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Could Lamarcus Joyner End Up as Rams’ Starting Free Safety?

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Rams reporter Jim Thomas shared an interesting nugget in regards to the Rams’ defense on Tuesday, writing that “even though plans call for Lamarcus Joyner to be the team’s nickelback, the second-round draft pick has been getting a lot of work at safety so far during the OTAs open to the media.” While Joyner was expected to be a significant contributor to the Rams’ defensive backfield, the prevailing belief was that his 5-foot-8, 184-pound stature would prevent him from being a legitimate safety at the NFL level, so this should be an interesting development to follow as the offseason moves along.

Former undrafted free agent Rodney McLeod served as the Rams’ starting free safety in 2013, and he’s the player who Joyner would have to overtake to earn a starting role. While McLeod made strides during the course of the season, he wasn’t really an impact player, and his lack of elite size or range caused trouble at times. Joyner is even smaller than the 5-foot-10, 195-pound McLeod, but he was extremely disciplined in coverage and pursuit at Florida State and could potentially be an upgrade at the position.

Though it’s highly doubtful that Joyner will see the majority of his time at free safety, we could see a situation similar to what the Rams did last year. McLeod was the starting free safety in the base defense. After Cortland Finnegan was shut down for the year, though, the Rams lacked a proven third corner, so they would move McLeod to the slot in nickel situations, with either Matt Giordano or Darian Stewart assuming his spot at safety. If Joyner ends up winning a starting safety job, it’s conceivable that he could play there in the base 4-3, then move to the nickelback slot when necessary, with McLeod or another safety coming in as the additional defensive back.

A player very similar to Joyner who saw success in this type of role as a rookie was Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu. The (allegedly) 5-foot-9, 186-pounder saw some action as a safety in Arizona’s base formation, adding up to 28 percent of his 2013 snaps. Whenever the Cardinals moved into a scheme with extra DBs, however, Mathieu moved to a corner position, usually the slot. Despite his lack of size, Mathieu had a great rookie year, registering 68 tackles and two interceptions over 13 games while being tied for third among Pro Football Focus’s most highly-ranked cornerbacks.

If Joyner could deliver the type of impact to the Rams that Mathieu delivered to Arizona a year ago, it would be a huge boost to their defense. Unless another safety makes a huge impression during training camp, McLeod will still play a big role, whether he’s in the base starting lineup or not. But if Joyner shows that he is capable at the free safety spot, he should definitely be given the chance to push McLeod for some time.

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Tags: Lamarcus Joyner Rodney McLeod St. Louis Rams

  • Gary Stewart

    my guess is that its a 2 part equation 1. can joyner do the job at free safety and 2. can someone like roberson fill the slot corner role. so to me roberson kinda becomes the lynchpin to the whole idea the other guys we have or we drafted like alexander are not capable of covering slot corners and i am not sure if gaines is suited for the middle of the field i see him as outside cover kind of guy

    • ricdram

      Don’t forget GReid my friend,
      he will have a say so in this
      position battle. Its great that the Rams have player options this year in the secondary.

  • cesarnoel

    Joyner is much better as a nickelback because of his blitzing skills and his ability to cover slot receivers. I’d prefer Cody Davis beating Rodney McLeod for the FS spot.

    • ricdram

      Whome ever gets the FS starting job needs to be SOLID because TJ can hold his own @ SS. Too bad MoAlexander had his knee scoped & he missed all of the OTA’s. Camp battles will be interesting . . .

      • cesarnoel

        Mo Alexander is viewed as a backup for TJ as he has similar style of play. Unless he improves his coverage skills to crack the FS spot.