Rams showcase Jalen Ramsey’s versatility, see him as LeBron James-type player

Eric D. Williams

Asked how the Los Angeles Rams use Pro Bowl corner Jalen Ramsey differently this season, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan indicated the difference is noticeable on film study for the week.

“Yeah, he’s not just a corner,” Shanahan said. “They play him all over. They play him in different packages, and you don’t know where he’s going to be on the field.”

The creation of new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, the Rams have used Ramsey different this season, taking advantage of his unique talents.

Staley said he created the “star” position, brought over from his days as defensive coordinator at Division III John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he also played quarterback. The new role is a hybrid defensive back position like a slot defender that places Ramsey closer to the line of scrimmage so he can better impact the game.

“It’s a position that kind of combines several different skillsets,” Staley said. “You’re a little bit of a corner, you’re a little bit of a safety, a little bit of a linebacker -- inside linebacker and outside linebacker because you’re kind of a rusher too.

“It’s a spot that you have to possess all those qualities of those four positions. You’ve got to be able to process because things happen quickly inside. You need a guy that can see and a guy that can think and operate quickly. Those are things that he does well. We felt like he’s a defensive back; he’s not just a corner. We feel like he can play a lot of different positions for us and we feel like he fits that role extremely well. It gives us some versatility there and I’ve been pleased with the way he’s played in there.”

Troy Hill has been used mainly at the “star” position for the Rams, but Ramsey has had his share of reps there as well. According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey has played 85 snaps at slot corner through five games. Ramsey played 85 snaps the entire season at that spot last year.

Ramsey still is mainly been used very effectively as a lock-down corner on the perimeter because of his ability to shadow an opposing team’s No. 1 receiver.

However, leaving on Ramsey on the outside also allows opposing offenses to avoid him, limiting his impact on the game. The Florida State product said he’s been more involved in the defensive game plan this season, which was a point of emphasis for Staley at the start of the year.

“I’m having fun,” Ramsey said. “It’s been extremely exciting this year, being able to obviously play corner and play on the outside, but at times this year when I haven’t got many targets. … We have figured out a way to be able to get me in more action, here and there, and be able to have more versatility in the defense. That’s something that I’ve wanted for a while in my career.”

Through five games, Ramsey hasn’t exactly filled up the stat sheet, with 13 combined tackles and two pass breakups. He’s been targeted just 23 times in five games.

However, playing closer to the line of scrimmage, Ramsey has developed into an enforcer in the pass game and run game, dialing up some bone-jarring hits on players like Golden Tate and Washington quarterback Kyle Allen.

Ramsey almost notched his first sack on a called blitz against the New York Giants, so Staley is putting him in motion more.

With Ramsey signing a record, five-year, $105 million extension at the start of the regular season, Staley has been tasked with figuring out how to get the talented corner more involved. Staley said he went back to Ramsey’s days at Florida State, where the Seminoles used him all over the field.

Teams debated during Ramsey’s time coming out of the draft in 2016 whether he would be a better fit at corner or safety, with his athleticism and physicality at 6-1 and 210 pounds. Turns out, Ramsey is a great fit at both spots -- it’s just a matter of putting him there.

Staley compared Ramsey to Los Angeles Lakers do-everything swing man LeBron James, who recently helped the franchise win their 17 NBA title.

“I feel like when I was fortunate to get this opportunity and knew that Jalen was going to be a part of it, I felt like his skills really are uniquely suited for that position,” Staley said. “I think that the way that the game is in the NFL, where the passing game is a lot inside and so much more three-receiver groupings, even in the run game, he can provide a lot that way too in the perimeter run defense. Then, as a rusher because he’s such a good athlete. He’s got such good instincts. He can give you a really good blitz threat too.

“Jalen Ramsey is a natural player at star. I think that anybody that knows his game going back from when he was in high school knows that this is what he’s capable of doing. I see him like a LeBron James is used in the basketball court, where he’s a position-less player. He plays some point guard, he plays some three, he plays some four, he guards fives and he’s what his team needs to be in that particular game in order for them to be successful.

“That’s what makes him one of the best players of all time and congratulations to LeBron, a fellow Ohio guy, we’re back in L.A. together (laughs). So, excited for him, but I feel like Jalen’s that same way. We’re going to put him where we feel like it’s best, and we’re fortunate he’s got skill sets to be able to move him around some.”