Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mark Barron: The Safety/Linebacker Who Wreaks Havoc in the Backfield.

by John Turney
Mark Barron. Credit: Wikipedia
Mark Barron was drafted by the Bucs in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, in fact he was the 7th overall pick. In 2014 the St. Louis Rams acquired Barron for 4th and 6th round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft.  Barron had started all 37 games of his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at safety, but was not a fit for Lovie Smith's defensive scheme and Smith opted for the trade. Smith was not the head coach when Barron was drafted.

The Rams, however, felt he had a role to play in Gregg Williams's scheme, something akin to what Roman Harper did with the Saints, an in-the-box safety, who could stop the run and blitz. In 2014 and early 2015 he did just that, seemingly making impact plays every week.

However, Barron's role changed this season after outside linebacker Alec Ogletree was injured in the Arizona game and the following week Barron was inserted in his WILL linebacker spot and he's performed quite well, so much so that he's among the NFL leaders in an important category, stuffs.

In 1992 STATS, Inc, now STATS, LLC., introduced the statistic that counts the number of running plays that resulted in a loss, and credited the tackler with a stuff. Pro Football Journal's Nick Webster has added "pass stuffs" which are passes that result in a loss (not sacks). An example of a pass stuff would be a wide receiver screen that a cornerback stopped for a loss.

Since Barron became a starting outside linebacker in Week 5, Barron has made 8.5 running stuffs and one passing stuff for a total of 9.5.  In addition, in the first two weeks of the NFL season Barron had two 1/2 stuffs (similar to a shared sack) in his role as an in-the-box safety bringing his 2015 stuff total to 10.5. See graphic below:
Graphic by Pro Football Journal
Is this significant? Well, considering that only J.J. Watt, with 11.0 stuffs, has more, it seems it would be. It is even more than dynamic teammate Aaron Donald, who is third in the NFL with 9.0 stuffs (all on run plays). The next nearest linebacker is Jackonville's Telvin Smith who has 8.5 stuffs. The player nearest to Barron in skill set may be Arizona Cardinal hybrid safety/linebacker Deone Buchanon who has 6.5 stuffs. He is playing a role similar to what Barron had played for the Rams prior to the injury to Alec Ogletree.
Barron has no realistic shot at being voted to the Pro Bowl or many other post-season honors as it stands now, but if he continues to make plays as he has perhaps that can change. In addition to the 10.5 stuffs, he has a sack and three QB hits, and three passes defensed, one was deflected by Barron and intercepted by Laurinaitis. He has also been credited with a forced fumble by the Rams coaches in film review, though that does not show up in official NFL stats, but he did force a fumble on special teams in the Arizona game that gave the Rams a chance to take the early lead in that victory.
One oddity remains, after listing Barron as an outside linebacker for the first four weeks after the Ogletree injury, the last two weeks, the Rams coaching staff has had Barron listed as a "WS" in the official starting lineup along with strong safety (SS) T.J. McDonald and free safety (FS) Rodney McCleod. See graphic below.
However, a check of the game film reveals that Barron is playing the same position as he had the previous four weeks, starting the Bears and Ravens games as a linebacker, along with MLB James Laruinaitis and OLB Akeem Ayers. In the below screen shots, Barron is highlighted.

Credit: NFL Replay
Credit: NFL Replay

So, if the "Will safety" is a new position one cannot be sure, but regardless of nomenclature, Barron is having an excellent season through the first eleven weeks.


  1. terrific and insightful story John! using the talents of players is a key for any coach to be successful, and Barron sure gives the Rams defense a chance to be one of the best in the league.

  2. Very similar to the Cardinals' use of Buchanan - only they've begun officially listing him at LB after being listed at Safety to begin the season.

  3. I don't know of any places that list stuffs anywhere. Is the only way to get that data just to sift through play-by-play sheets? If so, I might do that work just to keep my own records somewhere.

    1. http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/stats?season=2015&seasonType=1&week=0&category=DEFENSE&team=0&opp=0&sort=15&qualified=1&sortOrder=0

  4. We can save you some work John as we're keeping track here at the Journal and will publish the results at seasons end. They used to be on CNNsi's defensive stats page but we're lost in one of their "upgrades".