Reimer: Why Jalen Ramsey's trash talk against Gronk is a smart play

Alex Reimer
September 14, 2018 - 12:12 pm

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

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History shows it’s usually a mistake to trash-talk the Patriots. The list of overconfident players who have made fools of themselves stretches longer than the traffic on Route 1 during game day. That’s why at first glance, Jalen Ramsey’s public crusade against Rob Gronkowski seems foolish. The star corner only appears to be setting himself up for failure.

But that conventional wisdom ignores two central components to Ramsey’s smack talk: he’s damn good, and maybe he’s right. 

Over the last month, Ramsey has dissed Gronk to seemingly anybody who will listen. He told GQ the Patriots’ tight end has “never seen a cornerback” like him; professed to ESPN’s Mina Kimes that Gronkowski “isn’t as great as people think he is;” and declared this week he isn’t afraid to square off against him.

"I don't fear no man, period,” Ramsey told reporters Thursday, per ESPN. “So (Gronk) is going to have to come out there and line up on me. Or however it goes. He's got to play us this year.”

The Patriots, per usual, haven’t responded to Ramsey’s fighting words. Gronk just said the cornerback has a right to feel that way, and moved on. This has placed the scrutiny squarely on the third-year corner, though Jaguars coach Doug Marrone attempted to deflect some of the attention with a bizarre tirade about how he hasn’t watched the Super Bowl since he was 12 years old, or something.

Ramsey’s braggadocio has made him one of the most-talked about players in the NFL in recent weeks. He’s in the national headlines on almost a daily basis, which is great for his brand. As a result, it would be a mistake to view his words as nothing more than a cocky player spouting off. This appears to all be part of a public relations strategy to launch Ramsey into the upper-stratosphere of NFL stars. It worked wonders for Richard Sherman, whose proclivity to talk trash only added to his legend. 

In many respects, Seattle’s Legion of Boom was born against the Patriots in 2012, when the Seahawks engineered a comeback 24-23 over New England. Afterwards, Sherman heckled Tom Brady with the now-notorious line, “You mad bro?”

Since then, Sherman has emerged as one of the faces of the NFL. He’s more than just a great cornerback, he’s a star. The average NFL career only lasts 3.3 years, and there’s no doubt Sherman has maximized his earning potential. The 49ers felt compelled to give $39 million this offseason, despite the fact he’s coming off an Achilles injury. 

There’s a common attribute that’s shared by Freddie Mitchell, Anthony Smith, and most of the other clowns who have entered a one-sided war of words against the Patriots: they stink. There is also a history, albeit a much smaller one, of good players who have backed up their verbal gusto against New England. Linebackers Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs, for example, ousted the Patriots in the playoffs after weeks of smack talk. Broncos linebacker Antonio Smith called Brady a “crybaby” in 2016, and the Broncos went on to defeat the Patriots in the AFC championship.

Ramsey will look to follow in their footsteps, and the numbers are in his favor, because Gronk fares worse against cornerbacks than safeties and linebackers. According to 538, his catch rate drops from 71 percent to 56 percent when he’s lined up on the outside opposed to inside. That’s below the league average for tight ends.

If Ramsey performs well against Gronkowski, or even shuts him down, his celebrity will soar. The 2018 NFL season will be effectively be dubbed the “Jalen Ramsey Show,” because there are few things the media likes more than a bombastic skill player. 

The reward for Ramsey is astronomically high. The risk is short-term embarrassment, but it’s a long season. Provided Ramsey continues to shut down wideouts, his Week 2 performance against Gronkowski won’t define him.

That is, unless he comes out on top. There’s a method to the arrogance. 

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