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Jalen Ramsey faces obstacles to top spot in 2016 NFL Draft

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- You don't hear scouts throw the word "unique" around much. And that's because no matter how great a prospect is, more experienced evaluators have probably seen another like him.

Jalen Ramsey is -- in the eyes of many of them -- unique.

He's 6-foot-1 and tips the scales at 209 pounds. Not only can he play every position in the secondary, he has played every position in the secondary. From a value standpoint, you probably want him at corner, but more than one team has him as both the best safety prospect and the best corner prospect in the '16 class. If athleticism is your thing, he's an ACC champion in the long jump and the 4x100 relay, and a finalist in the dash. If you're looking for a good kid, try to find anyone here with bad things to say.

As one high-ranking member of the Florida State football staff put it, "He's the girl who's a 10 and also has a great personality."

And yet, he faces an uphill climb in convincing his hometown team, the Tennessee Titans, to make him the first pick in next month's draft. And there might not be anything he can do about it. Defensive backs just don't get drafted that high.

Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden all make at least $14 million a year, and Josh Norman and Trumaine Johnson are franchise-tagged for 2016 at just under that figure. The last three Super Bowl champions carried corners that served as foundation pieces for their defenses. Offenses are throwing the ball more than they ever have, putting the guys on the back end in the crosshairs.

Logically, the trend should change, but it hasn't. And there's a good chance it won't over the next few weeks.

Ramsey isn't without warts. The flip side of his versatility is uncertainty over which position he'll play in the pros. Because he played in so many different spots, he's a little raw at each of them and needs technique work. Clubs also would like to see his ball skills develop.

But those problems are workable and aren't really why Ramsey likely won't go first overall, even as the Titans -- who had GM Jon Robinson, college scouting director Blake Beddingfield, head coach Mike Mularkey, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, and veteran scout Tim Ruskell in Tallahassee for FSU's pro day on Tuesday -- turn over every rock on him.

Since 2000, only five defensive backs have been drafted in the top five picks. All five (Quentin Jammer, Terence Newman, Sean Taylor, Eric Berry, and Peterson) went fifth. In the decade before that, safety Eric Turner (Browns, 1992) was taken second, and corners Shawn Springs (Seahawks, 1997) and Charles Woodson (Raiders, 1998) went third and fourth in consecutive drafts. Further back, future Hall of Famers Mike Haynes and Deion Sanders went fifth in their respective draft classes.

Why? Two reasons, mainly. First, generally the immediate return on defensive backs isn't spectacular; even the guys who eventually become great struggle early in their careers. Second, because they're less often at the point-of-attack than, say, a great left tackle or edge rusher (let alone quarterback); it's a) harder for them to make a consistent impact, and b) easier for opponents to prevent them from making that impact.

Add that up, and it means waiting for a guy who, even after he develops, might have trouble leaving his footprint on every game, which might be tough to swallow when you're sinking an asset like the first overall pick into a player.

All that said, Ramsey did what he needed to do at Tuesday's pro day. When he finished his position drills, one enthralled official from a team drafting in the bottom half of the top 10 grabbed him and said, "Guess we won't be getting a shot at you." A GM from another team texted that Ramsey showed a "rare combo of explosiveness and body control -- he's super springy." An exec from a third team called him "impressive -- big, long, athletic, moved well. He's a top 5-caliber player."

And that's all well and good, and will likely be enough for him to land in San Diego or Dallas or Jacksonville. But chances are, it won't be enough to crack the glass ceiling that elite DBs of the past few decades have failed to break.

Here are five more observations from the day in Tallahassee:

  1. The Seminoles had 29 players drafted from 2013-15, which is a modern-day record for a college program over a three-year period. So you can give FSU a pass if the pipeline ran a little dry this year, by comparison, and it's probably fair to expect a pretty good rebound next spring. Florida State returns 17 starters in 2016.
  1. It's a little unusual that a kicker would declare early, but by all accounts Roberto Aguayo's decision to come out after his junior year was justified. There's a legit chance that Aguayo goes in the third or fourth round, and he's shooting even higher. He told me after his workout his goal is to go in the second round, and he sees Rounds 2-4 as a realistic range.
  1. One reason why Aguayo is confident: He believes the new kickoff and extra-point rules should help the value of kickers. Both he and head coach Jimbo Fisher pointed out how, with touchbacks already going back to the 25 in college, FSU routinely kicked off high and short believing they could steal 8-10 yards in field position that way (maybe a sign of things to come in the NFL). And Aguayo also pointed out how he was perfect from within 40 yards as a collegian, which is important in the NFL now with the 33-yard PAT.
  1. An interesting name to track on the third day (Rounds 4-7) of the draft could be Greg Dent, who was booted from Florida State in 2013 following sexual-assault charges (he was found guilty of misdemeanor assault). Dent was expected to play a big role opposite high-school teammate Kelvin Benjamin on the team that won the national title two years ago. Instead, he sat out the '13 and '14 seasons before returning to the field this year at Valdosta State. FSU welcomed him back on Tuesday, and there was good and bad -- he put up 17 reps on the bench, but didn't test fast (two teams had him in the 4.8-second range in the 40-yard dash).
  1. Ramsey wasn't the only defensive back to work out. Fifth-year senior free safety Lamarcus Brutus also did himself some good, improving his 40 time as part of a solid day. On the flip side, lanky corner Keelin Smith was uneven throughout, and probably did some damage to his stock. Elsewhere, an unheralded defensive line group, headlined by Nile Lawrence-Stample, was better than expected.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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