The debate at defensive back for much of the 2015 college season boiled down to Vernon Hargreaves vs. Jalen Ramsey. That duo remains very much in the draft spotlight, but the conversation has shifted and split.
What’s left are these questions: Is Ramsey the best player in this draft, period? And can Hargreaves hold off pushes from Mackensie Alexander, Eli Apple and William Jackson to be the second cornerback (or first, if you’re counting Ramsey as a safety) drafted?
Ramsey being a viable option at No. 1 overall, whether for the Titans or another team trading up, is nothing new. Rotoworld’s Josh Norris even slotted Ramsey into the top spot on his Feb. 11 mock. Monday’s combine workout provided the latest confirmation that Ramsey could be special—he recorded a 4.42-second 40-yard dash, 41 1/2-inch vertical and topped 11 feet in the broad jump.
Video evidence ...
Whether Ramsey is viewed as a safety or cornerback might vary by team. The verdict could matter more for those who see him as a top-two, starting CB on the outside. Ramsey has the ability to line up just about anywhere, and he proved that while at Florida State. It would be easier to shift him around as a roving safety than as a lock-down corner, though.
“I think they can see me playing whatever fits their team,” said Ramsey this week when asked what he’d heard about his future role. “I played it all in college. I played every position in the secondary so I’m versatile, probably the most versatile [defensive back] in this draft, so I’ll play wherever they need me to.”
Ramsey measured in this week at 6' 1" and 209 pounds, great size for a cornerback but also a factor in any projection to safety long-term.
The names bandied about as options for the Titans up top have stayed mostly constant, with Laremy Tunsil and Joey Bosa leading the pack. But GM Jon Robinson’s roster needs a talent infusion almost across the board (QB and a handful of other spots notwithstanding), including at cornerback and free safety now that Michael Griffin has been released.
So ... Ramsey?
“I would say with the first overall pick, we’re looking to add an impact player,” Robinson said last Wednesday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “There’s a handful of players that fit into that. A handful could be a couple or it could be 10, according to how big your hands are. But we want to come away with somebody that is going to impact our football team.”
Hargreaves could be on the table, as well, if the Titans’ list of No. 1 candidates really rolls to double digits. More likely is that he would be in the picture should Tennessee find a way to trade back just a few spots.
The Florida product (5' 10", 204 pounds) is shorter than Ramsey, though the NFL Network’s Deion Sanders commented Monday about how well built Hargreaves is. His also 4.5 40 times was a touch slower than anticipated. Again there, both Sanders and Mike Mayock commented during DB drills how Hargreaves played smoother and quicker than his 40 time.
And indeed, Hargreaves showed well throughout Monday’s combine session, the last for the 2016 event. He may not have touched Ramsey’s measurements, but Hargraves did post a 39-inch vertical and nearly 11-foot broad jump himself.
“My ball skills, they’re natural,” said Hargreaves, who picked off 10 passes during his Florida career. “I’ve always had ’em. There’s nothing I’ve really done. When the ball is in the air I have to go get it and that’s my mindset. I don’t really care who I’m covering. The balls in the air, it’s 50-50."
Hargreaves’s college career wrapped with a couple of tough outings vs. Alabama and Michigan in the SEC Championship Game and the Citrus Bowl, respectively—he was beaten deep multiple times during the bowl game. But overall, the issue is less if he can be a starting NFL cornerback and more if he can be a transcendent one.
Which is why Alexander and others could be creeping into the mix. Alexander, who declared himself to be the draft’s top CB on Saturday, did not work out Monday. Apple and Jackson did, both helping their causes at various steps.
For now, Hargreaves and Alexander still have the inside track on top billing. It may not be within the top two or three picks, as Ramsey could land, but there could be an early run on cornerbacks somewhere early in Round 1.
Wrapping up the combine with some more notes from Monday ...
Clemson’s other safety shines
Rather early in the 2015 season, it became evident that Clemson safety Jayron Kearse was likely to enter this draft class. The status of fellow safety (and former roommate) T.J. Green was less certain, if only because Green didn’t transition to safety until 2014 and didn’t see extended playing time until the following year. NFL.com’s Gil Brandt even named him as one of seven players who should have stayed in school.
Green’s combine effort could be a significant step toward him proving folks wrong. He was the second-fastest defensive back in the 40 (4.34 seconds) and fell just an inch shy of Hargreaves’s impressive broad jump. Green rounded out his day with a sharp run through positional drills, complete with the high-pointing of a couple throws.
Hard to say which of Kearse or Green will be drafted first. Both are in the high-ceiling, scary low-floor camp—in Green’s case, each is true simply because of his lack of time spent at safety.
But he was terrific Monday.
What you see is what you get
Obviously, every prospect at the combine gives it his all during on-field workouts. There still was a noticeable extra bit of fire coming from William & Mary safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, another element the NFL Network team picked up on as the day progressed.
That effort fits the MO for Houston-Carson, a high-energy performer who immediately should upgrade a special teams unit, at the least. Houston-Carson blocked a pair of kicks last season, all the while performing well enough elsewhere to be an FCS Defensive Player of the Year finalist.
The Tribe shifted him from cornerback to safety this past season. His size (6' 1", 201 pounds) and willingness to step down as a tackler make him valuable there, among other aspects. He was more natural—perhaps not surprisingly—at cornerback, but like Ramsey might be a movable chip.
A Tom Brady wrinkle in the draft plans
News that Brady and the Patriots reportedly had agreed on a two-year contract extension, which would keep the future Hall of Famer around through 2019, sparked instant speculation that Jimmy Garoppolo could be on the trade block. Garoppolo is signed through the 2017 season at a bargain rate: approximately $1.5 million in base salary combined the next two years. Given the continued uncertainty surrounding this year’s draft class, a QB combining Garoppolo’s positives—young, cheap contract, obvious upside and extended playing time last preseason—could feel like a safer risk than taking a stab at the Jared Goffs and Paxton Lynches of the world come draft time.
The Patriots managed to get just a conditional seventh-round pick from Houston when they traded away Ryan Mallett, after drafting Garoppolo in Round 2. The main difference there was that other front offices knew New England had no use for Mallett, so Bill Belichick and co., had limited leverage.
There should be no urgency on New England’s part to deal away Garoppolo, not when such trade talks could occur next off-season before the final year of the young QB’s contract. Of course, the Pats are down their Round 1 pick, so an extra selection in the early rounds would be valuable.
This is the type of wild card that could alter the entire setup of the draft. Call it a long shot for now, but what if Cleveland or San Francisco or Los Angeles can talk New England into coughing up Garoppolo? Whichever team it may be then almost certainly would not spend a Round 1 pick on a quarterback, meaning the outlook for the other QB-needy clubs would change.