New York Giants fans are starved for their team to invest a high-round draft pick in the linebacker position, yet year after year the team looks elsewhere.
The Giants finally seem to have solidified the middle linebacker position with tackling machine Blake Martinez, but Martinez is entering the second year of a three-year contract. Likewise, the team could still use another well-rounded defender to help solidify their defense in the middle of the field as well as give them another option for blitz packages.
Michigan seemed to strike gold when redshirt freshman linebacker Cameron McGrone was forced onto the field due to injury in 2019. He didn’t miss a beat between coming off the bench and making plays in every phase of defense. He might be young and inexperienced, but seized control of Michigan’s MIKE position and never let go.
But he is still a young linebacker with a very small sample of game tape available to the NFL — a third of which is bookended by injuries in a weird, abbreviated season. The NFL has a tendency to shy away from risks, but could that lead to McGrone becoming one of the steals of the draft?
Prospect: Cameron McGrone
Games Watched: vs. Wisconsin (2019), vs. Iowa (2019), vs. Ohio State (2019), vs. Minnesota (2020)
Red Flags: Undisclosed injuries (2020)
Games Played: 16
Tackles For a loss: 11.0
Forced Fumbles: 1
Passes Defensed: 1
Games Played: 5
Tackles For a loss: 2.0
Forced Fumbles: 0
Passes Defensed: 0
Best: Instincts, football IQ, athleticism, competitive toughness, versatility
Projection: A starting MIKE or WILL in a one-gap attacking defense.
Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone has good size for the position to go with twitchy athleticism, good football IQ, and strong instincts.
McGrone typically aligned as the MIKE linebacker in Michigan’s defense, and played in all phases of the defense. He was used in run defense, pass coverage, and as a pass rusher, showing upside in all three.
McGrone is a disciplined run defender, with faithfulness to his assignments and rarely freelancing. He has great competitive toughness, never shying away from filling a gap or taking on an offensive lineman’s blocks. McGrone takes on blocks with good play strength, technique, and leverage, allowing him to overpower tight ends, running backs, and fullbacks, as well as stack and shed most linemen’s blocks. He generally has an accurate first step, leading him toward the play and he is explosive when triggering downhill.
He is a reliable coverage linebacker, looking comfortable dropping into zone coverage and playing in space. McGrone does a good job of reading quarterbacks’ eyes while having solid awareness of the play around him. He is able to navigate traffic around the line of scrimmage, avoiding would-be picks and rubs to stay with his coverage responsibility. He also has enough athleticism to mirror and run with most running backs and tight ends in man coverage.
Finally, McGrone is a dangerous pass rusher. He times his rushes well as a blitzer, with running back-like vision to anticipate and see rushing lanes develop. His athleticism allows him to beat pass protectors with speed and agility, as well as defeating them with his technique. McGrone might not always make the play himself, but he is consistently disruptive behind the line of scrimmage which helps his teammates make plays.
The biggest criticism of McGrone’s game is his inexperience. He is still a young player as a 20-year old red shirt sophomore with just 15 starts under his belt. LIke all young players, there is still much for him to see. His aggressiveness can get the better of him at times, biting on play-action of offensive misdirection. In those cases he can find himself led away from the play.
Overall Grade: 8.6 - McGrone has the tools to be a regular contributor early in his career and earn a starting job sooner rather than later.
Cameron McGrone projects best as a starting MIKE or WILL linebacker in a one-gap, attacking defense at the NFL level.
McGrone is a young, relatively inexperienced linebacker, but his play as a red-shirt freshman and the traits on display are simply exciting. He was pressed onto the field due to injury, was instrumental in forcing a very good Wisconsin offense to a fourth-and-goal, and never looked back.
McGrone has the skillset to be a starting MIKE linebacker at the NFL level, but teams might want to start McGrone as a WILL linebacker as a rookie. He had some issues with biting too hard on play-action and misdirection at the collegiate level and coaches might want to be patient in adding the responsibilities of calling an NFL defense while he learns to read sophisticated pro offenses. That said, McGrone has a varied-enough skillset to be a three-down weakside linebacker at the NFL level as well. He has the agility to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield, the range to pursue plays from the backside, the ability to defeat most blockers and a good sense for rushing the passer as a blitzer.
Teams will want to double-check McGrone’s medical reports after an injury which knocked him out of Michigan’s second game in 2020 and him being carted off the field to end his season against Rutgers.
McGrone is already smart, instinctive, competitive, and athletic, and his best football is almost certainly ahead of him as he gains more experience.