What kind of player are the New York Giants getting in linebacker Jameel McClain, one of the many free agents the team signed during their recent free-agent splurge?
The particulars are that McClain is a 6-foot-1, 250-pound six-year veteran. After playing collegiately at Syracuse, McClain made the Baltimore Ravens despite being undrafted in 2008, and was there until the Ravens let him go in a salary cap move this offseason. McClain has been a full-time starter since 2010, playing both inside and outside. His Pro Football Focus scores the past two seasons, -9.4 in 2013 and -9.9 in 2012, are not impressive.
So, why did the Giants hand McClain a two-year, $4.5 million contract to replace Keith Rivers at the SAM linebacker position? Let's dig a little deeper.
Pete Demilatis (@PFF_Pete) of Pro Football Focus broke down some film of McClain for us, and came away believing that McClain's grades in Baltimore don't necessarily reflect what he will be asked to do for the Giants. He wrote:
I saw some people say that the Giants signed McClain to "replace" O'Brien Schofield. While that makes sense from a depth chart & salary cap perspective, the two are completely different players. While Schofield would have played more of the old Mathias Kiwanuka "joker" role, standing up as a LB and moving to DE in the NASCAR package, McClain is strictly a two-down run-stopping LB. Basically, he's this year's Keith Rivers.
While the Ravens played more 4-3 in 2009-2010 and more 3-4 in 2011-2012, the fact is their fronts have always been fluid and McClain has been asked to play both 3-4 ILB and 4-3 OLB in each of his seasons. But looking at the film, it's clear he's more effective outside the tackles than inside.
Like most good run stoppers, McClain is at his best when playing downhill and attacking the hole. Too often when he lined up between the tackles, he couldn't find his way through traffic, hesitated, and got washed away by an O-lineman on the 2nd level. When he lined up on the outside, he usually had more space and was able to use his speed and momentum to stand up blockers at the line of scrimmage and chase down ballcarriers.
Judging by how the Giants used Rivers last year, I anticipate they'll keep McClain more on the outside, where he can be aggressive in space rather than diagnosing plays like an MLB. He's also shown promise as a blitzer, and I could see Perry Fewell rushing him more than he did Rivers (especially since the secondary should be more solid).
McClain's surface PFF grades aren't great, but he can certainly improve those this season if the Giants put him the best position to succeed.
McClain missed the first six games of the 2013 season with a neck injury, but returned to play the final 10 games without incident. Here is Baltimore coach John Harbaugh talking about what the Giants will get from McClain:
"He came back midseason from that injury, so there is probably some transition there. By the end of the year, I think he was the same player, and he'll be even better next year, back to his old self probably. You're getting a physical player, a very physical run-stopper. You're getting a very smart player, he understands coverage schemes and you're getting a tremendous, great, high-character guy. He'll be a great mentor for the young players. He's just a top-shelf person."
Here is a recent interview McClain gave on Sirius XM NFL Radio:
Here is what McClain said on Sirius about what the Giants can expect from him:
"What they can expect from me is they can expect someone that's gonna go 115 percent every play every day, on and off the field," McClain said. "I believe in being physical. I'm the type of guy that likes a bloody nose at the end of the game.
"I'll try to bring every bit of leadership that I've learned and gained from the Baltimore regime to New York. I'm a complete team player and I really do care about winning more than anything else."