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Jeff Fisher: NFL to see more 'hybrid guys' like Barron

When the Rams acquired former Buccaneers safety Mark Barron at the 2014 trade deadline, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft fetched just fourth- and sixth-round draft picks in return.

Six months later, the Rams thought so little of Barron's value that they declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.

Now Barron is the proud owner of a five-year, $45 million contract after successfully transitioning from safety to weakside linebacker when Alec Ogletree went down with a season-ending injury last October.

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The position switch was an unqualified success, as Barron led the league in total stuffs -- a statistic that tracks tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Speaking at the NFL owners meeting on Wednesday, Rams coach Jeff Fisher touched on Barron, Cardinals "moneybacker" Deone Bucannon and the rise of the hybrid player in modern football.

"(Bucannon) was that type of player coming out, you could tell," Fisher said. "... We're experiencing the same thing in L.A. right now, having re-signed Mark Barron. Same type of player, same responsibilities behind the line of scrimmage, sideline to sideline, matches tight ends, does the same things. An undersized linebacker, an oversized defensive back.

"It appears with the two of them ... there will be more of those hybrid guys that are kind of in between."

The concept of a linebacker/safety hybrid is not new to professional football. Monstrous box safety Kam Chancellor has moonlighted as a linebacker for a historically great Seahawks defense. Going back three decades, David Fulcher of the Bengals and Steve Atwater of the Broncos stalked the gridiron as linebacker-sized safeties, dominating the era prior to the pass-heavy 21st century.

The recent success of Barron and Bucannon will pave the way for more hybrid prospects such as USC star Su'a Cravens.

Asked to describe Bucannon's position, coordinator James Bettcher has essentially explained, "He is where he plays."

That goes double for teammate Tyrann Mathieu, who made a serious run at Defensive Player of the Year honors while lining up in the slot, at both safety positions and even at outside linebacker.

Will Bettcher's mindset become more prevalent at other positions?

Viewed as "tweeners" coming out of college, Michael Bennett went undrafted while Malik Jackson fell to the fifth-round. Now Bennett is regarded as one of the game's most disruptive defensive linemen and Jackson is collecting $42 million in guarantees after wrecking backfields throughout the postseason.

It's a good bet that coaches and personnel executives will start placing more value on defensive end-tackle hybrids going forward, just as Mathieu, Bucannon and Barron have raised the profile of versatile defensive backs.

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