When O.J. Atogwe left the St. Louis Rams to sign with the Washington Redskins, it left a gaping hole in the Rams’ secondary. But it didn’t take long for Rams GM Billy Devaney to line a very capable – and in fact superior – replacement.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Rams inked former Philadelphia Eagles safety Quintin Mikell to a 4-year deal worth $28 million, and though the cost was steep, it’s fair to say that the Rams are a better team with Mikell than they were with Atogwe.
PFF ranks safeties by four general measurables to reach the players’ final overall ranking: pass rush, pass coverage, run coverage, and penalties. The two players were virtually equal with regard to taking penalties (-1.5 for Mikell, -1.6 for Atogwe), but their differences are quite dramatic in the other three categories. Mikell far outperformed Atogwe in pass and run coverage, while Atogwe was superior on the pass rush.
In 2010, Mikell finished first amongst all safeties in pass coverage with a 10.8 rating, while Atogwe finished with an unimpressive -0.3 rating. And against the run, Mikell again finished first overall (11.0 rating), while Atogwe was a comparably pedestrian 1.7. And in 2009, the results were quite similar, with Mikell’s edge (+5.4 to +0.7) driven by his superior performances in coverage (run and pass) and dragged back a bit by Atogwe’s substantially superior work on the pass rush.
Given that the Rams aggressively upgraded their defensive front with the selection of first round pick Robert Quinn, it’s safe to say that Mikell’s pass-rushing deficiencies won’t be close to as much a negative factor as the huge bump he’ll give the team in both pass and run coverage.
Also important for Mikell, it’ll be a move from one 4-3 defense with high-quality pass-rushers to another. Consequently, it’s quite probable that he’ll put up a season similar to his 2010 effort: 75-85 tackles, 3-4 interceptions, 10-15 passes-defensed, and only one or two sacks. The Rams are on a consistent upward trajectory, and Mikell could be an extremely valuable playmaker capitalizing on the mistakes forced by Chris Long (+28 pass rush rating), James Hall (+12.2 pass rush rating) and rookie speed rusher Robert Quinn.
For Atogwe, it’s a bit harder to predict, as he’ll now be playing alongside one of the NFL’s better playmaking safeties in LaRon Landry. Further complicating matters, while Landry is strong against the run (+3.3) and on the pass rush (+2.7), he’s quite weak in pass coverage (-1.9). With Carlos Rogers likely to depart via free agency, and with not a single top-40 pass-coverage corner on the roster, things could get epically ugly when the ball hits the Redskins’ secondary. And with three well-above average quarterbacks in the division, it’s safe to say that some big fantasy performances will be coming at Washington’s expense in 2011, particularly if they don’t sign a difference-making, shutdown corner.
Atogwe was arguably the best fantasy safety in 2007 and 2008, but it’s quite possible that he’ll be exposed as an unplayable option (both for ‘Skins head coach Mike Shanahan and for IDP owners) in 2011. His days of being a top-5 (or even a top-15) safety are quite possibly over. Even if he manages to play the entire 2011 season as a starter, don’t expect more than 60-odd tackles, 3-4 interceptions, a handful of passes-defensed and a handful of sacks.
Meanwhile, Mikell is well-positioned to at the very least equal (if not surpass) his very solid 2010 production. Look for him to finish with 90 tackles, a bump up from 2010 because opponents will likely run more in the second half against the 2011 Rams than the 2010 Eagles. He’ll add 3 interceptions, 10 passes-defensed, and 2 sacks as well.