The St. Louis Rams have taken looks at various players – from popular picks Sammy Watkins, Greg Robinson, Khalil Mack, and Jadeveon Clowney; to possible mid-first round picks Aaron Donald, Mike Evans, Taylor Lewan, and Darqueze Dennard – in preparation for the NFL Draft.
Wide Receiver? Check. Offensive linemen? Defensive Linemen? Check. Linebacker? Check Corner back? Check. The Rams' brass has pretty much covered all their bases with the pre-draft visits they have scheduled. ESPN's Nick Wagoner has all of the team's visits outlined right here.
One position absent of marquee names – HaHa Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor – is the safety spot. Only one safety is mentioned in Nick's visits list, and that is Utah State's Maurice Alexander.
Alexander is described as a developmental safety project. At 6'1, 220 lbs., he is a big boy at the safety spot. He is a converted linebacker, so he's new to the position and raw in coverage, but is a plus in run support. As far as positional fit, he's definitely more of a strong safety than a true centerfielder free safety.
The Rams are set at strong safety. The team picked up TJ McDonald in the third round of last year's draft, and he played well in his rookie campaign.
Unless the Rams' coaching staff is satisfied with Rodney McLeod filling the free safety role again this year, the team will most likely have to select one after the first round.
A few names to consider
** Player scouting reports come from cbssports.com
Jimmie Ward, 5'11, 193 lbs. - The Northern Illinois product, Ward, is next in line after the top tier safeties – Clinton-Dix and Pryor. Mentioned as a strong safety, Ward excels in run support. He does display some ball-hawking skills, racking up seven interceptions in 2013. In 2011, Ward had 12 starts at corner, so he offers plenty of versatility.
Here's a breakdown of strengths and weaknesses:
STRENGTHS: Compact frame. Remarkably fluid athlete with quick feet, smooth change-of-direction agility and easy acceleration. Dropped down to cover slot receivers with solid man-to-man skills to handle a similar role in the NFL.
Good balance and lateral agility, including the ability to sprawl to avoid cut-blocks. Physical, competitive defender who doesn't back down from the challenges of bigger opponents. Very good diagnosis skills and closes quickly and forcefully. Takes proper angles in pursuit, limiting breakaway opportunities for opponents. Eased concerns that his stellar play was due in part to questionable competition at the Senior Bowl.
WEAKNESSES: Shorter than scouts prefer, a fact that could lead to some projecting him at cornerback. Good but less-than-ideal speed to recover if beaten initially. Gets too grabby once he's turned around. Leaves his feet to tackle, creating some impressive collisions but occasionally failing to wrap up securely. Misses tackles against the bigger, stronger athletes.
Compares To: Glover Quin, Lions - Quin might not be the most popular player in the league but the six-year veteran out of New Mexico has quietly proven a quality starter despite marginal size (6-0, 205)
Deone Bucannon, 6'1, 211 lbs. - From what I've read about the Washington State safety, he translates either as a Craig Dahl *cringes* or as a Dashon Goldson-type safety in the pro level. Coverage limitations = Craig Dahl. Agressive, physical tackler = Dashon Goldson.
STRENGTHS: Boasts an imposing build with broad shoulders and a thick, muscled-up top half. Best attribute may be his explosive hitting, as Bucannon at times appears as though he is shot out of a cannon, unloading on runners and receivers crossing the middle and forcing fumbles. Doesn't only rely on his big hits to create fumbles, also demonstrating the wherewithal to rip at the ball as he's making the tackle (career-high three forced fumbles in 2013). Also showed improved range and ball-skills in 2013, recording a career-high six interceptions in 2013 to give him 15 for his career... Enjoyed a solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl.
WEAKNESSES: Has a high, choppy backpedal and is stiff in the hips, limiting his ability to change directions fluidly. This leaves Bucannon vulnerable to double-moves and ball-carriers with the agility to cutback against the grain. While a big-hitter, too often Bucannon will lunge at ball-carriers, occasionally resulting in some ugly whiffs. Struggles a bit with tunnel vision, focusing strictly on the ball-carrier and losing sight of would-be blockers, who take advantage of his lack of spatial awareness to seal him off from the play.
COMPARES TO: Craig Dahl, San Francisco 49ers - Like the 6-1, 212-pound Dahl, Bucannon possesses an imposing frame and good closing speed which can result in some big hits. While possessing better ball-skills perhaps than Dahl, Bucannon is not particularly fluid which could lead to his struggles earning (and keeping) a starting role in the NFL.
Terrence Brooks, 5'11, 198 lbs. - Former corner, converted to free safety. The Florida State player is one of the more "true" free safeties available in the mid rounds. He can sit back in coverage and do well. His struggles come in the form of tackling. He's an inconsistent tackler and will miss a few times.
STRENGTHS: While a touch shorter than scouts would prefer, Brooks looks the part of an NFL free safety, boasting broad shoulders, a well-built frame and trim waist. He possesses good balance, agility and straight-line speed, including an impressive burst to close.
A former cornerback who is asked to drop down and cover slot receivers, on occasion, demonstrating good balance, fluidity and change of direction for coverage. Brooks is more physical than you might expect given his cornerback background, often dropping down into a linebacker-like role for the Seminoles.
Long arms and good balance to play off blocks and make plays near the line of scrimmage amid traffic. A big-hitter who seems to enjoy the physicality of the game. Flashes strong hands for the interception, as well as the ability to track over his shoulder (North Carolina State). Good special teams player.
WEAKNESSES: Only has two seasons of starting action after spending his early career with the Seminoles in backup duty at cornerback. Below average height for the position, though his strength and leaping ability make him less of a liability in jump-ball situations than it might appear.
Highly aggressive defender who will lower his shoulder and fail to wrap up, leading to some missed tackles. Unreliable hands for the interception. Let several "easy" interceptions slip through his fingers in 2013.
COMPARES TO: Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions: Neither boasts the imposing size scouts would prefer but the instincts, athleticism and closing speed are there to overcome it.
Dion Bailey, 6', 201 lbs. - Fisher turned to his alma mater for a safety last year when he took USC's McDonald. Maybe he does it again with Bailey? Originally a safety converted to (an undersized) outside linebacker, Bailey returned to the safety position in 2013.
**Side Note: I grew up and went to school with this kid.
STRENGTHS: Lanky, athletic hybrid defender with extensive starting experience at outside linebacker and safety. Very good diagnosis skills. Reads the action quickly and is rarely out of position. Experience in the box shows as he is comfortable in traffic, showing very good awareness and vision to weave through the trash to get to the ball.
Unselfish defender. Frequently takes out the legs of oncoming blockers, leaving teammates to make the easy tackle and occasionally wiping out the blockers and the ballcarrier, by himself.
Quick, short backpedal and good fluidity in his hips to change directions. Accelerates smoothly and has good speed, overall. Good body control and hands for the interception (11 over his career). Durable. Missed one game due to injury in three seasons as a starter.
WEAKNESSES: Size limitations will force Bailey to convert to a more traditional safety role in the NFL, a position he only started one season while with the Trojans (2013). Relies more on instincts and technique than physicality. Falls off too many tackles as he attempts to grab and pull ballcarriers to the ground rather than consistently driving through them. Missed spring of 2013 while recuperating from shoulder surgery following the 2012 season.
COMPARES TO: Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers - It remains to be seen if Bailey can handle the transition to the NFL as well as the Chargers' All-Pro safety, but like Weddle at Utah, Bailey's instincts, fluidity and penchant for big plays made him a consistent and versatile difference-maker at the collegiate level.