FRISCO – Jalen Ramsey will get his first opportunity this Sunday to play against the Cowboys, the team he expected would draft him fourth overall in 2016.
The Cowboys used that pick on star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Jacksonville chose Ramsey with the next selection. Over two years later, Ramsey still hasn’t let it go.
The All-Pro cornerback told ESPN in August that he believes the Cowboys’ coaches wanted him, but team owner and general manager Jerry Jones overruled them in favor of Elliott.
Ramsey is considered by many to be the NFL’s best cover corner. He’s rarely tested by opposing quarterbacks. He’s also one of the game’s biggest trash-talkers.
He called Bills rookie Josh Allen “trash,” Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, “overrated” and two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger “decent at best.”
In regard to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Ramsey said he was “good” but then quickly changed his answer to “all right” and then “OK.”
“[Elliott] runs that team, though,” he added. “Everything runs around Zeke.”
And that’s exactly why the Cowboys decided to pick Elliott over Ramsey despite how much the organization loved the All-American defensive back coming out of Florida State.
Entering that draft, Dallas was picking fourth because of the disastrous 2015 season when Tony Romo went down with a broken collarbone and only played four games.
The pick was not just about talent. It was about the identity of the team.
In a five-year period, the Cowboys spent three first round picks on offensive linemen — Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin — and then signed another first-round talent in La’el Collins.
Head coach Jason Garrett, the former quarterback and offensive coordinator, got a do-everything, workhorse back to take pressure off Romo and help the offense return to its 2014 glory when it averaged 29 points per game with DeMarco Murray in the backfield.
Those who second-guessed the Elliott pick in April 2016 were hard to find six months later when Elliott was on his way to the rushing title and the Cowboys were in the middle of an 11-game winning streak.
Ramsey and the Jaguars had their fun last season, riding the league’s No. 1 passing defense and No. 2 overall defense all the way to the AFC Championship Game.
Ramsey made his first Pro Bowl and was named first-team All-Pro after racking up 63 tackles, 17 pass deflections and four interceptions. His peers ranked him the league’s No. 1 corner and the 17th overall player on the annual NFL Top 100 Players list.
It’s difficult to predict what would have happened if the Cowboys drafted Ramsey instead of Elliott. Where would they have found their next No. 1 running back? Would Dallas have still drafted linebacker Jaylon Smith early in the second round or would that pick have been used on a running back like Alabama’s Derrick Henry? Would Prescott have had the same success in 2016 without Elliott?
About the only thing that seems like a good bet is that with Ramsey, the Cowboys would have one of the league’s best defenses. They already have a top-10 unit, and Ramsey would at the least increased their takeaways, an area of weakness for several years.
But the debate won’t be settled as long as both continue to play at an elite level. Ramsey is one of the game’s best defenders and the face of an exceptional defense. Elliott continues to be one of the NFL’s top backs, leading the league in rushing through the first five weeks.
Each player is doing exactly what they were drafted for, to be the identity of their team.
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