From a pure entertainment standpoint, everyone should be rooting for Jalen Ramsey to match up 1-on-1 against Rob Gronkowski this Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville. And we’ll almost certainly see at least some of that.
But will Ramsey — the Jaguars’ shutdown corner/smack talk extraordinaire — follow the New England Patriots’ star tight end around the field the way he did Odell Beckham Jr. last weekend? History suggests that’s unlikely.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ramsey, an All-Pro cornerback, has almost exclusively covered wide receivers during his NFL career. In fact, since he entered the league in 2016, he has been targeted in man coverage against a tight end just three times.
On one of those targets, Ramsey broke up a deep ball intended for Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve last season. The other two, both of which came during Ramsey’s rookie year, resulted in goal-line touchdowns of 1 and 2 yards by Ryan Griffin and Antonio Gates, respectively.
When the Patriots and Jaguars met in the AFC Championship Game this past January, Ramsey covered Gronkowski on just two snaps, with quarterback Tom Brady throwing elsewhere on both. Safety Tashaun Gipson was Jacksonville’s primary cover man on Gronkowski, who played a total of 26 snaps and ran 19 pass routes before a concussion ended his afternoon before halftime.
Ramsey spent most of that game matched up with Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan before switching late in the fourth quarter onto Brandin Cooks, who’d done a number on fellow Pro Bowl corner A.J. Bouye. Cooks and Danny Amendola torched Jacksonville’s vaunted secondary for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 13 catches, but Hogan, New England’s No. 2 receiver at the time, was quiet against Ramsey, finishing with just two catches on four targets for 20 yards.
Hogan, who has been elevated to No. 1 status with Cooks now gone and Julian Edelman suspended, was held in check again in Week 1, catching one pass on five targets in a win over the Houston Texans. New No. 2 wideout Phillip Dorsett carried the Patriots’ receiving corps with seven catches on seven targets for 66 yards and a touchdown, with Cordarrelle Patterson contributing one 6-yard reception and a couple of jet sweeps.
Gronkowski, meanwhile, looked like vintage Gronk, fighting through near-constant Texans double teams to catch seven passes for 123 yards and one score. Though he’s technically a tight end, Gronkowski, who often lines up out wide or in the slot, essentially is New England’s No. 1 receiver, fueling speculation that the Jaguars could task Ramsey with slowing him down this Sunday.
Ramsey correctly pointed out in his explosive ESPN The Magazine interview this summer that Gronkowski’s stats against cornerbacks are not as favorable as his receiving numbers against safeties and linebackers. And at 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, Ramsey matches up better physically with the 6-foot-6, 268-pound Gronkowski than most players at his position do.
“I don’t fear no man, period,” Ramsey told reporters this week. “So he’s going to have to come out there and line up on me.”