"On a Jacksonville Jaguars team of nice guys, ____________ might be the nicest."
You can fill that blank with the name any of the team's 11 starters on defense in 2015 (sans Telvin Smith) and that statement would make sense. This is not just one of the problems with the Jaguars defense. This is the problem.
But to understand this problem, let's get to its roots.
The year is 2012. Gus Bradley is the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks at the beginning of their takeover of the NFL. He is coaching Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Brandon Browner at the peaks of their careers. They were deemed the Legion Of Boom. Led by the loud-mouth Sherman and the on-field hammer that was Chancellor, that defense became everything that any fan wants their defense to be.
They were fast. They were physical. They were talented. To many, they were the bad guys... which is the highest compliment you can pay to a defense.
Fast forward to early 2013 and the Jaguars fanbase, front office, and ownership all thought they were on track to become the next bad guys. Gus Bradley was hired as the team's new head coach and he preached the same things that were preached in Seattle.
Bradley said he wanted his defenses to be fast. They'd be physical. They'd be talented.
At least, this is what we all thought would take place if things went right.
But, it went wrong. It went really wrong. Fast forward to the end of the 2015 regular season and the current state of the Jaguars defense was in ruins. They didn't play fast. They weren't physical. And talented is probably the last word that could be used to describe them.
In the place of Sherman, Chancellor, and Thomas, there were Dwayne Gratz, Jonathan Cyprien, and Sergio Brown. The defensive end he handpicked to lead his pass rush tore his ACL in his first practice.
The only high points of the defense were three free agent additions in Davon House, Jared Odrick, and Dan Skuta, a fifth-round linebacker in Telvin Smith and an aging middle linebacker in Paul Posluszny whose body had begun to fall apart on him.
The defense now needs a facelift in both talent and attitude. And entering Bradley's fourth season, the final year on his contract, they need that facelift now. So the questions facing the Jaguars and Gus Bradley are: How do you fix the defense and how do you fix it quickly?
Let me introduce you to Jalen Ramsey. Defensive back, playmaker, and -- most importantly -- the bad guy.
Where does he play?
The first question that many ask when it comes to Ramsey is, "What position will he play?"
He played a variety of roles at Florida State, starting full seasons at both safety and cornerback. He has the athletic profile, intelligence, and attitude to play either one of these positions full time depending on the landing spot. But there's no point in talking about the other 31 landing spots in the NFL. The only landing spot worth talking about in this instance is Jacksonville. And in this landing spot, he is a safety.
Ramsey was a decent cornerback in his final year at Florida States. He could end up being a good one in the NFL. But he was a star safety in 2013 and 2014 seasons, and that is what he should be projected as when talking about his fit with Jacksonville. Not only because of team need but because this is where he can truly shine as a player.
Playmaking is what stands out the most about Ramsey. He doesn't just do things well and is a cog in the machine that is the defense. He goes to the next level and beyond and makes things happen.
He does this in a variety of ways. Whether it is against the run or against the pass, Ramsey is a threat to the offense.
Ramsey's best assets as a pass defender are his athleticism and his size. He is a big-framed defensive back who has tree trunks for arms, and this made him especially gifted at defending the middle of the field.
Here is a play that really stood out when watching Ramsey. It looks like a simple pass breakup, but there is a lot going on. The tight end has won the inside and provided a target for the quarterback. He has both the size and leverage advantage on Ramsey. He is open. If the throw is on the money, it's an easy completion.
And the throw is good. It is right to the tight end's chest. But despite all of the advantages the tight end has over Ramsey throughout the play, it ends up as incomplete.
This is because Ramsey has special tools and he knows how to use him. He is able to use his frame and his length to regain leverage and cut in front of the tight end to make a play that he probably shouldn't have been able to make.
But making plays that most people shouldn't be able to make isn't new to Ramsey. It is actually a specialty of his.
Take this play against the Gators as an even greater example. This play doesn't need an explanation. It is just special.
Ramsey is not a Cover 3 single high free safety, though. He is not Earl Thomas. You don't put him in the middle of the field and tell him to patrol it and not let anyone beat him deep. This is not because he can't do it, but because he shouldn't do it. It is a waste of his abilities and versatility.
You can put him in the box and treat him like a linebacker. You can put him in the slot. You can blitz him off the edge. You can do whatever you want with him, as long as you don't do nothing with him.
The Bad Guy
Aside from being a tremendous talent that can do anything for your defense that you ask him to, Ramsey brings something else. He brings an attitude, a mindset that can lift up the entire unit.
As my friend and Bolts From The Blue contributor Kyle Posey put on Twitterm "You should want him on your squad because he's an alpha dog and will make whoever is going against him a mental midget by the fourth quarter."
This is what the Jaguars need more than anything. Throw out all the talk about coverage ability and scheme fit and everything else. They need a bad guy. They need somebody who won't step down from a challenge, but who will rise up to that challenge, knock it down, and yell "Stay down!"
The Jaguars defense has a lot of nice guys. That isn't a slight to them, but they play like the nice guys they are. This isn't to say Ramsey isn't a nice person obviously, but he knows how to flip that switch on the field and this is something that can elevate everybody around him.
You can see it in his play that he relishes being an enforcer. He isn't someone that you have to amp up and motivate to get on the field and become a warrior.
When I think of Ramsey, I think of former wrestling superstar Scott Hall and how he described himself on an ESPN E60 documentary about him...
"Say hello to the bad guy. You need somebody like me, who you can point your stinking finger and whisper, 'Look. There goes Razor. He's the bad guy."
That is what Ramsey could be for the Jaguars defense. He can be fast. He can be physical. He can be the most talented guy on the team.
And Ramsey can be the defender who opposing offenses can finally point their stinking fingers at and whisper, "Look. He's the bad guy."