I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
Anyone who analyzes the draft has certain things that they look for and credit or debit accordingly based on characteristics we seek. I confess that my personal biases for defensive backs often revolve around how much they appear to enjoy or avoid tackling. I realize that I might not have realized how great Deion Sanders was because he seemed allergic to contact at times, but overall this has served me well. Guys do fall through the cracks, however - like last year, Marcus Peters was that guy who had no use for run support. And then he won defensive rookie of the year. I guess you don't need to tackle running backs to be a heck of a player.
This shows us that if there are 10-12 components of a player's make-up that we value, we should not overvalue the effect of one. We should look at the full composite of the player and project accordingly.
But, what if we stumble upon a player that appears to have no component of concern? What if Jalen Ramsey from Florida State appears to be the most complete defensive back that the last decade can offer? Because from where I sit today, I am not sure who I would value higher. He seems to be able to play free safety, strong safety, outside corner, or slot. He seems to be proficient at zone defense or man coverage. He seems to be great at pass defense and run support. In other words, this guy is dripping with off-the-charts grades across the board. Ramsey was a 5-star recruit originally headed for USC, but changed to Florida State where he played 3 seasons. In 2013, he played a lot of reserve time at corner. In 2014, he started and dominated at safety. And in 2015, he switched back to corner and was very good. To top it off, he was magnificent at special teams, too. There is no such thing as "bust proof", but I am tempted here to declare it.
What I liked:He is a very big corner who also possesses track star speed, a disposition to hit and hurt, and a compete level that grows as the game gets later and you can see that his 4th quarter/close game motor even burns hotter. He has very fluid athleticism and yet has the characteristics as a tackler that you look for in a football player. He is the classic hybrid defender that likely can play anywhere you want on the defense as he played a lot like a linebacker in 2014 and then showed he could haul off and take the boundary side as a lock-down corner in 2015 and transition just as well. As a blitzer, he might be the most natural in the bunch as every time he is sent off the corner, the play is getting disrupted. He has blinding speed off the edge and in one game last season had consecutive plays where he blitzed off the edge and broke up a pass and then chased speedster Philip Dorsett (4.33 40 time) down the seam and picked off the game-clinching interception. He is a playmaker and can do that in so many ways.
What I did not like: Not much. He will guess on plays a bit and watch the QB, and that caused him to lose his man a time or two. I don't like this, but it is some of the collateral damage of an instinctive DB who is looking to make plays. You want disciplined technique, but also to allow a playmaker to try to make plays. It is a slippery slope. But, when he does make a mistake and gets beat, his responses are legendary where he then bounces back and takes the game over. He competes so hard and I think he is motivated by the occasional mistake. He also drops interceptions 3-4 times in the 8 games I watched over 2 seasons.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys: For me, this is likely the best player in the draft. Position versatility, ability to come in and be the best player in the Cowboys secondary (regardless of which position it might be), and a 21-year old who looks like stardom in the NFL is not far away. Jalen Ramsey sure checks all of the boxes I would look for when you discuss things you are looking for in a Top 5 pick.
I am skeptical about whether he would be available for the Cowboys and whether the Cowboys would want to spend another 1st round pick on a defensive back, but it sure seems like if he is around at their pick that this player is the type you can feel great about. I am asked frequently where would he play if he were with the Cowboys, which is a question we still ask about Byron Jones. I think the Cowboys want Jones to be their full-time deep safety from here on out, which might put Ramsey as a box safety or as a corner. I am not that hung up on this question at the moment because I don't know the future of the personnel situation with Brandon Carr or even Mo Claiborne. But, I do know this: Zone or man, corner or safety, Jalen Ramsey is going to be the best defensive back on his team for a long, long time. And if that happens to be Dallas, then let's hope the coaches understand how to use his skill set properly and to maximize his ability. I think he is a star.