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Film study: What can LB Micah McFadden bring to Giants’ defense?

Did the Giants find a diamond in the rough with the fifth-round linebacker out of Indiana?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Rutgers at Indiana Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants drafted Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden at pick No. 146 in the fifth round. McFadden was a two-time team captain for the Hoosiers. Indiana recruited McFadden out of Tampa, Florida, where he was the Florida Player of the year with 211 tackles and 39 for a loss during his final season in high school.

According to 247Sports, McFadden barely cracked the top 2,000 in the 2018 recruiting class. The only two Power-5 scholarships he received were from Indiana and Boston College. McFadden played high school football with the son of Indiana’s head coach Tom Allen, which prompted McFadden to attend the school in Bloomington.

McFadden recorded 77 tackles, 15.5 for a loss, 44 STOPs, 6.5 sacks, and 32 pressures in 2021. He also had three passes defended and a forced fumble. He finished his productive college career with 216 tackles, 123 STOPs, 36 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, 96 pressures, four interceptions, four passes defended, and two forced fumbles.

His 2020 season earned him First-Team All-American honors. McFadden received an invite to the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas, Nevada, but could not attend because of an “injury.” McFadden showed impressive toughness playing through a thumb injury in 2021. McFadden also didn’t test at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine, but here are his measurements:

At his Pro Day, McFadden ran a 4.63 40-yard-dash with a 1.54 10-yard-split. He jumped 35 inches in the vertical and 118 inches in the broad, with a 6.88 three-cone and a 4.15 short-shuttle. Here’s his RAS score:

Despite scant attention throughout his recruiting process, McFadden was able to post a top 130 RAS score out of 2,207 linebackers tested dating back to 1987.

McFadden was a versatile linebacker for the Hoosiers; he played 1,881 career snaps and was used all over the defense in 2021: he had 612 snaps in the box, 75 as an overhang, 51 at edge, and he played on punt coverage. He was the heart and soul of the Hoosiers’ defense. Let’s get into his film.

[Micah McFadden is No. 47]

Inside run defense - the good

[behind the guard to the right of your screen]

McFadden’s football IQ is very high. He keys and diagnoses offensive rushing concepts and leverages his gaps well with good patience. The Iowa offensive line blocks down on the Wildcat play with the backside guard pulling to kick out the EMOLOS (end man on the line of scrimmage). Indiana’s safety and contain defender both squeeze as the initial EMOLOS forces the second tight end to squeeze the D-gap. This creates a hole off the backside of the second tight end, and McFadden patiently waits and baits the runner into the hole, where he quickly fills and makes the tackle. There’s no panic in his game - he’s a calm player who trusts his eyes.

McFadden’s at his best when he’s penetrating and attacking downhill, which will be utilized in Wink Martindale’s scheme. Here, McFadden timed the snap perfectly as the A-gap parted, and he exploded through the hole to tackle Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III (8) for a loss. These plays were consistent with McFadden’s film.

[linebacker, bottom of the screen]

Michigan State should have known! Here’s a play in 2020 where McFadden times the snap well and starts moving to the outside portion of the defensive lineman - subtle but smart! He pivots off his second step to loop inside of the defensive line, which paused the double team upfront just long enough to allow McFadden to dip his inside shoulder and explode - with a low explosive profile - into the A-gap.

McFadden makes another third-and-1 stop here. His quick trigger downhill and ability to turn tightly while moving linearly are translatable traits at the next level when penetrating.

[linebacker, bottom of the screen]

Indiana loved to blitz McFadden right at the snap - he typically timed it up well, but he would tip his hand at times. Against Minnesota on this third-and-short, McFadden gets picked up and washed down the line of scrimmage, but he showed an excellent adjustment by spinning outside to position himself in the previously vacant gap. It’s minor adaptations mid-play like the one above that can win teams’ football games.

Here’s a play from the Outback Bowl at the end of the 2020 season; McFadden flows laterally before a cut-back lane develops. He does an excellent job filling and making a great tackle before the first down. In the tackle box, McFadden is an exceptional tackler with a physical temperament, especially with he’s square to the target.

McFadden’s quick trigger is an excellent trait that is on full display above. He sees the double team on the defensive lineman and he shoots the moving A-gap; McFadden generally does a very good job reading and reacting to gap movements post-snap when he is aggressive.

Outside run defense - the good

[linebacker, left of screen]

McFadden does a good job - when he’s not tasked to blitz - keeping the construct and integrity of a defense in order. Iowa runs a pin-pull concept to the field where there’s plenty of space. McFadden reads the play and aggressively attacks the inside shoulder of the wide receiver, which turns the receiver up-field. McFadden then continues through and eliminates the play-side guard to occupy two blockers. It might not look like much, but this is an intelligent and physical play that doesn’t appear on the stat sheet. He gets outside through contact, takes two blockers out of the play, and he boxes the running back inside towards pursuit defenders. It’s still a solid run, but there’s a point in this play (the one-second mark) where it’s two Indiana defenders (one is McFadden) and six Iowa blockers. McFadden did well to remove threats and force the running back inside.

[linebacker, right of screen]

Desmond Ridder (9) is reading the EMOLOS (10) on the zone-read. McFadden watched as the H-Back from the backside is lead-blocking to the front side after the snap. McFadden pursues the outside - the field side, and Ridder is forced to cut his run inside, where he gains a yard. It won’t show up on the stat sheet, but McFadden positively influenced the Hoosier defense just because he knew where to be.

[linebacker, bottom of screen]

Ohio State was McFadden’s worst game, which we will see some of later, but he makes a good open-field tackle here. The line is blocked down towards the boundary, leaving a lot of space to the field. McFadden steps squarely to the line of scrimmage and just gets enough of the running back’s shoe to make the tackle.

[linebacker, bottom of screen]

Here’s a very impressive play from the backside against Michigan in 2020. McFadden shows excellent eye discipline to see the backside H-Back move to the field side while two blockers climb on the play side. McFadden works over the top of the block against the WILL, which creates a pick against the offensive lineman attempting to locate him, and then McFadden explodes downhill in front of the H-Back to make the tackle on the designed quarterback run.

McFadden sees the H-Back slide, and he stays square while seeing through the trash and focusing on the running back. The hole opens up in front of him, and the edge defender does a solid job bouncing the running back outside, while McFadden keeps his chest clean with a great stack-and-shed. He dives and makes the ankle tackle for a loss.

Run defense - the bad

I want to start by showing the fine readers of Big Blue View a good play. As we saw on the previous play, McFadden CAN stack -and-sshed moving laterally, and he showed the ability to do so in the tackle box below.

[linebacker, bottom of screen]

McFadden showed patience and saw the offensive lineman climb. Watch how he sinks his backside with excellent bend in his knees and shoots his hands into the blocker’s chest while quickly tossing him aside to present himself in the hole. McFadden shows the ability to stack-and-shed and keep his chest clean with good leverage, but it’s not something he consistently does; he’s patient, but sometimes too patient, and it appears he gets tunnel vision viewing the mesh-point/running back, which left him vulnerable and often late to engage blockers.

[linebacker, top of screen]

McFadden is late to engage the climbing blocker and goes in with his shoulder, which forces his head downward and allows Snoop Connor (24) to run right past him at the second level.

McFadden reads the mesh point as the hole opens up in front of him. He’s the only player in the box, which could be one reason why he’s a bit hesitant. He steps towards the hole before a Western Kentucky offensive lineman climbs. McFadden is late to shoot his hands, and he gets engulfed by the block.

Here’s another play where he is the only player in the box; it doesn’t help that the double team blew the 3-technique off the line of scrimmage, but McFadden has a safety to the field, and he sits back and waits. It’s a tough position, and I appreciate McFadden forcing the running back to think; however, McFadden isn’t paying attention to the lineman that ends up in his lap. He doesn’t engage his hands and gets pushed back a bit to allow Western Kentucky to pick up the first down.

[linebacker, top of screen]

McFadden reads the counter run and the dropped snap and attempts to flow outside but loses gap integrity as Ohio State’s offensive lineman climbs and seals him away from his responsibility. Nicholas Petit-Frere (78) was able to locate McFadden’s outside shoulder and shove him away from the play.

[linebacker, bottom of screen]

McFadden gets roughed up on this play as he attempts to penetrate downhill against Ohio State. His size was never an issue until I watched the Ohio State game; it was also noticeable against Michigan in 2021.

[“linebacker,” top of screen]

Ohio State runs the boundary counter from the pistol with the backside guard and H-Back pulling with McFadden to the field. McFadden doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong in this play, but we see how he gets bullied out of the play by the lineman while moving laterally.

This is a good play to the boundary by McFadden; he makes the low tackle for a loss after fighting through contact - excellent! However, I noticed that McFadden’s angles into contact are a bit shallow. Several times throughout his film, he attempted to make tackles - and sometimes he did- but they were always low and to the backside of the running back. The troublesome part of that was his propensity to miss these tackles against better athletes when those athletes had space outside to the field.

McFadden is generally a solid tackler, but he had a missed tackle rate of 19.2% throughout college, with a 16.3% missed tackle rate in 2021. Many of the missed tackles were him running laterally into space and taking an angle that allowed ball carriers to out-pace him. He ranked 21st in missed tackle percentage out of FBS linebackers who were draft-eligible and played at least 50% of their defense’s snaps.

I think he has solid overall range, but solid isn’t great relative to better athletes in space if you’re not optimizing your pursuit angle. He could have made several of those tackles if he didn’t flatten his angle so much; he’s a solid athlete, but he has to do better with those angles in space; his angles in the box and while blitzing are excellent, so angle judgment isn’t deficient throughout his game.

Here’s a small instance, albeit he’s coming from the backside. It’s not the biggest issue in the world, but something worth noting.

Pressure

I’m most excited about McFadden’s ability to generate pressure within Martindale’s scheme. Indiana used McFadden in various ways, and applying pressure was one of his most dangerous methods to impact the game.

McFadden’s quick trigger was used to wreak havoc at the snap on the inside. He also rushed the passer from the edge, was a critical part of Indiana’s twist game as the hammer and the looper, and his ability to split double teams with low leverage and active hands was a great asset. Here’s a bunch of clips of McFadden applying pressure:

I’ve stated that McFadden was the “consolation prize” to Leo Chenal, the Wisconsin Badgers linebacker New York passed on twice in the third round. Chenal is a bit more dynamic in the box as a run defender with more pressure upside, but McFadden profiles well as a pressuring linebacker. McFadden also may be a bit more fluid in coverage when dropping backward.

Coverage

I wanted to include this grainy clip because we see McFadden change direction a few different times, looking fluid when dropping into zone. He stays low, and doesn’t appear to be stiff, and then plants his foot in the ground to go and tackle the evading quarterback.

McFadden was tasked to cover 272 times in 2021. He wasn’t asked to carry athletic tight ends vertically up the seam too often, but he was sufficient in man coverage in short to intermediate areas. He’s spatially aware in those areas of the field while in zone and understands offensive route concepts and how to bait quarterbacks in the quick game. He plays physically through the catch point - which he showed against Idaho with his inside hand - and he uses good eye discipline and timing to react to the quarterback.

In the fourth quarter against Michigan State, he worked underneath a flea-flicker dig route and almost came away with an interception. He also violently caused an incomplete pass against Western Kentucky on a quick hitch.

[linebacker, left of screen]

McFadden shows excellent range on this play, covering the running back out of the backfield in man coverage. The throw is a little bit behind, but McFadden is right on the hip of the back to make the tackle.

McFadden shows fluidity and athletic ability to flip his hips and get vertical to work underneath CJ Stroud’s (7) pass. Still, McFadden’s angle was too far outside, and the throw by Stroud led Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) inside. McFadden can’t adjust to the pass, but I appreciate how he was able to get vertical enough to force Stroud to place the ball perfectly.

McFadden is an intelligent football player, and plays like this one aren’t anomalies on tape. He does a good job putting himself in advantageous positions to succeed and keep his defense in manageable situations.

Final thoughts

McFadden possesses a high football IQ and can align all over the second-level, and at dgee in passing situations. He was a passionate leader for Indiana. He’s an excellent tackler with great vision in-between the tackles; his patience works against him in the box and he wasn’t consistent with his stack-and-shed - it appeared he had tunnel vision reading into the backfield and was a tick slow to prepare for climbing contact at the second level. If he can’t correct this, he may be better off stacked behind big defensive linemen (Dexter Lawrence, Justin Ellis, etc.) to help keep himself clean.

Several linebackers I studied through this process - some were unanimous dDay 2 players - had no interest in taking on contact in the tackle box. They would always evade; McFadden can evade, but he doesn’t always have to. He has the physicality and the tape to suggest he can stack, shed, and replace. McFadden just has to be more consistent with engaging blockers and using that technique while reacting just a bit quicker once the linemen climb.

McFadden has solid range to get outside and works well through trash, but his angles of pursuit can improve; he takes shallow angles that make his tackling attempts more difficult. He’s a solid tackler overall with pop and good technique, he just needs to close width more consistently.

McFadden is an excellent penetrator who is a good athlete coming downhill with a low profile to bend and avoid blockers while packing a heavy punch and stopping power. He is dangerous blitzing downhill, on twists (penetrator/looper), and plays with elite competitive toughness and solid hands to shed - relentlessness.

McFadden can drop into short-intermediate zones and his processing helps him diagnose quick game route concepts in a hasty manner. He plays through the catch point with good disruptiveness, and showed the ability to flip his hips when dropping into coverage.

Overall, McFadden may find his way onto the football field for a solid chunk of snaps early in Year 1. Blake Martinez can be an excellent mentor for McFadden and they can both coexist and play interchangeably on the field. Tae Crowder struggled the last two years with positioning, reading his keys, and knowing when/how to leverage his gap. McFadden was good at that in college, despite some issues with late engagement on climbing linebackers - hopefully, he can maintain his processing while fixing some of the issues with engaging linemen a bit late. I like the player and the selection.