Quick-Hit Thoughts on Rams’ Acquisition of Mark Barron

I usually use my weekly column space to break down the three plays that defined a Rams win or loss, but you saw the Kansas City game. It wasn’t pretty. If you want to relive that 34-7 monstrosity, then be my guest. However, just thinking of re-watching that game again (and from different angles, no less!) makes my head hurt.

So here are my quick-hit thoughts on the Rams’ decision to acquire safety Mark Barron from the Bucs in exchange for a fourth- and sixth-round pick on Tuesday at the trade deadline.

TJ McDonald
T.J. McDonald

Did the Rams just trade for T.J. McDonald? Barron’s strengths come when he’s playing closer to the line of scrimmage, where he can make an impact defending the run. But he struggles in coverage, frequently getting himself out of position when asked to cover a lot of ground.

Barron’s attributes aren’t unlike T.J. McDonald, who delivers big hits when defending the run but who can also get lost in coverage himself.

So with Rodney McLeod currently battling a knee injury, we could potentially see both Barron and McDonald on the field together at the same time. That’s ostensibly good news for the run defense, but I shudder to think what future opposing quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers could accomplish against the Rams’ deep coverage.

The price was right. Barron was a two-time first-team All American under Nick Saban at Alabama and was viewed as one of the safer choices in the 2012 NFL draft. He was expected to be an immediate playmaker after the Bucs selected him with the No. 7 overall pick, but in 37 games he’s created just four turnovers. That said, there’s no question that his strength is defending the run, which is an area in which the Rams have struggled all season. He’s not the complete safety that some believed he’d be coming out of Alabama, but the Rams only parted with a fourth- and a sixth-rounder to acquire him from Tampa Bay. Even if he doesn’t pan out for the Rams, Les Snead bought low on a player who once had tremendous upside (and maybe still does, although the results to this point have been unsatisfactory).

Maurice Alexander
Maurice Alexander

What does this acquisition mean for Alexander? The Rams raised eyebrows when they selected Mo Alexander in the fourth round of May’s draft. As an in-the-box safety with limited coverage skills, Alexander is cut from the same mold as McDonald and Barron.

What’s the point in having three safeties who all do the same thing? It would be one thing if Alexander were a special teams maven, but that hasn’t been the case. Granted, the selection of Alexander and the acquisition of Barron don’t have to be mutually exclusive. After all, the drafting of Alexander shouldn’t preclude Snead or Fisher from landing a potential bargain in Barron.

It would have made zero sense for Snead or Fisher to say, “We really like the price of Barron and see him as a potential fit here in St. Louis. But we’re going to pass on a trade because, you know, Mo Alexander.”

That said, it’s entirely fair to ask why the Rams decided to draft Alexander when McDonald was already on the roster and quarterbacks Zach Mettenberger, Tom Savage, A.J. McCarron and Aaron Murray were still on the board.

How will Barron be used? This is perhaps the most intriguing question because it produces plenty of tentacles. Barron wasn’t a fit under Lovie Smith in Tampa because Smith wants his safeties to cover both deep and in man, and Barron simply doesn’t fit into that mold. So how is he a fit in St. Louis? Under Gregg Williams, the Rams have utilized a lot of single-high looks with McLeod as the deep safety. If Barron and McDonald are essentially the same player (which they are), then who plays free safety with McLeod out? Do the Rams try to get by with Barron and McDonald until McLeod returns in a few weeks? Do they ask rookie Lamarcus Joyner to play free safety considering that’s one of the many roles he served under Jeremy Pruitt at Florida State? Will they put Barron in a hybrid OLB/S role where they ask him to play on first and second downs in place of Alec Ogletree, who has had major issues defending the run? It’ll be interesting to see how creative Williams gets with Barron.

More: Are Gregg Williams’ best days behind him?