Where or when will T.J. McDonald get drafted in today’s NFL Draft? Well, not in today’s first round. The former USC safety is expected to go later in the draft, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a solid NFL career.
McDonald has first round talent with his size and speed, but in-play decisions in the passing game are where the former Trojan has room to improve at the next level. Fair or not, while at USC, McDonald earned the label of being a somewhat dirty player, having been a multiple offender of targeting to the head.
While McDonald’s hit on Chris Owusu in 2011 had replays show that he led with his shoulder, the reputation that stems from his half-game suspension is one of concern, given Roger Goodell’s no nonsense approach when it comes to defensive players throwing their bodies around recklessly.
That said, McDonald’s ability to use his body to his advantage at times and take advantage of physical leverage is something that has to entice teams about his NFL prospects. As seen with his interception against Zach Maynard last September, when McDonald is using his athleticism to his advantage, he’s good as any safety in the country. It’s when he shows frustration and a mentality of relying on his physicality to bail him out of jams that has put him in tough spots.
Going into his senior season, there was cause for some concern that McDonald could regress a la Taylor Mays in his senior season. While McDonald didn’t become a defensive liability like Mays in 2009, he didn’t put up the numbers in terms of interceptions that some expected, considering he was one of the top free safeties in the country.
McDonald had just two interceptions on the season, but where he vastly improved was in his ability to stop the run and play up in the box. As part of Monte Kiffin’s adaptations to his Tampa-2-but-really-a-Tampa-2 defense, McDonald was often pulled into the box as an extra linebacker, which boosted his tackle total tremendously, as he totaled 110 tackles as a senior, up from 67 the year before.
His success playing up and against the run would suggest that McDonald’s future isn’t necessarily tied to him playing deep as a free safety, as his ability to use his body and play up against the run is where his value peaks.
If there’s anything for sure however, it’s that the pundits and scouts see McDonald going in the fourth round of the draft, allowing his name to be called one more time on a Saturday.
Staff DraftSite.com: 4th Round, 106th overall to New York Jets [Link]
Walter Cherepinsky of Walter Football: 4th Round, 109th overall to New Orleans Saints [Link]
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report: 3rd Round, 117th overall to Chicago Bears [Link]