T.J. McDonald, Safety (Third-Round Draft Pick)
Rams fans have been buzzing over the offseason acquisitions of Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Jake Long and Alec Ogletree.
Meanwhile, safety T.J. McDonald, St. Louis' third-round pick in 2013, has been somewhat overlooked.
The Rams lost both starting safeties, Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl, in free agency, so perhaps, fans quietly believe that McDonald is being considered for a starting job because of the team's desperation more so than his talent.
That could be the case, as McDonald's coverage skills have at times been downgraded by scouts, but he still possesses physical tools that the Rams defense will find useful.
At 6'2" and 219 pounds, McDonald has above average size for a safety and makes big-time hits, which means he'll be utilized as an extra linebacker more so than a finesse coverage safety.
The NFC West has two of the best read-option quarterbacks in the game—Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson—making McDonald's run-stuffing style all the more helpful.
Also, he has the athleticism necessary to blitz the quarterback out of the secondary, which will only help an already stout pass rush when Jeff Fisher brings the heat. Expect the Rams to use McDonald much like they did Adam Archuleta prior to his back injury.
From coverage to stopping the run and blitzing the quaterback, McDonald has the ability to do a bit of everything.
However, is it realistic to expect immediate production out of McDonald in his rookie season? If not, will he eventually develop into a solid contributor?
When looking at the history of third-round safeties, it's clear that the Rams played it safe by drafting McDonald. And, in all likelihood, he'll contribute to this defense for multiple years.
Since 2003 (2013 excluded), there have been 16 safeties drafted in the third round. Of those 16 safeties, eight (50.0 percent) were able to become full-time starters at some point in their careers. Four of those 16 safeties (25.0 percent) developed into full-time starters for four or more years, while Major Wright—Chicago's third-round pick in 2010—figures to be the fifth if he retains his starting job for two more seasons.
Perhaps most surprising is how few became busts.
Of the 16 safeties, 13 of them (81.2 percent) remained in the NFL for at least five seasons or are currently in the league.
However, while history tells us that McDonald will likely contribute for multiple years, it's likely he'll experience a learning curve as a rookie.
Out of all 16 safeties drafted in the third round since 2003, they combined for just 13 starts as rookies.
If McDonald starts all 16 games as a rookie, he'll have more rookie starts than the other 16 safeties combined.
It might be unrealistic to assume that McDonald will immediately become an effective starter as a rookie, but he'll still be a significant role player and should contribute to the St. Louis defense for years to come.
Barrett Jones, Center (Fourth-Round Draft Pick in 2013)
The Rams signed Scott Wells—Green Bay's former Pro Bowl center—as a free agent a year ago in an attempt to solidify their offensive line.
Wells underwent a knee scope in 2012, forcing him to miss the majority of training camp, and when he finally returned to action for St. Louis' Week 1 showdown in Detroit, he injured his foot and was sidelined until Week 12.
When healthy, Wells is one of the better centers in the league, but injuries have tarnished his reputation in St. Louis and fans are beginning to lose their patience.
If Wells returns to form in 2013 and starts 16 games, his 2012 season will be written off a mere mishap and all will be forgiven.
If the injuries continue, the Rams will turn to fourth-round rookie Barrett Jones to remedy the situation.
Jones is a decorated lineman out of the SEC and regularly faced the top defenses in all of college football. And after four years at Alabama, no stage is too big for the All American.
With Wells struggling to stay healthy, the acquisition of Jones was absolutely necessary.
Centers are sometimes overlooked, but it's an extremely important position on offense, as they call out blocking assignments and must recognize the various blitz packages displayed by the defense.
That's why Carolina signed Ryan Kalil to a $49.1 million extension. It's why New York locked up Nick Mangold to a seven-year extension before he could sniff free agency. It's why Indianapolis kept Jeff Saturday around for 13 years. It's why Green Bay locked up Saturday the moment Wells left the building.
For the Rams, they're using the same precaution and want to ensure the center position is in intact no matter what happens with Wells, hence the drafting of Jones.
Jones is a versatile player and can fill in anywhere on the offensive line, so he'll be a valuable part of the team in 2013, regardless of Wells' health.
Ironically, Jones is also recovering from a foot injury, but he's expected to be ready by training camp according to StLouisRams.com.
If not for the foot injury, Jones would have been drafted much earlier than the fourth round. Some older mocks and predictions prior to his injury even pegged him as a first-round pick.
So make no mistake, Jones will be a significant part of the offensive line for a long time.
He's not generating the same hype as Tavon Austin or Jared Cook, but he was a steal in the draft.