The free safety position was an extremely popular one to familiarize yourself with as the 2014 NFL draft approached. Fans and experts utilized the extended wait time, caused by a May draft date, to prognosticate the needs of the team; even if solely for the first round.
The Rams, who held two picks in Round 1, had a variety of players penciled in at spots 2 and 13. One of the more popular selections for the latter of their picks was Alabama free safety, HaHa Clinton-Dix. By now, you realize the Rams went a completely different direction.
And whether it was Clinton-Dix or now-Jets FS Calvin Pryor, pundits and the fan base both identified a need in the Rams’ defensive backfield. Maybe it was the fact that the Rams’ secondary was consistently beat over the top in 2013. Maybe it was lack of faith in Rodney McLeod, who currently sits atop the Rams’ depth chart at free safety. Regardless of the stance, a large majority of those speculating on the picks [seemingly] saw fit for the Rams to take a free safety with one of their two first round picks.
You may have been surprised. You may have been disappointed. But when the Rams were on the clock, they passed on taking a free safety...again...and again...and again.
In the 4th round, the Rams drafted Utah St. strong safety, Maurice "Mo" Alexander. This move, to some, was a head scratcher. In 2013, the Rams drafted USC safety T.J. McDonald in the 3rd round. So, as it stands, the Rams have utilized 3rd and 4th round picks in the past two drafts to select strong safeties...both of whom are known for their punishing hits more than their ability to read, react, and make a play on the ball.
It’s certainly not a bad thing, and I’m not here to question the pick[s]. There’s clearly a plan, and with Gregg Williams now at the defensive helm, it’s fair to assume he intends on being very aggressive with...well, everyone.
But drafting Mo Alexander didn’t necessarily satisfy the needs of the folks who witnessed the Rams give up big pass plays throughout the course of the 2013 season. And, based on the scouting report provided by NFL.com, he won’t be providing what many of the aforementioned fans and experts were looking for...
WEAKNESSES: Miscast in deep coverage. Has man-coverage limitations. Lacks ideal foot speed to adjust to quick slot receivers. Average hands. Inconsistent ball reactions -- in position to make plays, but doesn't. Can be overaggressive and take poor angles. Was kicked off the team and dealt with criminal assault charges for an altercation with a teammate. Very raw understanding of coverages and football concepts.
Aside from the second to last line, which has more to do with character than ability, this profile doesn’t seem to adequately fulfill the needs designated by the job description: scan the field, react to the quarterback, move quickly, and address the ball.
That’s not to say that he can’t do it. And this isn’t a knock against Alexander. His strengths eximplify the reasons the Rams chose to select him. His selection, however, doesn’t represent an upgrade at free safety.
The Rams would eventually draft a free safety, and you may not have known it because his pick was quickly overshadowed by the selection of Missouri DE, Michael Sam. With the 241st overall pick in the draft, the Rams took Christian "CB" Bryant out of Ohio State.
Hadn’t heard of him? Haven’t heard of him? It’s not surprising, given the aftermath of the Sam selection just a few picks later.
Many folks who avidly watch college football on Saturday’s are very familiar with Bryant, his abilities, and his potential as a pro. For those who don’t, you may not have heard his name often as the draft approached, but largely in part to his near absence in the 2013 season. In Week 5, the Buckeyes defensive captain broke his ankle, ending his season:
You’ll notice, after assisting on the tackle, Bryant’s teammate [No. 10] Doran Grant jump and land on his ankle. Bryant [No. 2] is at the bottom of the screen. He immediately tries to hobble off the field. I can assure you he didn’t make it to the sideline.
After the game, Ohio State’s head coach - Urban Meyer - was asked what concerned him about the team’s upcoming matchup against Northwestern. His response: "My leader, our leader, is in an ambulance right now. That’s the concerning part. He’s our leader."
The ankle was then, and is now, a concern. And it explains how a player who was clearly of great value to his team slipped nearly into undrafted free agency. Bryant chose not to participate at Ohio State’s Pro Day [in early March] because the ankle still wasn’t 100%. He did work out for team’s on April 30th, though, with just a little over a week before the draft.
It’s all progress. I just want to show them I’m back at 100 percent and can cut and break and didn’t lose a step. Maybe I even gained a step or two with this comeback.
I was ecstatic. It was crazy. I was sitting with my mom, my dad and my little brother, just chillin’ while we were flipping back and forth between a movie and the draft coverage. And then I got a call from the St. Louis Rams asking, ‘Do you want to be a St. Louis Ram?’ I responded, ‘Yeah, let’s make it happen.’ They put me on the phone with Coach (Jeff) Fisher, and he told me I was officially a St. Louis Ram. Words can’t adequately describe that feeling, man. It’s just a dream come true.
Unlike McDonald and Alexander, Bryant isn’t known for lowering his shoulder and making bone-crunching hits. His size [5’9", 198 lbs.] and physicality could be viewed as knocks against him. And in the NFC West, which boasts some big, physical wide receivers Bryant will have to play bigger than his measurables would indicate. He’s not too worried about it:
If you look at the safeties in the NFL, the best safeties aren’t even above six feet. It’s not really about the physical attributes. I feel it’s about how you prepare for a game and how you attack the whole situation. You’ve got to be fearless out there.
And let’s face it, no one’s touting the Aaron Donald and Lamarcus Joyner picks because of their size. Both of those players, like Bryant, could be considered "steals" where the Rams drafted them; despite their size.
Christian Bryant now enters the next phase of his football career as a safety for the St. Louis Rams. Making the roster will be no easy task, but not because of a previous injury. The Rams defense, secondary included, is brimming with young talent. There are currently 17 young players vying for final roster spots in their secondary. If he can stay healthy, it’s possible the Rams may have found themselves a gem in the 7th round.
Here’s to his health, and his future in the NFL. You can follow Christian on Twitter at @2CBryant.
St. Louis Rams!!! God is Great!!— Christian Bryant™ (@2CBryant) May 10, 2014