After making the righteous move of letting safety Craig Dahl walk in 2012, the Rams were left without a viable starting free safety on the roster. The Rams alternated Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod in 2013, but it was obvious that the Rams had a weakness at the position.
In the 2014 NFL Draft, many fans would have liked to see the Rams draft Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, however, with defensive tackle Aarond Donald still on the board, the Rams went the best player available route, and took the dominant defensive tackle rather than Clinton-Dix.
The Rams did however draft Lamarcus Joyner and Maurice Alexander, but when week one comes along, most likely it will be McLeod who gets the nod. The biggest question on defense is the safety position, and for this defense to take the next step, the safety play is going to have to improve.
Last season, the Rams McLeod, Stewart, and McDonald averaged a -6.37 grade on Pro Football Focus, that was the 7th worst in the NFL. Going forward that is going to have to get better, and with a rookie(Alexander), undrafted freed agent(McLeod), and second year player(McDonald) manning the helm at the position, 2014 doesn’t look promising.
Last season, the Rams’ highest graded safety came in at 41, and that was Darian Stewart. Stewart is no longer on the roster, and the next highest safety for the Rams, Rodney McLeod, graded out at 75. McLeod will need to get better in 2014, but the big question is, can he?
McLeod had the third most missed tackles among safeties, allowed the fourth most receptions, and the ninth most yards after the catch. If the Rams had another guy capable of starting, there is no question McLeod would be where he most teams would have him, on special teams where he lead the Rams in tackles in 2o12.
Signed by the Rams as an undrafted free agent in, history says McLeod won’t improve, and won’t be able to step up like the Rams need him to. No disrespect to other undrafted free agents, there are just a select few that actually succeed.
Although the Rams could certainly do better at the position, McLeod does have his bright spots. Last season he had two interceptions, one against the Titans, and another against the Bears. McLeod also only gave up one touchdown and had the eighth most passes defended.
McLeod also gives the Rams versatility in the secondary as he can play the nickel corner as well as safety, much like Joyner. McLeod only surrendered one touchdown and 218 yards receiving in the slot in 2013, and took over for Cortland Finnegan when he went down with injury.
It’s not easy to find players with versatility and McLeod brings that. Although his safety numbers are less than stellar, he does add depth to the nickel corner if needed.
Watching McLeod can be frustrating, but for right now, he is who the Rams have. Most likely he will once again alternate between safety and cornerback. McLeod is still young, and being an undrafted free agent, he certainly had a learning curve. Going into his third year, he could step up and fill the hole at safety for the Rams. Then again, he could also make the Rams wish they would have taken Clinton-Dix.