Rams 2011 Draft Needs, Part 6: Safety
|You know, that dance wasn't as safe as they said it was. -- Philip J. Fry|
That's not to say I wouldn't like to see some help at defensive back. If Patrick Peterson of LSU or Prince Amukamara from Nebraska fall to the Rams, I would certainly love to see one of those guys wearing the blue and gold. (Especially Peterson, who looks like the next Champ Bailey to me.) But the only spot in the secondary I would really emphasize would be safety.
Oshiomogho Atogwe has been money for the Rams in the past. He was an absolute takeaway machine a couple years ago, when the rest of the defense was almost nonexistent. I get the feeling, though, that we may have seen Atogwe's best years already, and I don't know they're coming back. He seems to have lost that knack for finding the ball and taking it, and while there are times when he'll still make a brilliant tackle or break up a pass, there are more and more times he just seems to disappear for stretches. Injuries have certainly had a hand in slowing him down, but at some point you have to take those injuries into account. That wear and tear doesn't just go away.
I like Craig Dahl, particularly as a guided-missile special teams tackler, but he's just an adequate every-down player. You can do better. James Butler has been good at times, but injuries have kept him out quite a bit this season, as he's started only four of the nine games in which he's appeared. Bottom line, both Atogwe and Butler are probably on the back nines of their respective careers, and Dahl isn't the sort of player you can't upgrade on.
Rahim Moore of UCLA is widely considered the best safety prospect in the nation, but he's just a junior and there is some thought he'll return for his senior season. If he does declare, he'll be the first safety off the board. DeAndre McDaniel of Clemson is likely the top strong safety in the draft, and he's been a consistent, productive force for the Tigers since taking over as starter. He's an excellent tackler.
One player who's come almost out of nowhere this season is Ahmad Black, Florida's strong safety. He's undersized, at just 5'9", 190, but he's done nothing but produce, leading the Gators with 102 total tackles and 68 solo tackles. His lack of size has plenty of people projecting him to move to cornerback as a pro, but I would be interested to see what he could do working free safety as a centerfield ball-hawk.
Sean Richardson of Vanderbilt is one of my pet prospects for this draft as a later-round pick. He's a big, punishing tackler at strong safety and I've seen him blast through offensive lines on safety blitz packages. He reminds me a bit of Adam Archuleta, who I always thought got a bit of a bum rap in St. Louis (though I wasn't at all sorry when the Redskins decided to pay him like the next John Lynch), though Richardson has better cover skills, I think. Strong safeties rarely go high in the draft, and Richardson isn't one of the top safeties anyway, meaning he could very well be sitting there in the later rounds. If he is, some team could end up with a very nice bargain, I think.
And that's the list. I think those six positions are the biggest areas of need for the Rams heading into the 2011 draft season. I will say this: I don't think any of these positions (even wide receiver, which seems to give us all such fits of frustration week after week), are so badly in need of help that it should override taking the best player available, especially early in the draft. Just make that list of the spots you absolutely don't need a guy (i.e. quarterback, middle linebacker, maybe the kicking game), then take the best guy on the board at any other spot.
I'm going to make a concerted effort this year to be more consistent with my draft coverage leading up to the event itself. Only the weeks and months ahead will tell how well I stick with that plan, though. Regardless, the draft remains one of my very favorite things about football, and this one promises to be very interesting for the Rams.