2015 Arch Awards: Who was St. Louis’s Best Under-the-Radar Performer in 2015?

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Mark Barron, OLB (AKA “weak safety”), St. Louis Rams

After the Rams made a decision in October 2014 to trade for Barron, the former seventh overall pick out of Alabama who had fizzled out as a safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the question loomed of how he would fit into the defense in St. Louis. The Rams already had two established safeties in Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald, and there wasn’t really a fit in the defensive backfield for Barron.

While he found ways to contribute in sub-packages (most notably by delivering a crushing blow to Carson Palmer that ended his 2014 season), that question largely still remained unanswered heading into the Rams’ Week 4 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals this season. Everything changed, however, when weakside linebacker Alec Ogletree suffered a broken fibula that ended his 2015 season. The Rams needed to replace their leading tackler, and with a lack of depth at the linebacker position, the most logical fit was Barron, who was being used in a linebacker-like role in several special packages.

After sharing duties with Akeem Ayers for the Rams’ Week 5 matchup against the Green Bay Packers, Barron became the team’s every down weakside linebacker following the bye week (though the Rams have since renamed the position “weak safety” due to Barron’s distaste for being referred to as a linebacker). He hasn’t looked back since then, fitting in perfectly at the position. Despite his lack of prototypical linebacker size, Barron has used his above-average athleticism and incredible motor to make himself a factor on seemingly every defensive play. Since becoming the full-time starter in Week 7 against Cleveland, Barron has averaged nine tackles per game and is now just one tackle behind James Laurinaitis for the team lead in takedowns with 86. He also has a sack, two forced fumbles, and four passes deflected through 12 games, and he’s established himself as perhaps the Rams’ most consistent defensive player.

Considering that he had never been utilized as a full-time linebacker entering 2015, Barron is certainly a worthy candidate as the best sneaky-good performer on the St. Louis sports scene this year.

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