By most accounts, the St. Louis Rams knocked the opening rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft out of the park, landing arguably the top offensive tackle, defensive tackle, and running back prospects in the class; not to mention Lamarcus Joyner, who some regarded as the most versatile defensive back prospect. However, lost in the hype was the St. Louis Rams failure to snag a “true” free safety this offseason. While Jeff Fisher covets hybrid defensive backs that can play both the traditional strong and free safety roles, Gregg Williams’ aggressive scheme often employs a single centerfielder, responsible for manning the backend.
To be fair, the Rams did snag a handful of safety prospects, including drafting Mo Alexander in the 4th Round. They also added former-Ohio State standout, Christian Bryant, who is currently rehabbing from a broken ankle sustained early in his senior season. However, Alexander is a linebacker-to-strong safety convert that displayed limited read-and react skills in the secondary at Utah State, and Bryant, obviously, will not be ready to complete until he has fully healed from his injury.
Where does that leave the St. Louis Rams?
Well, it leaves them with Rodney McLeod, who was the starting free safety for the majority of last season. However, in that time, McLeod was adequate, at best, and ranked near the bottom of the league in a number of vital categories. In terms of subjective measures, Pro Football Focus graded the special teams captain as the 75th-best safety (out of 86) last season, including negative grades versus both the run and pass. In terms of objective measures, McLeod ranked in the Top 10 in missed tackles (T-5th; 16), yards after catch allowed (9th; 198), and failed to register a quarterback pressure throughout the entirety of 2013. To put those simplistic statistics into context, using more advanced metrics, McLeod ranked in the Bottom 10 (among full time starting safeties) in tackling efficiency, as well as yards allowed per coverage snap.
Yes, that was in one season as a starter. Yes, he might develop as a defensive back. But, on the field, McLeod has yet to show that he can be anything more than a special teams ace and a value backup… certainly not a starting-caliber safety on, what is projected by some to be, a Top 10 defense in the NFL.
While the free agency pool has been nearly sucked dry, there are a handful of notable names still waiting to be called up. The most notable of those may be Ed Reed, the ex-Ravens’ future Hall-of Fame free safety.
Reed went through a rough patch last season, being used sporadically in the Texans’ defense before being released by their incompetent coaching staff and claimed by the New York Jets. However, despite all that movement, Reed still only allowed six total receptions and one touchdown in 379 pass coverage snaps, and did snag three interceptions; all three coming while playing behind the Jets’ dominating defensive line with a competent defensive coordinator.
The only “knock” against Ed Reed has been the perception that he is “reluctant to tackle” and shies away from the big-hit in the open field. However, according to Around The League writer, Kevin Patra,
“I know I can still play,” Reed said, reiterating that he could see himself rejoining the Ravens organization in some capacity. He added that any team interested in him would have to be “the right fit.”
Assuming “the right fit” including the top defensive line and two of the most highly-regarded defensive football minds in the league (i.e. Fisher and Willams), St. Louis certainly seems like a solid option. T.J. McDonald is already in place as the “enforcer,” and the other three cornerback roles are all-but filled with young, physical defensive backs.
The only other question for Reed might be his price tag. However, he signed on with the Jets from Week 11 through the end of the 2013 season for a mere $940,000. With approximately $4.9 million in space under the cap, according to Spotrac.com, the St. Louis Rams should have more than enough in the bank to hand Reed a respectable, one-year contract.
While there has obviously been some drop in speed and quickness, Ed Reed still has the skills to be a starting free safety in the NFL. The addition would give the Rams a much-needed leader in the defensive backfield, and provide an immediate upgrade over the much-younger, but significantly less-talented Rodney McLeod. If nothing else, the Rams should bring in the future Hall-of-Famer to compete for a starting spot with their newest batch of draftees and undrafted signees. Couldn’t hurt, right?