Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins is a five-star football player.
So is Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
The duo, arguably the best at their positions, reignite a matchup on Sunday that began in the AFC South with Ramsey’s Jacksonville Jaguars facing Hopkins’ Houston Texans from 2016 through part of last season.
Their battles were competitive and extensive. Pro Football Focus has recorded Hopkins gaining 396 receiving yards with Ramsey against him in coverage, the most against the cornerback since he entered the league in 2016.
Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson, like many of us, can objectively appreciate that Hopkins vs. Ramsey is back in order after the duo found themselves relocating to NFC West via trade over the past year-plus.
“Those guys seem like they can’t get away from one another,” Peterson said Thursday.
“… DeAndre is a very, very physical receiver that has great ball skills and also attacks the ball once it’s in the air. And Jalen has great size as a DB, he’s physical as well, wants to get his hands on the receiver at the line of scrimmage, has great speed, can stop and go on a dime. This matchup is definitely evenly matched. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
In terms of reputation, talent and money made between Hopkins and Ramsey, squaring off on Sunday is among the most notable receiver-corner battles in NFL history.
Their average per-year salary is the most ever for a head-to-head matchup between a receiver and a corner, according to NFL.com’s Kevin Patra. The list of comparable one-on-one adversaries includes a 2014 game when Peterson faced Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and a 2011 game between Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Philadelphia’s Nnamdi Asomugha.
Hopkins is coming into the Rams game on a relatively quiet streak.
He’s made five catches in each of the last two games for 51 and 55 yards against Seattle and New England, respectively.
“You just want to make sure that you’re maximizing what he can do and do things to try and keep him involved in the game,” Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury said about attacking with Hopkins this week.
“(New England corner Stephon) Gilmore’s one of the top players in the league, so is (Jalen) Ramsey. So, that’s going to be a great matchup when they do ask those guys to cover Hop one-on-one, and you just want to make sure that he’s still a viable part of your offense for the quarterback to go to.”
How much Arizona hunts for more explosive plays with Hopkins could push Los Angeles to keep a familiar, talented corner like Ramsey tailing the Cardinals receiver.
But the curiosity factor gets more complicated when you look at how first-year Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley uses Ramsey.
The Rams have put their No. 1 corner in the slot on 21% of his defensive snaps this season. Yet he hardly left the outside positions against other notable top receivers this year, including games against the Bills’ Stefon Diggs, the Bears’ Allen Robinson and the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Los Angeles has three capable corners with the versatile Troy Hill piling up the team’s third-highest number of tackles (67) and third-year pro Darious Williams leading the team with four interceptions and 13 passes defensed through 11 games.
All that’s to say the Rams can make a case Ramsey won’t travel with Hopkins — even if that’s what hardcore football fans want to see.
“Jalen gives us some flexibility that you have the ability to play strong coverage or travel with whoever you need from the opposing team,” Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay told reporters this week. “But Jalen is so much more to us than just somebody that does that. He’s playing all over the field. He’s always been a great football player. There might be a situation where he’s doing that, and there might be others where he’s not. You definitely don’t want to be so predictable that the only thing he’s doing is just traveling around with DeAndre all day.
“Those two have tremendous respect for one another,” McVay added. “They’re two of the best in the world at what they do. That’s what you love about the NFL is getting these five-star matchups between these two types of players on Sundays.”