The list of 21-year-old cornerbacks who went to the NFL Scouting Combine this century and were measured over 6’ and weighing more than 200 lbs with a sub-4.45 40-yard dash and a 40” vertical is short: Jalen Ramsey.
That’s one of the main reasons that Ramsey was not only the fifth overall pick in 2016, but that five years later he is arguably the best defensive back in football. Ramsey also had to work harder than 99-percent of the competition — Bucs corner Jamel Dean has similar measurables and may be an even better athlete, but he’s not in the same stratosphere as a corner — but not every cornerback was born with those same physical advantages that help a player dominate others in football.
For Donte Deayon, a six-year NFL veteran who wasn’t invited to the combine but measured 5’9 and 158 lbs at his pro day with a 4.57 40-yard dash, football has been about finding the advantages that belong to him and only him.
Like a winning personality.
For NFL fans who digest content from the football mothership, Deayon’s charm was evident during 2020’s edition of Hard Knocks, a rare bright spot to be found in an otherwise lost season of the documentary series that few people watched.
Rams DB Donte Deayon is a gem. His personality and enthusiasm is next-level contagious - pumped to see him on Hard Knocks pic.twitter.com/0xuXPpuUuz— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) August 8, 2020
But New York Giants fans — like diehard Giants fans — were already aware that Deayon has experience in building a cult of personality through charisma and being an all-around hype beast for his team. The Giants regularly featured Deayon in their “Giants Life” preseason series for YouTube in 2018 and in the season finale, the then-24 year old corner had two interceptions against the New England Patriots for his final bid to make the 53-man roster.
After being waived as an undrafted free agent rookie in 2016, then again in 2017, Deayon finally survived final cuts with the Giants in 2018.
Deayon was inactive for a Week 1 loss to the Jags, then made his season debut in a Week 2 loss to the Cowboys. Finally, New York head coach Pat Shurmur called upon Deayon to play the majority of the defensive snaps against Deshaun Watson’s Houston Texans in Week 3 and he came up with four tackles and a key third down fumble recovery to help the Giants win their first game of the season.
Less than one month later, Shurmur cut Donte Deayon to make room for wide receiver Bennie Fowler. It would take almost another two months before Deayon was picked up by the LA Rams. While holding a school supplies giveaway in his hometown of Fontana, California, Deayon spoke on how that transition to a Super Bowl team in 2018 has him invigorated to help get the Rams back there this season.
“Just seeing the coaching staff, the culture, everything that’s been built is amazing. I’m ready to be excited and contribute to that. It’s a blessing and an honor and I’m ready to hold up.”
Though he has appeared in only 12 games during his career, including six special teams snaps in last season’s divisional round loss to the Green Bay Packers, Deayon has refused to be forgotten by the NFL. Year after year, it’s not just that Deayon wins people over because they think he’d be fun to party with on a lake or to share a sauna with after practice. Deayon also makes plays every year in training camp and the preseason.
When I watched him in training camp with the Rams this year, Deayon showed up on the field as you would expect a player to show up if he has been in the league longer than all but seven of his teammates: Andrew Whitworth, DeSean Jackson, Matthew Stafford, Johnny Hekker, Robert Woods, Aaron Donald, and Rob Havenstein.
Not drafted in 2016 like Ramsey or Leonard Floyd, Ramsey has the same right in 2021 to call himself an NFL player. And now because of an injury that could sideline Darious Williams for an extended period of time, Deayon is now looking probable to be on the field with them this Sunday against his former team.
Sean McVay said it's possible they elevate a DB from the practice squad in advance of Sunday's game against the Giants, with Donte Deayon being "a very likely candidate for that."— Stu Jackson (@StuJRams) October 15, 2021
The Rams have had a significant problem at cornerback that dates back to training camp, when David Long, Jr. was getting consistently beaten in a joint practice against the Dallas Cowboys, then stashed on the sidelines during the preseason without giving us a glimpse into how dire the situation at corner really has been. Then Long and Williams underwhelmed over the first five games of the season, leading to extended playing time in Week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks for rookie cornerback Robert Rochell out of Central Arkansas.
Rochell gives the Rams something that no other cornerback gives them other than Ramsey. He is 6’2, 193 lbs, runs a 4.41 in the 40, had a 43” vertical, and his 6.84 three-cone time is even better than Ramsey’s outstanding three-cone five years earlier.
But Deayon gives the Rams something that Rochell won’t have for another five years: Six years of NFL experience and a pulse for the defense on Sunday.
Donte Deayon with some great coverage on 3rd down. Nice work by the Rams defense to hold the Broncos first team offense to 3— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) August 29, 2021
Most people expected LA’s defense to be worse this season than it was as the NFL’s top-ranked unit a year ago under Brandon Staley. It’s not just that Staley left, it’s probably even more consequential that John Johnson III and Troy Hill are playing for the Cleveland Browns, while Michael Brockers is stuck with the Detroit Lions for now. The Rams have gained five points per game on offense thanks to Stafford, but are now also giving up an additional five points on defense, somewhat offsetting those returns.
I’m not saying that the “Tutu Atwell of defense” is meant to be a savior for a Rams defense that ranks 31st in plays per drive allowed — the definition of a bend-don’t-break D that ranks 12th in points allowed — but when I was watching camp, no player’s contributions hyped the team up more than Donte Deayon.
And if you can’t whisk up an experienced and physically impressive starting cornerback to play opposite of Ramsey, then at least give fans an entertaining show. As he would tell Aaron Donald, Donte Deayon has proven to be 280 lbs of entertainment in a 160 lbs body.
And I’m here for it.