The NFL Underdog
Fast forward to the 2012 NFL offseason—Jeff Fisher and Les Snead take the reins of the St. Louis Rams organization after a dismal 2-14 season led by Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney. The team is fairly proud of their 2012 draft class, which included impact players such as Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Greg “the Leg” Zuerlein, and Daryl Richardson (lest we forget the sheer dominance of the great Isaiah Pead) . Furthermore, the Rams absolutely rob the Washington Redskins of first round picks for the next two years in exchange for the draft rights to Robert Griffin III.
But an equally impressive haul during the Fish-Snead offseason premiere was the talented undrafted free agents brought in. Amongst these 23 undrafted free agents were impactful names such as QB Austin Davis (serviceable backup quarterback who could win games), TE Cory Harkey (locker room leader and blocking tight end), and Johnny Hekker (arguably the best punter in the league).
Promising 23-year old defensive back Rodney McLeod was one of them.
Even though the Rams already had their incumbent starting safeties set with Darian Stewart, Quintin Mikell, and Craig “Missed-Tackle” Dahl, McLeod was expected to make the roster due to his inspiring special teams play and high football IQ despite his 5’10”, 195-pound stature.
McLeod never started a game at safety, but instead participated in all sixteen regular season games as John Fassel’s utility weapon. It didn’t take long for Rams fans to notice McLeod’s presence, especially when he caught a first down reception from Johnny Hekker’s fake punt against the San Francisco 49ers (Yes, the infamous tied game of 2012). He ended up leading the special teams unit with 12 total tackles.
Then in the following offseason, the St. Louis Rams had a hole at the free safety position after the departures of Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl. Going into the 2013 regular season, Darian Stewart was expected to take the spot to play alongside the Rams’ third-round draft pick T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod would resume his role as a backup.
That would all change when Stewart went down with a hamstring injury in the Rams’ second preseason game, leaving veteran Matt Giordano, undrafted rookie Cody Davis, and Rodney McLeod in a starting free safety roster battle to replace Stewart. McLeod initially won the competition, but ended up playing so well in the starting role that he continued to start even when Stewart was nursed back to health.
Obviously, Darian Stewart is an excellent free safety currently on the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos, but Rodney McLeod was superb with the Rams’ starting defense. He finished his second season garnering 79 total tackles, 7 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles.
Just like that, the safety position was no longer a need for the St. Louis Rams—the young McLeod-McDonald duo in the secondary was already blossoming.
Next: A Rising Star