T.J. McDonald looks like the third consecutive starter that the St. Louis Rams have locked up in the 2013 NFL draft. The 6’2”, 219-pound safety brings a physical presence to both backfields—offensive and defensive—when he suits up.
Between Matt Daniels, Rodney McLeod and Darian Stewart, St. Louis has a combined 13 games of starting safety experience on its roster. McDonald could step in right away—and given that the Rams took him earlier than expected, he probably will.
McDonald is a specimen on the back end, taking home top performer honors from the NFL combine in the bench press (19 reps), vertical jump (40 inches) and broad jump (131 inches). His explosiveness is unquestioned, and with 33 1/8” arms at 6’2”, he also has a lot of range.
McDonald’s weakness on the back end may be a susceptibility to getting juked out by smaller, quicker ball-carriers due to the fact that he doesn’t get low to make tackles very often. He’ll attack the legs of bigger guys, though.
The strength that McDonald will bring to the St. Louis Rams defense is his ability to lay the wood on dudes and separate the football. If he can bring a brand of controlled aggression to the Edward Jones Dome turf, he can avoid fines for hits on defenseless receivers while instilling fear in guys coming across the middle.
With a presence like that on the back end, quarterbacks may think twice about leaving their receivers susceptible to that type of punishment—and pay for that decision-making hitch by taking a sack from the Rams’ stout defensive line.
McDonald recorded 112 total tackles (6.5 for loss), a sack, two interceptions and five passes defensed as a senior. Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell, the Rams’ starting safeties in 2012, combined for one pick and four deflected passes.
Mikell forced four fumbles and sacked the quarterback three times.
McDonald will look to continue that trend as St. Louis may use him in a similar fashion—deploying him in the box—that Mikell was used last season, when the veteran trailed only linebackers James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar in the tackling department.
Laurinaitis totaled 142 tackles. Dunbar had 115. Mikell had 101.
Jamal Collier is the St. Louis Rams draft correspondent for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @StatManJ.