while we may see the most improvement in the linebackers, the secondary is what Morris knows best. While the secondary for the Falcons still struggled under Morris last year, their talent was nowhere near what the Rams have returning for 2021. Starting with, Jalen Ramsey of course.
The Jalen Ramsey Effect
Downtown Rams’ own, Blaine Grisak presented a strong case for why Jalen Ramsey is the best cornerback in the NFL. One of the most interesting points in the article shows how defensive units improve after Ramsey arrives. After Ramsey arrives, secondaries typically show an instant increase in overall pass defense based on Defense Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA).
Ramsey also has an immediate positive impact on his counterpart teammates. Cornerbacks like A.J. Bouye, Troy Hill, and Darious Williams have turned into star cornerbacks themselves playing opposite of Ramsey.
Whether it’s due to Ramsey’s contribution alone to the increased statistics or his teammates playing up to his level, one thing is for sure, there is a Jalen Ramsey Effect.
Since entering the league, Jalen Ramsey has been a stud in the NFL. Coming out of Florida State he was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft. His player profile is elite, hitting the top tiers for arm length (95th%), speed score (98th%), burst score (97th%), and catch radius (98th%).
Basically, he’s long, fast, and can cover a large area. But all that is just on paper, and when Ramsey hits the field, he’s so much more than an exceptional athlete. He’s a physical and vocal presence on the field.
As an alpha lock down corner, you have to set the tone for the defense and that’s exactly what Ramsey does.
Since 2018, quarterbacks throwing against Ramsey have averaged a 57% completion rate, an average QB Rating of 78 (as low as 68 last year), all while playing at least 93% on average of all defensive snaps.
Last season was one of Ramsey’s best statistically. He was top-10 in yards allowed per target and per reception. And from a fantasy perspective, Ramsey was the No. 3 overall defender in fantasy points allowed per cover snap with 0.22. Starting even the best wide receiver on your fantasy team against Jalen Ramsey likely turned into a dud week.
Now, the Jalen Ramsey Effect doesn’t just have an effect on Ramsey. As mentioned earlier, he also makes his counterparts better. Troy Hill signed with the Browns in Free Agency after posting a career year in 2020 with 77 tackles, three interceptions (2 returned for a TD), 10 passes defensed, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Hill is now regarded as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league after playing one full year with Ramsey.
Darious Williams, a former undrafted Free Agent signing from Baltimore in 2018, also stepped up big time in 2020. Starting in 10 games on the outside, he played much bigger than his 5’9″ frame, deflecting passes (14) and creating interceptions (4). Williams sealed his place in Los Angeles Rams lore as he returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown to seal last season’s NFC Wild Card Game win over the Seahawks.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) January 12, 2021
Williams is currently slated as the starter to return this year opposite Jalen Ramsey. Williams played 98.8% of his snaps last year on the outside and will continue to lock down opposing Z wide receivers.
The combination of Ramsey and Williams alone last year produced a target rate of only 16.6% each. This target rate put them each tied for sixth in the NFL for the least targeted wide receiver when covered by this duo. For reference, Stephon Gilmore earned a target rate of 19.6% in 2020. Opposing quarterbacks targeted wide receivers covered by Williams less than they targeted WRs covered by Gilmore. That again is the Jalen Ramsey Effect.
Joining in the rotation battle at cornerback are Donte Deayon and David Long. Deayon began his career as a free agent signing with the Giants in 2016. He then signed with the Rams practice squad in late 2018.
Deayon has remained on the practice squad the the past two seasons and will be looking for his chance to make the 53-man roster this training camp.
David Long may be the current favorite to step up into that third cornerback role. He has contributed the past two seasons on special teams and has one start under his belt. As a third round pick in 2019 he has the ability to play both inside and outside. He also excelled in press-man coverage at Michigan. His versatility and relative experience gives him the opportunity to rotate in nickel packages and move Ramsey into the slot.
Challenging for time in the rotation is fourth-round rookie Robert Rochell. He has a phenomenal Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 96.5 out of 100. That score ranked him in the top 25% of all cornerback prospects from the past 34 years. He has good size and speed, and he played exceptionally well as a small school standout.
His long arms and ball tracking skills allow him to play equally well in man and zone coverages. Despite being a rookie, Rochell could contribute this year. He should be on a path to become a full-time starter within the next two seasons.
Also on the roster coming into training camp are Dayan Lake and Brontae Harris. This position battle will be tough in training camp.
The biggest loss to the Los Angeles Rams secondary coming into 2019 is John Johnson III. The leader of last year’s defense hit the free agent market this off-season and signed with the Browns. Johnson played all 16 games and accumulating over 100 tackles.
This year the safety position is wide open as there is no real incumbent starting safety to step into the role. The closest “sure thing” as a potential starter is Jordan Fuller. Fuller started 12 games last year and is looking like the steal of the 2020 Draft Class.
Despite being drafted in the sixth round, he was able to win the starting job last year. Fuller ran away with the job until he landed on IR with a shoulder injury. He was on track for a great rookie season and earned top 3 grades from PFF for rookie defensive backs.
A player that has stood out so far thru 2 weeks is Rams rookie Safety Jordan Fuller.
Not every day you see a 6th rounder starting week 1, and with Fuller it seems completely justified. He shows high awareness and good physicality and I'm excited to check out his week 2 film. pic.twitter.com/LvOp011gqX
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 21, 2020
Nothing will be set in stone until after training camp as Taylor Rapp is back to compete for a starting role. Rapp racked up 100 total tackles as a rookie. He will have a lot to prove as a former second round pick.
Rapp hasn’t lived up to his draft capital, but he was a highly touted prospect in 2019 for a reason. He’s shown flashes of that hard-hitting talent playing in the box. However, what limits Rapp is his range and ability to cover deep as a high safety. Rapp will certainly have a role in 2021 but to what extent will be determined by his competition with Terrell Burgess.
Terrell Burgess was a 3rd Round pick out of Utah last year that saw limited time in the rotation last year before breaking his ankle in Week 7.
Burgess will have to take advantage of his opportunity and show some of his play-making ability. The former Utah safety has the range that Rapp lacks for deep coverage over the middle.
While these players will be battling it out in camp, the combination of Fuller, Rapp, and Burgess gives Raheem Morris flexibility in coverage schemes.
A handful of Free Agent acquisitions and a late round draft pick will also be competing for a final spot on the 53-man roster. Juju Hughes, Nick Scott, Jake Gervase, Jovan Grant and Troy Warner will have their work cut out for them to make the team. The most likely journey will be through special teams or as practice squad members.
2021 Season Outlook
The Los Angeles Rams moved Jalen Ramsey around a lot last season and we should expect the same with Morris’ defensive scheme. Doing so will allow young guys like Williams, Long and Rochell to fly around and gain much needed experience.
The safeties have at least three guys that can all make plays and will all see the field in this defensive scheme. The best part about both position groups are the young guys behind them pushing them for starting roles. The competition in training camp will be at its highest.
The cornerback duo of Ramsey and Williams has been ranked inside the top-three. Expectations will be sky high for this young defensive secondary. However, with Jalen Ramsey leading the way, they could exceed expectations. The shutdown secondary will provide time for the defensive line to get pressure, and allow the linebackers to fly around and make plays.
Morris stepped into the right situation to lead an exceptional defense with young talent and veteran leadership. The perfect combination for another top defensive year in the NFL.