It seems like just yesterday that the St. Louis Rams were facing the Minnesota Vikings in an attempt to keep their 2012 playoff hopes alive. In reality, we are knee-deep into the offseason, with both the bulk of free agency and the 2013 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror. This year’s rookie class was one of the more exciting in recent Rams’ history, mainly as a result of the St. Louis Rams taking a non-lineman with their first rounder. Yesterday, we took a hard look at both Tavon Austin and Alec Ogletree. Today, Ramblin’ Fan will continue to hand out grades to the Rams’ 3rd rounders, starting with T.J. McDonald.
In case you missed the previous grading criteria, our grades came in four key areas: the “value” of the pick (i.e. where they were picked in relation to how highly ranked they were as an overall prospect in the draft), “fit” (i.e. how the player fits on the roster, and within the scheme), “need” (i.e. how well they fill an immediate need on the roster), and the overall grade. Be warned, the teachers at Ramblin’ Fan University are not the easiest graders…
T.J. McDonald (71st overall), S, USC
McDonald graded out as a late-4th to mid-5th round prospect on some boards, marred by a mediocre 40-time and numerous flaws in his coverage skill set. However, McDonald comes from world-class pedigree and is a physical freak, which he demonstrated at the NFL combine by being a Top 5 performer in bench, vertical, and broad jump. Considering the Rams move back in the 1st round from 22nd to 30th, McDonald was likely rated very highly on their board. Still, most projected him to drop, at least, until the start of the 4th round.
Who would have thought it… Jeff Fisher taking arguable the most physically gifted, hardest hitting safety in the draft. What McDonald lacks in cover skills, he makes up for in physicality and overall ability to line up in-the-box and dominate an opposing offense. The USC defensive captain is the “gatekeeper” in the middle of the field, uses his length to shed blockers, is disruptive in the opposing backfield, and plays best in two-deep coverage. Sounds like exactly what the St. Louis Rams lost in Quintin Mikell!
Assuming the rumors about Darian Stewart getting the starting nod at the free safety spot are true, the St. Louis Rams had no greater “need” in the draft than a strong safety. Craig Dahl’s ineptitude on the secondary last season was a major determining factor in a number of games; the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, and Minnesota Vikings‘ games come to mind almost immediately. An upgraded in the deep secondary was not only the St. Louis Rams biggest hole to fill, but is likely the last piece of the puzzle in, what should be, a Top 5 defense in the NFL next season.
Overall Grade: B-
T.J. McDonald should fit perfectly into the Rams’ starting defensive lineup. With the Rams’ running primarily out of ”Man-under/Cover 2″ in the secondary, McDonald should shine in his role as the “Enforcer” in the deep secondary. If last season is any indication, Fisher and new defensive coordinator Tim Walton will use McDonald heavily in the pass rush, as well as stacking the box against rush-heavy offenses; which there are a lot of on the 2013 schedule: Atlanta, San Francisco (2x), Houston, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, and Seattle (2x). If he can improve in coverage, he would fit the mold of the select handful of other physically imposing safeties in the NFL, including as Kam Chancellor and Bernard Pollard. Wouldn’t that be a sight to see…