As the 49ers prepare for their NFC West showdown against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6, the 49ers’ coaching staff noticed that the Rams have essentially created a hybrid position that stretches beyond the realm of a traditional cornerback. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley is happy to claim responsibility for the use of Jalen Ramsey in that role.
“It’s a position that kind of combines several different skillsets,” Staley told SI. “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.”
Staley goes so far as to compare to Ramsey to Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James. James’s defense has often been compared to that of an elite defensive back, due to his combination of positional versatility, floor coverage, smarts, and ball-hawk skills.
“Jalen Ramsey is a natural player at star,” Staley said. “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 on 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.”
“It’s a spot that you have to possess all those qualities of those four positions,” Staley said. “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.”
When Ramsey sets up on the outside as a shutdown No. 1 corner, offenses can more easily avoid him — he has been targeted just 23 times in five games. However, playing him closer to the line of scrimmage and/or in the slot enables him to wreak havoc as an edge rusher and run stopper.
“His skills really are uniquely suited for that position,” Staley said about Ramsey. “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.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey’s 85 snaps at slot corner through five games has already matched his total from last season.
Staley specifically drew a comparison between Ramsey and his fellow star Los Angeles athlete.
“Jalen Ramsey is a natural player at star,” Staley added. “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.”
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has noticed the same thing about Ramsey on film.
“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 Rams are hoping to have the same success as James, who just led the Lakers to the NBA championship.