What Happens Now?
Rodney McLeod is now a Philadelphia Eagle. It still hurts for me to say that. Let’s try again—Rodney McLeod is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Still doesn’t feel right.
The man gave so much to the St. Louis Rams organization and the city itself. He was an ambassador for the St. Louis Salvation Army, and participated in NFL Play 60 as well as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. McLeod even runs an annual youth football camp at his alma mater back home in Hyattsville.
“I want to give these young kinds an opportunity to develop some of their skills and be in an atmosphere where they can talk, have fun and do drills with NFL players like myself. That was something I was never able to do, so I feel like I’m in a position to help the youth out.”
– S Rodney McLeod, Philadelphia Eagles
To the Philadelphia Eagles fanbase:
You are getting a tireless worker who excels in the film room, the football field, and in the community. McLeod’s impact on your franchise will be outstanding in many ways, and if he isn’t a star in your defensive scheme, he’ll surely be a solid starter and inspiring leader. Hopefully in a couple years, he can reach the high standards he’s placed upon himself and give the fans in Philadelphia a former Ram that doesn’t spark much debate (ahem, Sam Bradford).
To the Los Angeles Rams fanbase:
McLeod was one of my favorite Rams of the Jeff Fisher-era. But professional football is a business, and McLeod made the best decision for him and his family. We have to move on from the casualties of free agency and look forward to the future.
You know the common phrase, “When one door closes another one opens,” made famous by Alexander Graham Bell? It may be hard to believe that we can replace the production of Rodney McLeod at the free safety position, but remember when we lost Danny Amendola to the New England Patriots back in 2013? Amendola was by far our most productive receiver when he wasn’t injured (which was honestly rare), yet we replaced him with our 2013 eighth overall pick Tavon Austin. So far in his three-year career, Austin has proven to have a much higher ceiling than Amendola ever had (and that’s coming from a HUGE Amendola fan).
So where can we look to find this replacement?
We can first look in-house, as we have some interesting options already on our roster. FS Cody Davis has made the most out of the opportunities he’s gotten on special teams being an undrafted free agent signing out of Texas Tech back in 2013, which already makes him eerily similar to Rodney McLeod. Davis finished the season with 11 special teams tackles and even caught a 20-yard pass from Johnny Hekker in a loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 5. He is actually faster than McLeod, as evidenced by his pick-six in this last year’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs and his 4.41 40 yard dash (as much as I hate the hype of the 40 yard dash, it is a good indicator of his speed).
This not to say that Davis will be better than McLeod, but it’s not crazy to think that he can step into the starting spot at some point during the season. He’s signed for two more years with the Los Angeles Rams, so we’ll see if his role expands in the future.
Maurice Alexander, the former fourth round pick out of Utah State, already proved that he isn’t ready to start in the NFL quite yet. His story of working as a janitor in the Edwards Jones Dome and now playing professionally for the Rams is truly awesome, but he still needs to develop his game significantly. After all, he was ranked as the worst safety in the NFL last season by Pro Football Focus.
The Rams also have Christian Bryant on the practice squad, who has only appeared in nine games with the team. He was an Ohio State Buckeyes standout, starting at safety for three years as a team leader . During his collegiate career, Bryant compiled 171 total tackles, 2 interceptions, and 23 passes defensed. He’s a dark horse candidate for the starting job considering his current position, but it is very possible for him to impress coaches early on with his natural abilities as a defensive back.
We can also look at Lamarcus Joyner, who is currently a nickelback for the Los Angeles Rams. The second-round pick out of Florida State has always been known as an extremely hard hitter, and he has definitely proved himself in that regard early in his NFL career. He has the aggressiveness desired in a free safety, totaling 72 tackles last year with 2.0 sacks and 6 passes defensed. Sometimes, he can be a little too aggressive (e.g. the dirty hit on Teddy Bridgewater), but he’s young enough to learn from his mistakes.
As for free agency, at the time of writing this piece, big names such as Reggie Nelson and Walter Thurmond are unrestricted free agents at the moment. The Rams could even take a chance on Rahim Moore if they wanted to. However, the team will likely see the tight end position as more of a priority, considering the fact that the 2016 NFL Draft class of tight ends isn’t very deep. Hell, they even brought in Bears TE Zach Miller for a visit on the March 13th—you know, the guy who burned our defense for an 87-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
Speaking of the upcoming draft, the Rams could always trade up for Jalen Ramsey out of Florida State, who I believe is the best overall player in the draft. However, that would not only be a reach, but the Rams have a more desperate need at wide receiver. But hey, a fan can dream, right?
Karl Joseph out of West Virginia is probably the next best cover-focused free safety in the draft class, but he suffered an ACL injury this past season.
Whatever the Los Angeles Rams do, it’ll be difficult to replace what Rodney McLeod meant to the team during the past four years. The defense won’t look the same without him paired up with McDonald and “Tru”, but we should feel lucky to have experienced the incredible journey of a young, undrafted free agent who wanted to become the best he could possibly be.
Thanks for everything, Rodney; best of luck in Philly.