The Rams made a surprising move in free agency Tuesday, signing perhaps the best free safety available, Philadelphia's Quintin Mikell.
Earlier today, we looked at pessimistic reports of the Rams' salary cap room, and at the Rams' apparent low priority for true free safety play in their recent history with Oshiomogho Atogwe, and pretty confidently predicted that this would be the least likely position to invested in. Clearly I was wrong on that count, and perhaps the reports we saw limiting our spending were wrong as well.
All that aside, what kind of player are the Rams getting? One who excels in all facets of free satefy play, say those who scout the game closely.
The St. Louis Rams' four-year agreement with Philadelphia Eagles safety Quintin Mikell gives them a player they know well. Mikell is strong against the run and an aggressive tackler, according to an Insider report from Scouts Inc.
Mikell excelled in slot and flex coverage, covering tight ends and inside receivers with aplomb all season. He's been one of the game's more underrated defenders over the past couple of years.
Mikell was equally impressive as a run defender and as a cover man, leading our grading in both departments. With most safeties clearly stronger in one area or the other, Mikell stands out as a legit all-around talent.
We know that Spagnuolo prizes physicality and tackling ability in his defensive backfield, areas that Mikell is plenty capable in. But the job requirements of the free safety also require you to be capable as the last line of defense, often matched up against some of the elite talents in the game.
I delved into three Eagles' matchups from last season where Mikell graded particularly well, and plucked three individual plays against three of the best offensive players in the league to demonstrate what he will bring to the Rams' rapidly improving pass defense.
Eagles vs Lions: jousting with Calvin Johnson.
The Eagles met the Lions in week two in what turned out to be a furious 35-32 aerial battle. Lions quarterback Shaun Hill racked up 335 yards passing, which sounds like a bad day for Mikell, but that wasn’t the case. Mikell was patrolling deep center for most of the game to protect against the threat of Calvin Johnson (who had only 50 yards on 4 catches), while running back Jahvid Best and tight end Brandon Pettigrew did most of the damage underneath against Philly's linebackers and nickel men.
Mikell was tested only four times, and allowed only one catch. In one early segment of the game, he faced off against Calvin Johnson forty yards down the right sideline, leaping to steal a catch away from the taller receiver. While the coverage was good, Megatron makes a career of beating this kind of coverage. But Mikell commits to the very last inch of his reach to prevent the completion, and nearly comes out with a stunning takeaway. Watch the clip here.
Eagles vs Falcons: taking away Tony Gonzalez
Week six saw Mikell and the Eagles matched up against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, what turned out to be a 31-17 win. While Roddy White creates an imposing challenge at WR, this game gave Mikell a chance to show his ability to break down an elite tight end in Tony Gonzalez.
In one particular matchup, Mikell immediately latches on to Gonzalez and is more than willing to bump and run with the bigger tight end. What’s particularly impressive about this play is that Mikell manages to establish inside position despite working his way from Gonzalez’s outside hip, and breaking his stride in the process. It’s a combination of athleticism and physicality that’s perfect for the position. Watch the clip.
Eagles vs Texans: Powering through Andre Johnson
Once again, we get to see Quintin Mikell matched up against an elite player, perhaps the best wideout in the league, in Houston’s Andre Johnson. And once again, Mikell shows a side of his game that we like to see -- in this case, pure physicality and commitment to breaking up a pass.
Johnson sprints down the field and sets up in front of Mikell in the deep zone, forcing Mikell to break out of his backpedal and steamroll through Johnson -- no lightweight himself at 6’3” 225 lbs -- to get a mitt on the ball before it arrives. Now, it’s possible the refs could have flagged Mikell for early contact, on this one, but to be honest I have no idea what constitutes pass interference any more. In this case, no flag and a great stop on a big 3rd and 10. Watch the clip.
Early impressions: Mikell is technically sound and plays smart, physical football. While he doesn't have Atogwe's hands when it comes to turning breakups into turnovers, he brings an added physicality that will allow Spagnuolo to use him anywhere on the field, and be happy with the result. And his profile fits in perfectly with a secondary that is coming into its own, with veteran Ron Bartell and up-and-coming Bradley Fletcher jousting for the #1 corner title, and Craig Dahl as a reliable thumper at strong safety.