A Rising Star
After a successful first season as the starting free safety for the St. Louis Rams, Rodney McLeod needed to prove that he wasn’t a one-season wonder. McLeod’s 2014 season was going to be big for his development as a football player, and he certainly answered the call.
With helpful additions to the defense such as CB E.J. Gaines and DT Aaron Donald, McLeod’s pass coverage and run support only improved with experience. He once again displayed his competency and consistency by starting in all 16 regular season games, recording 72 total tackles, 6 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles.
The 2014-15 regular season was full of highlights for McLeod, but there was no bigger highlight than a tackle he made in Week 11. Facing a very intimidating Denver Broncos squad, Rodney McLeod gave the Rams a couple seconds of media attention (Yes, the Rams were actually on the media for something other than the Los Angeles move at one point in the last decade) with his bone-shattering, completely legal hit on WR Emmanuel Sanders.
The latter was forced to leave the game, and the Shaun Hill-led Rams pulled the upset off over the Broncos with a final score of 22-7. Sanders was obviously upset about the hit after being diagnosed with a concussion:
"“I feel like [McLeod] could have had an opportunity to go for the ball, but I think his intentions the whole time were to come over and deliver a blow…most free safeties, they like interceptions. Obviously, [McLeod’s] intent was to try and make a statement, and I guess he did”. – WR Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos"
Don’t get me wrong; I believe that Sanders is a very talented wideout that had successfully replaced the production of Eric Decker for the now-retired Peyton Manning, but McLeod destroyed Sanders with a perfectly timed and executed hit. It’s football, Emmanuel Sanders. It’s football. But I digress.
The St. Louis Rams finished the season with their worst record in the Fisher-era (6-10), which isn’t saying much considering their recent trend of 7-win seasons, so McLeod’s solid performance (as well as the brilliance of Aaron Donald) was one of the only positives taken from 2014.
Entering his fourth year with the Rams in 2015, Rodney McLeod put together his best season as a professional, becoming Pro Football Focus’ 10th-ranked safety in the entire National Football League. The site graded him with an 8.2 overall grade, including positive grades in run defense and pass coverage.
McLeod even registered his first career NFL touchdown during the 2015-16 regular season, recovering a fumbled ball caused by Janoris Jenkins and taking it 17 yards into the endzone. The play got the St. Louis Rams’ scoring started in a Week 7, 24-6 rout of the Cleveland Browns.
By season’s end, McLeod totaled 82 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 1 interception, and 3 forced fumbles. Unfortunately, this would be his last season with the Rams, and he wouldn’t be moving to Los Angeles with them.
Next: What Happens Now?