Well, trying to figure out what position to cover next has become one of my biggest challenges. In a perfect world, I'd grab something out of left field and really spark it up but the reality of it is we all know what positions are the most pressing for the Rams this offseason and the great folks at TST have been all over it. So, I'll piggy back a tad and "tackle" the Strong Safety position.
There are definitely some other positions I could have taken on today, but with the recent release of Corey Chavious, the boys up top have pretty much given us a Tabula Rasa of sorts in regards to the position. There's lot's of ways this one could shake out and it seems there are more and more options daily. So, here's your Strong Safety positional breakdown after the break...
Okay, so Corey Chavious has been given his release, so now what? Well, that's a good question. We obviously don't have his replacement on the roster so we're going to have to look outside. Actually, we do still have Todd Johnson, but I think most of us believe he's not a legit starter at the position even though he took over for Chavious midway through last season. That was more of a case of Chavious not being able to do the job more than Johnson out-playing him. But, nonetheless, we have:
- Todd Johnson - sighned through 2010 - will make 800k in 2009 and 850k in 2010
Todd is a great special teams player and he provides great depth at the Strong Safety position. He's a vicious hitter. Johnson definitely has a place on this team, just not on as a defensive starter and that's perfectly fine.
Outside of Johnson, every other safety on the Rams roster probably shakes out more to be a Free Safety so I'm going to look towards free agency.
- Yeremiah Bell - 6'0" 200 - Miami Dolphins - As was noted here, the Dolphins will not be giving Bell the Franchise Tag and even though the Dolphins have made Bell an offer he's believed to want to test free agency. I wouldn't set my heart on signing Bell. He's probably the best out there and the Rams aren't in the cap position to go out and open the check book for anyone.
- Atari Bigby - 5'11" 211 - Green Bay Packers - Bigby's a restricted free agent and with the injury he suffered last year, many figure the Packers will be able to retain him with a minimum tender.
- Mike Brown - 5'10" 207 - Chicago Bears - Here's the first guy who could make sense. Problem is, he's almost never healthy. The Bears have already decided to cut ties with him and I think that speaks volumes. Brown was always considered one of the leaders of the Bears defenses, but his inability to stay on the field opened up room for Daniel Manning and the rest is history. His best season was in 2001 (man, that's a long time ago) and he's been injured almost every year until this past season when he played in 15 games and recorded 74 tackles and 2 interceptions. Can he stay healthy? Who knows. He'll sign cheap, but he is a risk.
- Rodney Harrison - 6'1" 220 - New England Patriots - Harrison is rehabbing from last season's injury and hasn't decided whether or not he's gonna hang up the cleats (he's 37). If he does return, he'll probably want to return to the Patriots, but I have to ask "what kind of welcome would he get in St. Louis anyway?" We still have enough fans that remember him destroying Trent Green's knee, right? And then taking credit for the Rams Super Bowl saying if it weren't for him "Kurt Warner never would have gotten a chance." It'd be a tough pill to swallow and I don't think he even brings enough to the table anymore to erase any bad feelings.
- Sean Jones - 6'1" 225 - Cleveland Browns - The Browns aren't going to Franchise Jones allowing him to hit the open market but Jones presents a problem for the Rams. First of all, he was the best defender in the Browns secondary, but that's not exactly a ringing endorsement, right? But he is really good which will cause his price tag to go up. Then he had an up and down season with the Browns last year that was sprinkled with injuries, so he kinda falls into a Buyer Beware kinda area. Can the Rams take that kind of chance? Probably not.
- Dawan Landry - 6'0" 220 - Baltimore Ravens - First of all, Landry's a young, top talent at the SS position who has shown the ability to be a top tackler and a playmaker, but there's a problem. He's a RFA and he still hasn't been cleared to play after being put on the IR last season after 2 games with a spinal cord injury. Landry's the type of guy you could a great defense with, but he's got so many issues who know's what his future entails.
- Marquand Manuel - 6'0" 209 - Denver Broncos - Manuel made 83 tackles but that's about it. He can play the position, but he's not flashy and he's not a game changer. He could probably be had at a modest price so the Rams might be interested in him if for not other reason than bridge the gap with a draft pick and then provide depth and special teams abiltiy.
- Jermaine Phillips - 6'2" 220 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - It's still up in the air a bit whether or not the Bucs want him back (or if he wants to go back at all). He's 30 but can still play. He's disruptive and is a ballhawk but he was banged up a bit last year playing in only 11 games. If he hits the market, his price tag is expected to get high then again, missing 5 games tends to keep the offers down.
- James Sanders - 5'10" 210 - New England Patriots - Sanders was the guy who stepped up and performed when Harrison went down. I highly doubt the Patriots let him walk but he's an interesting guy to keep an eye on.
- Darren Sharper - 6'2" 210 - Minnesota Vikings - It's been written that Sharper is interested in joining the Saints to play Free Safety, wonder if he would be interested in joining the Rams as a Strong Safety? Probably not since the Saints seem to be gung ho in going after Sharper which would most likely drive his price tag out of reach for the Rams. Too bad. He's 33 but can still pick it (although he only picked 1 last year) and would be a great option to fill the position for a year or two buying the Rams time in drafting a good SS.
Well, don't confuse a long list with lots of options. Most of these guys are either out of the Rams budget or injury concerns. There's also guys out there like Peter Boulware and Lawyor Milloy, but they're both old and hurt and probably not starters anymore anyway, so there's not much point in looking at them.
If I (Billy Devaney) decided to go the free agent route I'd probaby have to look long and hard at Mike Brown. I think he fits perfectly into the Rams budget and (if healthy) can be a difference maker and a true leader on the defense. He's definitey a risk, but heck aren't all football players?
Marquand Manuel is another guy I'd write at the top of the list. He's not flashy, but I think he'll get the job done.
Man, do I wish I didn't have to curtail my wish list down to guys who fit into a budget. Maybe one day we'll have cap space gallore, but it doesn't seem like I've seen any in a long time around these parts.
So, if you don't like our options in free agecny, then we're gonna have to find ourselves a Strong Safety in the draft, but where do we look? We're definitey not going to pick a SS in the first round unless something like a Torry Hold trade gives us another, mid-round pick in the first. Maybe that's a possibiltiy? Then again, I just heard the Colts are going to release Marvin Harrison weaking, yet again, the Torry Hold trade market.....unless the Colts are interested?????
Ugh....headache.....let's look at the prospects.
(Click the Player's Name to read Mocking Dan's Scouting Report at MTD)
- Sean Smith - Utah - 6'3" 217 - A converted Wide Receiver (I'm channeling my inner Jason Smith here) who is absolutley huge. He played cornerback but many feel he lacks the quickness to stick at the position forcing a move to safety. Because of the concerns with him playing CB, he'll be available for the Rams with their 2nd pick however he might be better suited to play the FS position.
- William Moore - Missouri - 6'1" 230 - Moore is an absolute playmaker. He picked off 8 passes last year and in his carreer has returned 4 INTs for touchdown. He's awfully big at 230 and his size and agiltiy have led some scouts to consider moving him to linebacker (it's not often we hear about that switch going the other way). Make no mistake about Moore though, he's a ballhawk and I think his skills would be wasted at linebacker. Here's an interview with Moore by Dave Matter on the Rams official website.
- Patrick Chung - Oregon - 6'0" 210 - Chung is probably the best all-around corner. He's not really a ballhawk, but he's more sound and a "safer" pick than either Smith or Moore. Think lower ceiling but much higher basement. Very aggressive player and a great tackler.
- Chip Vaughn - Wake Forest - 6'2" 215 - Another solid but somewhat unspectacular safety. Vaughn picked off 2 passes last year and is considered a very sound tackler.
- Kevin Ellison - USC - 6'1" 225 - Ellison is big, fast, and smart. His only real downside is he missed the last 4 games last year due to a torn knee miniscus which might hurt his draft position slightly although he participated in the East-West Shrine Game and had no issues. Despite the injury, Ellison made 47 tackles in 8 games for the Trojans last season.
- Emanuel Cook - South Carolina - 5'10" 203 - A bit undersized to play cornerback in the NFL and this could hurt his draft position. He led the Gamecocks in tackles last sesaon but was ruled academically ineligible and couldn't play in the Outback Bowl. He's got a lot going against him in this draft class between his size and his academics (granted, this could mean nothing but it's worth considering).
- Michael Hamlin - Clemson - 6'3" 205 - Has good size and makes plays (91 tackles, 7 passes broken up, 6 INTs). Hamlin's a safe pick and could really become a really good safety in the league.
- Troy Nolan - Arizona State - 6'2" 207 - Nolan is another guy who looks safe. He's got good size and makes a decent number of plays (64 tackles, 6 pass breakups, 4 INTs, and returned 2 for TD). Could be a real steal on the second day of the draft.
- Otis Wiley - Michigan State - 6'2" 210 - Wiley had a great senior season recording 71 tackles, 7 pass breakups, 4 INTs, and 1 score. He also spent time returning kicks so he brings a much valuable secondary skill the Rams could be very intereste in.
After Wiley, you've got a group of guys who could either go in the last couple of rounds or be signed as un-drafted free agents in guys like Courtney Greene (Rutgers), Stephen Hodge (TCU), Chris Clemons (Clemson), Al Afalava (Oregon State), Terence Moore (Troy State), Reshard Langford (Vanderbilt), Jamarca Samford (Ole Miss), Keith Fitzhugh (Missiissippi State), Mesphin Forrester (Washingtong), and Mike Pagnotta (Colorado State).
What I'm saying here is that the SS position grades out really well for the Rams. There's really no one that would go any higher than the top of the second round (okay, maybe the bottom of the 1st round) and it's really, really deep. If you miss with a guy you target here, you've got about 2 or 3 more guys with the same skill set that you could feel great about taking.
As far as Strong Safety is concerned, I'd say Mr. Devaney has two options. Either go out and sign a guy like Mike Brown or draft a safety in the mid rounds. Personally, I'd probably look to the Rams 3rd round pick and try to get a guy like Michael Hamlin or Patrick Chung might even be available. There's just so many safties who can start next season who will be going in the 3rd round and later, I simply can't justify spending money on an injury concern like Brown or a guy like Marquand Manuel who probably isn't any better than half the guys in the draft and will cost a lot more.
So, let's do a little BBD recap. Thus far we've covered Offensive Tackle, Middle Linebacker, and Strong Safety. Without getting too technical and predict-ie, I'd like to see the Rams draft an OT and a SS while heading to free agency to sign a MLB (Mike Peterson).
What say you?