Safety was one of the biggest concerns for the St. Louis Rams coming into this past offseason. The team had some struggles at the position during the 2012 season, and even those players who were adequate at best are no longer on the roster for the upcoming year. Several upgrades were made on the roster in free agency, but safety was not among the positions address with a veteran name. The odds seem to be stacked heavily in favor of at least one rookie getting the job done at safety during the upcoming year for the Rams.
Of those first-year NFL players vying for playing time, no rookie figures to be in a better position for a starting role in Week 1 than third round pick T.J. McDonald. The former USC Trojan has bloodlines working in his favor with his father, Tim McDonald, being a safety for the 1994 San Francisco 49ers team that claimed the Lombardi Trophy. His 6’2” 219lbs. frame packs quite a punch for any receivers daring enough to travel across the middle of the field in an effort to haul in a pass.
There’s no doubt that McDonald’s physical presence on defense will make up for any deficiencies at the linebacker level in terms of tackling. Many labeled him as strictly an in the box type of safety prior to the draft, but there’s no doubt his ability to refine his technique in coverage will determine just how much playing time he gets. Prior to the draft following the Trojans’ pro day, National Football Post writer Russ Lande said this about McDonald:
“No one has ever doubted McDonald’s athleticism and today he showed that he is an elite athlete for a 6’2, 210+ pound safety. Quick and compact in his backpedal; his fluid hips and feet were accentuated in his ability to flip his hips to change directions with remarkable ease. No one in attendance today would deny that McDonald has first round athleticism, but it will be hard for him to overcome his wildly inconsistent competitiveness/production to justify drafting him before the third round.”
The Rams were given plenty of praise for a great draft, but the fact that McDonald was given the label of having ‘first round athleticism’ says an awful lot about the quality of player they landed. Add in the fact that several scouts had a third round grade on him and that only further illustrates the value this pick presented with the 71st overall selection.
Competition will be very scarce in training camp for a player with this draft status and zero veterans on the depth chart ahead of him. Even though that is the case, McDonald will have to earn his starting job on a Jeff Fisher coached squad. Darian Stewart is the only multiple year vet at the safety position, and currently he figures to man the strong safety spot while McDonald plays free. Rookies Cody Davis and Cannon Smith along with second year players Matt Daniels, Rodney McLeod, and Quinton Pointer will all be in on the competition, but it is highly unlikely for any of them to outshine McDonald in training camp.