The Philadelphia Eagles signed former Rams safety Rodney McLeod in free agency. Earlier this offseason, we spoke with Turf Show Times to learn more about McLeod. Now get to know him even better through this film study.
Derrik: You start, this is your safety now.
Ben: This play is crazy and I think really shows off what is so special about McLeod. First, you have him seamlessly change direction 3 times and then as soon as he identifies the play, he fires down field to Lynch. He's a human joystick.
Derrik: Absolutely. As impressive as all the movement before the tackle is,seeing him fire out to tackle with as much as explosion as he does it wild.
Ben: Yeah, and Lynch has nearly 30 pounds on him and just gets stoned. McLeod brings 110% on every tackle. He might have been the best tackler on that Rams defense.
Derrik: Hard for me to argue with that one. He was certainly the best non-DL tackler. Is there anyone already on the Eagles who is a better tackler than him? In the back seven, that is.
Ben: Malcolm Jenkins is an excellent tackler which is why they are so comfortable with him near the line of scrimmage. But having two tone setters in the back end is going to be huge for the attitude this defense will have.
Derrik: The fire McLeod and Alec Ogletree brought to the Rams defense huge for them, too. Philadelphia should see much of the same when McLeod arrives.
Derrik: His range is wicked and it’s clear here. He zooms over from centerfield and throws his body at Larry Fitzgerald, another dude who is much bigger than he is.
Ben: It really is stupid how fast he flies to the sideline. Human beings don’t move like that. He is like a water bug with a machine gun.
Derrik: And it’s not just athletic ability, he is so quick to recognize stuff like this and gravitate to it.
Ben: There is physical range and there is mental range. The ability to diagnose and beat the ball to a spot can compensate for athletic ability. However, McLeod has both! So he is just really athletic, but his mind makes him look even faster.
Derrik: Exactly. Safeties with his sort of range are rare in today’s NFL.
Ben: He’s built and moves like a slot cornerback, but packs so much punch. And, like I said with his forced fumble against the Bears, he is looking to force a turnover, and that is what separates defenders in the NFL. Your average or above average defender is just going to prevent offense. McLeod is looking to create defense.
Derrik: And he is good at it in every way. It’s funny you mention him playing like a slot defender, though…
Ben: This is just McLeod playing really sound and savvy defense. He is able to work out of the slot, cover the ‘hook’ area, pass off the receiver to another zone and then come down to the flat to tackle the ball carrier.
Derrik: It’s all so smooth, too. It doesn’t look like he’s thinking, he is just reacting. He knows everything that can happen around him and how to respond accordingly.
Ben: For sure. He is never questioning his decisions. He is super confident and that results in a good play far more often than not.
Derrik: Confidence is huge for defenders. 9/10 times, a player is better off consistently moving on his instinct than waiting to let a play develop because football happens so fast that waiting often results in missed opportunities.
Ben: This is where mental hesitation can look like stiffness. Not to get on too much of a tangent, but a lot of people thought Eric Rowe was stiff coming out of Utah. The truth is that he was just new to playing cornerback and wasn’t playing with a ton of confidence at cornerback. In the NFL, after some time, he looked silky smooth as a cornerback once he was confident in his decisions at the position.
Derrik: Exactly. Part of that is on defensive coordinators to let their guys loose, too, but that is for another debate.
Ben: This is another example of McLeod doing his best cruise missile impersonation. He sees Ka'Deem Carey coming downhill and attacks the line of scrimmage without hesitation. And he’s got a nose for the ball here- put his helmet right on it.
Derrik: It’s crazy to see someone his size have zero hesitation taking on all these big running backs. He just went right at him and popped the ball out; late in the game, no less.
Ben: He has this reckless abandon when taking on players. Langford is a much bigger player and McLeod just fires downhill like a wolf after a sheep.
Derrik: Like you said earlier, that is just how he plays. Head on fire type of dude with some power in him.
Ben: What a bad throw. But still, McLeod reads Joe Flacco from the jump and follows his eyes to the left hash.
Derrik: I think even if this pass lands in the tight end’s hands, McLeod is right there to just annihilate him.
Ben: Exactly. He has perfect positioning to make a play regardless of the offensive outcome. What this play shows besides McLeod’s intelligence also a different dynamic he brings to the table. Because while he can create defense and turnovers, his mental ability also allows him to facilitate defense and limit offense. He is not a high variance play maker. He is a very sound back end defender who can also turn on the hitstick and make plays in coverage.
Derrik: That was huge for Janoris Jenkins when McLeod was with the Rams, too. Jenkins was allowed to be the aggressive gambling playmaker that he is because he knew he had security in McLeod over the top.
Ben: That is where McLeod is going to be in Philadelphia. The thing with McLeod is, and this is his one limitation, is that he can’t be a pure box guy.
Derrik: Does he have to be that, though?
Ben: Absolutely not. That what Jenkins is for. But it is interesting to note that St. Louis kept him away from the line of scrimmage. As a sub-190 pound safety, you don’t want him working through traffic because it sort of ends up being 11-on-10 football. Playing him far off like the Rams did allows him to diagnose, keep himself clean and tackle in space.
Derrik: I would think Philadelphia should be able to do exactly the same. Y’all got some ballhawks in the secondary, too. McLeod is going to allow them to thrive.
Ben: For sure. He is a really complete player and his limitations can easily be mitigated. I think Philly has a star.