NFL 25 at 25 is FanRag Sports’ rankings of the top 25 players in the NFL age 25 and younger, as voted on by 15 members of the FRS staff.
No. 12: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
For a vast majority of the football world, the only debate surrounding Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey prior to the 2016 NFL Draft was whether he would play cornerback or safety. The blue-chip prospect had flourished in both spots with the Seminoles, yet had just a single year of starting on the boundary under his belt.
As it turns out, his game experience at one position or the other really didn’t matter all that much. Ramsey was drafted fifth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars and was immediately plugged into the starting lineup. The end result for Ramsey was a successful season, one in which he finished the year season and established himself as one of the brightest young stars in the game.
How good was Ramsey in college? I would likely have slotted him in a similar spot on a 2016 NFL 25 at 25 project, had one existed. My 2016 NFL Draft report on him (below) featured one of the highest film evaluations I’ve given in several years.
Many cornerbacks face a difficult transition to the NFL, with Ramsey being no exception. He was largely quiet during the first 12 weeks of the season, but his ball production exploded down the stretch as a rookie. Over the final five games of 2016, Ramsey tallied two interceptions (with one touchdown) and another 13 passes defensed.
Ramsey managed just three interceptions and 22 passes defensed over 41 games at Florida State; both a testament to his influence on opposing passers’ decision-making and just how dominating he played in the final several games of 2016.
When watching Ramsey’s performance in 2016, it’s apparent he’s still very much the same athlete and player. The scary proposition here is that it was just his second year playing as a boundary cornerback and his first at the NFL level. It’s very possible that Ramsey, with all of his elite physical and mental traits, can develop further into an even more effective lock-down cornerback. If that happens, don’t fall into the trap of measuring his play with ball production; it’s highly likely QBs will stop testing him with such frequency.
It’s nearly a given that Ramsey will see less targets in 2017. He was the second-most targeted cornerback in football in 2016 (110 targets, according to NFL.com). That doesn’t seem sustainable for the opposition, especially if Ramsey continues to greet receivers in space with such devastating pop.
— Tom Like (@TomLikeNFL) July 7, 2017
The closing power and physicality at first point were items that flashed on the screen while Ramsey was at Florida State, and last season was no different. On many occasions, Ramsey would be on top of receivers or ball carriers so suddenly that they were unable to properly brace for contact. The end result was often a hit like this one, where Ramsey’s twitchy athleticism was able to generate a ton of momentum in a short space, and allow him to accelerate through the body of his opposition.
Going forward, the Jaguars have to be excited about their defensive backfield. The emergence of Ramsey will be supplemented by the free-agent signing of AJ Bouye, formerly of the Houston Texans, who also experienced a breakout season in 2016. Bouye’s presence will ensure that teams cannot completely tiptoe around Ramsey in coverage, which will provide him with opportunities to continue to build on his strong end of 2016, while attacking the football in the air.
A sure tackler, Ramsey’s presence can be made in other areas of the game as well. He’s as good as anyone I’ve assessed coming out of college in playing forward into the line of scrimmage and pressuring blockers against the run. His length and strength will pose a great challenge for all comers, and his aggressive mentality will lead to a good amount of splash plays in the backfield.
In all, he is a versatile defender who will only be getting more comfortable on the boundary as he continues to accrue experience. He’s a young, budding star who will be a high-impact player for a team that desperately needs them.
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