The Tennessee Titans will enter April's NFL draft likely considering three options with the first overall pick. There may not be a wrong decision out of the three, but it's possible there's a best decision, and his name is Jalen Ramsey.
The Florida State cornerback went about the business of making scouts swoon Tuesday during his pro-day workout. He’s hard to label, and there are times when that’s an insult during the scouting process. But with Ramsey, it’s a compliment.
At 6’1” and 209 pounds, he could remain a cornerback in the NFL, able to control receivers with his physicality in press coverage while sealing off the boundary. But he’s played safety, too, and has the size, acceleration to break on balls quickly and natural instincts to excel at that position. He played both safety and corner in college as a hybrid defender, which is one of the greatest gifts you can give any defensive coordinator.
Ramsey doesn’t really care where he plays, or what position tag you apply, per Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com. There is one label he does care about, though, and he wants Titans decision-makers to know about it:
Jalen Ramsey to me on Titans: "They shouldn't take me bc I'm a Nashville kid. They should take me bc I'm the best player in the draft."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 29, 2016
The entourage of Titans officials in attendance as Ramsey dazzled during position drills ran deep. (He didn’t do any testing and stood on his combine results.) As Jim Wyatt of Titans Online observed, head coach Mike Mularkey, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, director of college scouting Blake Beddingfield and scout Tim Ruskell flanked general manager Jon Robinson.
Having Robinson surrounded by four other top sideline and front-office lieutenants shows heightened interest, just as it did Monday during Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil’s pro day when a similarly sized Titans crew rolled up.
Was it all just a show with Ramsey then? Or a sign of something larger and a different direction that includes Ramsey over Tunsil?
The Titans control the draft’s first and largest domino. The three options for exactly how they’d like to knock it over are to either select Tunsil, have Commissioner Roger Goodell call Ramsey’s name or hold an auction for the top pick and trade down.
It doesn’t take a wild imagination to see why Ramsey could be their real target—possibly through option No. 3—and why Robinson has been speaking into an industrial-sized megaphone as he expresses an openness to trading down.
That’s what he told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
Jon Robinson on @nflnetwork: "If it's stick & pick at 1 if a trade doesn't work (fine). If we can move down & acquire picks, we'll do that"— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 28, 2016
Let’s be clear before we go much further here and all nod our heads in unison while acknowledging a known fact of the 2016 draft: Tunsil isn’t fair.
He treated the bar holding up 225 pounds like a tiny child’s toy during his own pro-day brilliance, effortlessly reeling off 34 reps. At 6’5” and 310 pounds, he’s more than just a brute clump of muscle, too. Tunsil showed fluid movement and intricate footwork during his position drills. That complete package translated to just three sacks and 12 hurries allowed over his final 599 snaps at Ole Miss, according to Pro Football Focus.
Which is why pairing a human brick wall with Marcus Mariota, Tennessee’s cornerstone quarterback (hopefully), is mighty tempting. But there’s a question that creeps up at first, and then it becomes an annoying itch: Exactly how much draft investment in the offensive line is too much?
Winning hasn’t happened a whole lot lately for the Titans. They’ve won five games over the past two years, and four seasons have gone by without a winning record. Their reward has been top-10 picks in three of the past four drafts, and the only exception was a narrow miss when they picked 11th in 2014.
Just for fun, let’s slot Tunsil in as their pick on April 28, which also assumes the Titans stay in the top spot and don’t find a trading partner. Try to duck and avoid being whacked over the head with the pattern below…
You don’t need to strain yourself at all to reach for that hypothetical scenario. It would see the Titans name an offensive lineman as their best first-round direction in three straight non-Mariota drafts.
Sure, Taylor Lewan could slide over to right tackle and may be a better fit there after an inconsistent 2015 season when he was torched in several games, giving up eight sacks overall, according to Pro Football Focus. Such a move would fortify the offensive line further after Mariota missed four games due to injury during his debut NFL campaign.
But choosing Tunsil would ignore a Swiss-cheese secondary that allowed 7.9 yards per attempt in 2015 (28th) and 34 passing touchdowns (29th). The Titans’ passer rating allowed of 101.3 (29th) was also pretty scary stuff.
So as the Titans remembered Ramsey’s 40-yard dash time of 4.41 at the combine and then watched Tuesday when he displayed quick-twitch explosion to break on balls…
Along with the speed and leaping ability to high-point deep throws…
An already difficult decision began to loom larger.
Ramsey is a mashup of everything that’s demanded of premier secondary defenders in the modern pass-oriented NFL. He has the size and anticipation to play safety, along with the speed and ball skills to thrive in man coverage.
The options he provides a defensive coordinator have made comparisons to the Cardinals’ Tyrann Mathieu fit well. There’s a certain unmatched tenacity infused into a defense by the likes of Mathieu and Ramsey, which is the ideal counterpunch against aerial bombardments driven by bulked-up wide receivers. Ramsey is a movable piece to be used throughout the defensive backfield, making him a unique talent.
Sure, Tunsil is unique, too, and a behemoth people-mover. But in this draft and for this team, he could start to feel like a luxury pick next to Ramsey.