INDIANAPOLIS -- Versatility is a valuable trait for any player trying to find his way in the NFL. The ability to play and perform well at multiple positions is a highly sought commodity. Nowhere is that more true than on the offensive line.
St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold was a shining example of that in 2013. Before the season, he moved from left tackle to right tackle. After an early season injury, he returned and was moved again, this time to right guard. Although he clearly showed the most potential at guard, Saffold stepped in at right tackle and fared well. He came full circle by finishing the season at left tackle after Jake Long suffered a knee injury against Tampa Bay on Dec. 22.
Saffold's upside at guard and versatility make him by far the team's most prized unrestricted free agent. The Rams would like to keep him. But there's little doubt his talent and versatility will be valued in other NFL cities as well. The Rams aren't exactly flush with salary cap space at the moment, though they should have no problem creating room to make a legitimate run at keeping Saffold.
So what happens if Saffold departs? The Rams are used to playing without Saffold's services. Were it not for his lengthy injury history, the team probably already would have signed him to a contract extension. Players capable of filling in at so many spots with Saffold's ability are hard to find.
It can be difficult projecting how players will fit at the NFL level. Some guards are viewed as centers, and tackles viewed as guards, and nobody really knows until they get there.
At first glance, though, this draft has one player who appears to project well at pretty much any position on the offensive line: Notre Dame's Zack Martin.
“I think he can play tackle, but the beauty of this kid is he can play all five positions in the NFL,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “Some teams look at him as a Pro Bowl guard and that therefore playing the tackle doesn’t make as much sense.”
That's a sentiment shared by plenty of others around the league. One league scout said Martin could step in and start at any of the tackle or guard positions right away, and though Martin's future would probably be brighter at guard he could start at tackle and be just fine.
For his part, Martin would prefer to remain at tackle, the position he played throughout a decorated four-year career for the Fighting Irish. Martin started a school record 52 consecutive games.
"I obviously want to prove to people that I can play there," Martin said. "I've played there my entire career. I had a pretty successful career, so, yeah, I want to prove to everyone I can be out there. But at the same time, if a team takes me and their plan is to put me at guard, I'm willing and happy to do that for him."
Martin's experience and pedigree would seem to be enough to keep him on the outside, but at just over 6-foot-4, and 308 pounds with 32 7/8 inch arms, Martin's frame might be better suited on the inside.
After a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and with a long resume of production in South Bend, Martin is projected as a top 20 pick. The Rams' needs on the offensive line are well-documented, but a player like Martin would seem to offer plenty of flexibility for a potentially revamped offensive line.
Much of the discussion of the top offensive linemen in relation to the Rams has centered on Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan. But if the Rams choose to wait to add a lineman at No. 13, Martin might be a name to remember. Especially if Saffold heads for greener pastures.