clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Jalen Ramsey in spotlight as Jags defense continues to fall below expectations

New, comments
NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Things have not gone that well for the Jacksonville Jaguars since their 30-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks last season. Though they defeated the hopeless Houston Texans 45-7 the following week, the Jaguars lost 44-33 to the San Francisco 49ers, then 15-10 to the Tennessee Titans to close out the year. They had a fortunate wild card meeting against a Buffalo Bills team that even managed to feature a playoff edition of a Nathan Peterman interception and only won 10-3, then barely escaped a divisional round matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers while allowing 42 points. Jacksonville did lead the New England Patriots 20-10 in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship game, but suffered the same playoff nightmare that the Seahawks once did against the Patriots, blowing the game and losing by four.

The Jaguars seemed to return even stronger in 2018 than they were at 10-6 last season, bringing back almost all of their key players and even adding a few like guard Andrew Norwell, receiver Donte Moncrief, and first round pick Taven Bryan, but following a 3-1 start, Jacksonville has already matched their loss total from 2017. The number one defense a year ago, they allowed just 56 points in their first four games, but have since given up 143 during a five-game losing streak.

The strange part is that it’s hard to find negative differences between last years Jaguars and this years Jaguars, or even Septembers Jaguars and the team that’s fallen to 3-6. Cornerback A.J. Bouye has missed the last two games, but Jacksonville allowed 40 to the Dallas Cowboys with Bouye in the lineup. The team has actually been remarkably healthy, at least as far as games missed goes, but production is noticeably down for many star players:

  • Calais Campbell has five sacks, 10 QB hits, 0 forced fumbles in nine games, compared to 14.5/30/3 last season
  • Malik Jackson has one sack this season after recording eight in 2017.
  • Yannick Ngakoue continues to look like a rising star and is arguably the player the team builds around from this point forward, but he had an NFL-best six forced fumbles last season and has zero in 2018.
  • Bouye had six interceptions a year ago, but only one this season.

It’s easy to see a trend in there: the Jags were 2nd in turnovers forced a year ago and now they’re 26th. They had 55 sacks last season and this year they’re on pace for 34. The players are the same but they can’t get to the quarterback, and that’s going to typically cause fewer forced fumbles and interceptions. One way to combat that is with elite cornerback play, something Jacksonville had in spades last season with Bouye and Jalen Ramsey both making the Pro Bowl, but that is also not clicking this season for whatever reason. Ramsey had 17 passes defensed in 2017 and so far this year he has only four.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for a player whose mouth was full of trash talk in August, and now Adam Schefter is reporting that the Jags are willing to see what they could get in return for Ramsey by listening to offers for the star cornerback next offseason.

Is there any truth to this? The organization says ‘No’:

Let’s say that offers are made, would Jacksonville be able to get the two first round picks that they’d likely want by parting ways with a corner who a year ago easily looked like one of the top-five players in the NFL under 25?

I’m actually not so sure.

Ramsey looked like a clear heir apparent to Richard Sherman in terms of walking the talk, but right now it seems as though Ramsey is having a hiccup that Sherman never really had. (Sherman, at age 30 and coming off of an Achilles tear, is actually still performing at an elite level per most statistics.) According to FootballOutsiders’ ‘Cornerback Charting’ numbers in their premium section, Ramsey is allowing 8 yards per pass. Compare that to their top-ranked players in 2018 like Tre’Davious White (4.0), Orlando Scandrick (4.6), Marlon Humphrey (4.7), or Stephon Gilmore (5.6) and you can start to notice how wide that gap is.

Seattle rookie Tre Flowers, a safety in college a year ago, is listed at 8.2 yards per pass.

Another stat at FO is “Success Rate” which measures how often they keep the receiver in coverage from having a successful play based on FO’s definition of such, and an elite number is that of Patrick Peterson at 74%, while a good rate would be anything over 60%. This season, Ramsey is at 54%. (Flowers is at 49%.)

I can’t really speak to what ProFootballFocus has charted for Ramsey this season, nor will I give much space here to grades, but the 24-year-old corner has gone from one of PFF’s favorite players of all-time to more of an afterthought who ranks somewhere closer to “above average.”

A number one corner should also be shutting down opposing number one receivers, but Jacksonville ranks just 18th against WR1s per FootballOutsiders. They ranked first in 2017.

It’s more than fair to note the problems with Blake Bortles as well as the ever-more-undeniable assertion that drafting Leonard Fournette was a mistake, but this isn’t likely to just be a case of a bad offense putting pressure on a great defense and making them look worse than they actually are. Seattle had an elite defense for most of 2012-2015 and at times, the offense did not show up, but the better side of the ball continued to hold up; at no point in 2012 did the Seahawks give up 30 points, up until their loss in the divisional round to the Atlanta Falcons, despite an offense that only cracked 20 points twice over their first seven games.

In their last 14 games, the Jaguars have gone 5-9, allowing 40+ points three times. It has not proven to be an elite defense but would the solution to that involve trading away one of their best young players who still has two relatively cheap years remaining on his rookie contract? That would depend on the return and given the season being had by Ramsey, I can’t imagine that a team is going to rush to use future draft capital in the way the Chicago Bears did for Khalil Mack. Let’s briefly examine what Jacksonville would be asking for if Ramsey was on the block in March.

They’d almost certainly want a first round pick in 2019 and one that was at least in the top 10. The only exception being if it was two first rounders in the same year, which at this point would only include the Oakland Raiders and the Green Bay Packers. The Packers drafted cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson in the first and second round last year, plus Kevin King in the second round in 2017, so I can’t imagine them using two more firsts on a corner.

Oakland could use first round picks acquired from Chicago and Dallas and definitely need more star players to feature in their move to Las Vegas that is likely happening next year. If the Bears and Cowboys win too many games down the stretch though, would the Jags be okay with accepting mid-to-late first rounders in return for a guy who was the fifth overall pick in 2016 and is still a standout cornerback?

Would the San Francisco 49ers give up a top-3 pick for Ramsey rather than just using it on a great young prospect they could have on a rookie deal for five more years? (Maybe.) But what would they add on top of that?

It seems like it would be quite difficult to trade Ramsey even if the Jaguars wanted to — which they very well may not want to — not because he isn’t talented, but because the asking price would be extremely high even though he and the team are having a season that is surprisingly low. Jacksonville has a rematch against the team they beat 45-42 in the playoffs last season, the Steelers, Sunday morning, giving him and Bouye an intriguing matchup against Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. It’s an opportunity to re-establish how dominant the Jags defense can be on their best days —

Or a harsh affirmation that their best days are behind them. For now.