Arch Awards: Mark Barron was St. Louis’s Best Under-the-Radar Performer During 2015


Our readers had the pick of three deserving candidates for this Arch Award, and they selected Mark Barron, who underwent a wildly successful position change this season. 

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been rolling out the nominees for our 2015 Arch Awards, which pay tribute to the best people, teams, and events in St. Louis sports each year. Our category for today is the Best Under-the-Radar Performer, an award that goes to the athlete on the St. Louis sports scene who provided the most outstanding performance without widespread recognition during the 2015 calendar year.

The nominees were Rams linebacker/safety Mark Barron, Cardinals starting pitcher John Lackey, and Mizzou defensive end Walter Brady. Perhaps it was unfair to put Lackey’s fate to a vote mere days after he chose to spurn the Cardinals for a two-year, $32 million-dollar deal from the Chicago Cubs–he did, after all, have a career-best 2.77 ERA in 33 starts this year–but Barron ultimately came away with the win and reigns victorious as our Under-the-Radar Performer of the Year for 2015.

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Barron, the seventh overall pick in 2012 who had flamed out after over two years as the strong safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was traded to the Rams for fourth and sixth-round picks at the trade deadline in 2014. The Rams didn’t use him as a full-time player at any point last season, but the career safety did take over the de facto strongside linebacker role late in the season, providing primarily run support both behind the line of scrimmage and from the slot.

Barron continued to play that role at the outset of 2015, albeit in a slightly reduced role thanks to the offseason acquisition of pass-rushing specialist Akeem Ayers. After the Rams’ prolific young weakside linebacker, Alec Ogletree, went down with a broken fibula in Week 4, though, a replacement was needed. The Rams initially relied on Ayers and continued to use Barron in a complimentary role, though he began seeing more snaps as a result.

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After Barron became the team’s full-time weakside linebacker (or weak safety, as the role was renamed due to Barron’s opposition to being called a linebacker) following the bye week, he began to show exactly how dominant of a player he can be. He collected 16 tackles against Cleveland in Week 6, and he came back against San Francisco the next week and accumulated another 10. Barron added another two double-digit tackle games against the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals, and he now has a career-high 108 tackles through 15 weeks. Since becoming a full-timer against Cleveland, Barron has averaged 8.5 tackles per game.

Barron is currently tied with teammate James Laurinaitis for 18th in the NFL in tackles. He’s in jeopardy of missing Sunday’s season finale against the San Francisco 49ers as he recovers from a concussion suffered Sunday at Seattle, so it’s possible, if not likely, that he’ll yield the team lead for the season to Laurinaitis. But when you factor in that he was utilized as an every down player in the Rams’ defense for just 10 games (and exited the Seattle game very early because of his injury), the fact that he’s even competing for the team lead in tackles is extremely impressive.

It should be interesting to see what happens with Barron, an upcoming free agent, this offseason. He’s in line to get a big payment on the open market after his impressive performance this year, though he might be more questionable if he insists on moving back to his familiar position of safety next season. Either way, it doesn’t seem like there’s a clear fit in the Rams’ defense next year for Barron with Ogletree, Ayers, T.J. McDonald, and Rodney McLeod in the fold, but for now, his rise from struggling safety to near-Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker should be much appreciated.

Next: Arch Awards: Stephen Piscotty was St. Louis's Rising Star in 2015

Check back with us later this week as we reveal the winner of our Best St. Louis Sports Storyline of 2015 Award.