Chargers’ Brandon Staley turned Derwin James into Jalen Ramsey

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Chargers safety Derwin James rarely miss opportunities to make plays on the field.

But the best friends will miss the chance to play against each other in the NFL for the first time.

James on Friday was ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Rams at SoFi Stadium because he remains in concussion protocol because of an injury suffered in Monday’s victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

That means the two stars will not be able to display their unique talents in the same game.

“Something that me and him dreamed of,” Ramsey said Friday before James’ status was announced.

Ramsey, 28, and James, 26, played together and formed a bond at Florida State in 2015.

In 2016, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Ramsey fifth in the NFL draft. Three-and-a-half years later, the Rams traded two first-round draft picks to the Jaguars for Ramsey, and in September 2020 signed him to a five-year, $100-million contract that includes $71.2 million in guarantees.

Last season, Ramsey helped lead the Rams to the Super Bowl title and was voted All-Pro for the third time.

The Chargers drafted the 6-2, 215-pound James with the 17th pick in 2018. He made All-Pro as a rookie but was sidelined because of injuries for most of the next two seasons.

In August, James signed a four-year extension that added as much as $76.5 million to the year he had remaining on his rookie contract. James has helped lead the Chargers to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

Brandon Staley coached Ramsey as the Rams defensive coordinator in 2020. Ramsey was an established shutdown cornerback, but Staley expanded his role and deployed him in coverage and as a pass rusher from all angles.

The Chargers hired Staley in 2021, giving him the chance to work with James.

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) tackles Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) in November.

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) tackles Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) in November. James can’t play this week against the Rams because of a concussion.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“In a lot of instances,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, “the way that Brandon envisioned Jalen when he first got here, being able to play outside, being able to play inside — that was kind of the similar thing that he ended up doing as soon as he got there with Derwin.”

Staley considers himself “fortunate” to have coached both.

“They’re two of the only players like themselves,” Staley said. “Like there aren’t any other comps to them in the NFL.

“There are no safeties like Derwin and there are no corners like Jalen. … They’re just truly the rare defensive backs who can play anywhere.”

Ramsey’s and James’ intelligence also sets them apart, Staley said.

“The rare athletes and then the rare football minds, the intellect that they have,” Staley said. “And then you’re talking about two of the fiercest competitors in the league. You know when they step on the field everybody feels Derwin James, everybody feels Jalen Ramsey. … The leadership they both have, the toughness. They really inspire your message. They give life to your message to the rest of the guys.”

James was not made available to reporters this week because he is in concussion protocol.

Although Ramsey is disappointed that the Rams missed the playoffs, he is happy that James will be playing in the postseason.

And he said he would prefer that James put his own well-being first.

“He’s got some bigger things down the line, so I want him to take care of himself for sure,” Ramsey said. He jokingly added: “And then, obviously, I’m still a competitor. If he ain’t playing, then I think that’s in our advantage too, so we’ll see.”

Ramsey and James might have played against each other in 2019, but about two months before playing the Chargers, the Jaguars traded Ramsey to the Rams.

Now, another possible matchup will not come to fruition.

“Maybe … it just ain’t meant to be that me and Derwin play against each other,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey has said that he would like to play on the same team with James.

He revisited that scenario Friday.

“Maybe one day we’ll play with each other,” he said, “but maybe it’s not meant for us to play against each other.”

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