PROS: Has good speed and is athletic. Is passionate and shows good on-field leadership. Strong player that is physical and likes to mix it up vs. the run. Sound tackler, that wraps up and delivers big hit. Has good closing burst on the ball and can punish ballcarriers. Has good instincts and does a good job reading and reacting. Can sniff out screens and break them up. Does a nice job reading the quarterback when working in short zones. Does an exclelent job at the point of attack, as he can shed blockers and make the tackle. Works very well against the inside run. Willing to meet lead blocker in the hole, delivering blow and freeing up a teammate to make play. Shows good ability as an interior blitzer, able to shoot through gaps, and is hard to block for even linemen because of his strength. Has the burst and speed to come off the corner as well on the blitz. Comfortable working in zone coverage and has potential in man because he shows good athleticism.
CONS: Lacks ideal range and doesn't make plays sideline to sideline. Not as effective outside the hashmarks when playing the run. Takes some poor angles at times, gets stuck in traffic, and will overpursue at times. Lacks any pass rush moves, relying on strength and speed as a blitzer. Will tackle a bit high at times. Only has a limited role in coverage due to how talented and deep Alabama's secondary is. Needs to improve his awareness the times he does work in zone coverage. Will make some mental errors from time to time, and can get overly passionate and emotional leading to stupid penalties.
OVERVIEW: McClain is a perfect fit in Alabama's 3-4 defense at inside linebacker and is one of the best interior run defenders I've ever seen. He's not the most polished defender in all regards, but usually makes up for it because of his size, strength, and speed are virtually unmatched on the college game. He plays the MIKE position and led them in tackles the past two seasons combining for 200 tackles, 26.5 for loss, 7 sacks, and 3 picks.
NFL FORECAST: McClain projects very well to play in the middle of a 3-4 defense. If he has a nose tackle that keeps blockers off him, it's all over, even though he really doesn't need one since he does a good job shedding blockers himself. He is smart enough to come into the league and be an impact player from Day One. And I see no problem comparing him to both Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis in that regard. And at this point, the only thing that is going to stop him from being a perennial Pro Bowler at the next level is injuries. He is talented enough that he can play MLB in a 4-3 scheme as well, although he doesn't have the ideal sideline to sideline range that a younger Lewis had when he played in that scheme at the beginning of his career. But if he was to be flanked by fast, athletic, and rangy outside linebackers, then that wouldn't be an issue because he can more than handle anything between the hashmarks. He also has the ability to potentially play outside linebacker in the 4-3, although I think he'd work best as a SAM linebacker because of his size and strength and less than ideal range. The only weakness in his game that I can really see is in coverage, and I'm not sure he will hit the ground running there. Alabama's secondary was so good (at least 6 NFL caliber players) that he really didn't have a ton of responsibilities, and could just squat and spy the QB and pretty much do whatever he wanted on passing downs. I think he can do fine there in the pros because he has good athleticism to move in space and match up with backs and tight ends in man coverage, but it may be a bit of a work in progress. But in a 3-4 scheme, he has the potential to be as good if not better than either Lewis or Willis. I think he's a guy that can routinely produce 120-150 tackles a year, 3-5 sacks, and 1-3 INTs per year.
ATL FORECAST: McClain is an upgrade over Curtis Lofton in the middle, and there is nothing that Lofton brings to the table that McClain isn't significantly better at, or at least has the potential to be significantly better at (like coverage). But I imagine that since McClain is a better player, if the Falcons added him he would be more likely to move outside. He could play either OLB spot, although SAM is probably the better fit because it will allow him to get upfield more often and limit his exposure in coverage.
VALUE: McClain is one of the elite prospects in this draft and a 3-4 team picking in the Top 5 would be crazy not to draft him.
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite
POINT OF ATTACK: 5.0
PASS RUSH: 3.5
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.