The St. Louis Rams got one of their answers at safety in the third round of the draft this year with T.J. McDonald. He automatically inherits the title of the best safety on the roster along with a starting job one of two safety spots. I'm wondering a little bit as to which safety spot he'll play.
Some of the scouting reports and projections pegged him as the team's free safety. The truth is somewhere in a gray area since he'll be playing in both roles. Looking a little closer at him, I'm wondering if we won't see him playing more of an "in the box" role, or at least the spot where he can have the biggest impact right off the bat.
McDonald is really good at following the ball. That's where his speed and reputation as a hard hitter come into play. Watch a couple of these GIFs from his days with USC.
In both of these instances he locks onto the ball carrier and moves up quickly to make the play. That results in a turnover and lost yardage in the example at the top. In the bottom one, I like that he's not lost in the jumble at the line. That's one of those plays that turns into a first down relatively easy if the outside guys have to come back and make the tackle. McDonald stays focused and in position to make the play and prevent a first down.
Okay, now let's watch him lay a nasty hit, this one against Stanford in 2011. This is the one in that triple overtime game that got him suspended for a half game by the Pac-12.
He did some free safety work at USC, and he has the speed to play the position, matching on man-on-man with receivers. His coverage game in the open field may need some coaching, especially when it comes to taking the right angles against NFL receivers.
McDonald might have been a second-round pick, or even a first rounder, in last year's week safety class. He opted to go back to USC for 2012, where his draft stock took a hit as part of Lane Kiffin's factory of sadness. That's fine though. The Rams might have gotten a steal on him in the third round this year.