Written by Kip Earlywine
(Be sure to check out Rob’s review of Ronnell Lewis if you haven’t already.)
Seattle has been pretty up front about their goals this offseason. Namely, they want to improve the pass rush and add speed at linebacker. Two-thirds of Seattle’s linebacker corps are currently free agents who may not return. Seattle wants to “get faster” at linebacker after all, and it would be hard to do that starting the same trio as last year. This is where a player like Shea McClellin could be particularly intriguing to Seattle, but before I talk about him, I think its important to discuss Seattle’s options. Thankfully, there are many.
We are almost a full week into 2012′s NFL free agency period, and only one single high profile linebacker has signed with a team (Steven Tulloch), which was literally announced right as I began writing this. This speaks to just how greatly the NFL has devalued 4-3 linebackers. David Hawthorne, Leroy Hill, and Curtis Lofton are all still available as of this writing. Pete Carroll chimed in the other day with his own theory for the lack of earnest pursuit:
“There are close to 12 draftables with good grades which hurts vets looking for deals”
While things could still happen in free agency (with the Matt Flynn and Zach Miller signings being evidence that anything can happen at any time), you can’t help but wonder if Seattle isn’t planning to shun free agency and instead add not one but multiple linebackers in the draft. This may especially be true if Seattle signs Michael Bush, which would narrow down their draft priorities considerably.
Rob and I have highlighted a couple of obvious speedy linebacker options like Zach Brown and Mychal Kendricks. We’ll continue to dig through the draft and try to identify as many of Carroll’s twelve as we can over the next month or so. Today, I’ll start with a dark horse 4-3 linebacker candidate who’s versatility could be very interesting to Seattle: Boise State’s defensive end Shea McClellin.
McClellin starred at defensive end for Boise State, but many draft sites now list him as an outside linebacker. An explanation might be found in Rob Rang’s post senior bowl observations:
“McClellin accepted the invitation to the Senior Bowl, anticipating he would remain at [defensive end] but perhaps see some time at linebacker. Instead, he has worked almost exclusively at linebacker, taking virtually every snap Wednesday on the weak side and proving his versatility and draft grade are perhaps significantly underrated.
McClellin showed off his potential at his new position early on, demonstrating surprisingly quick feet and balance during bag drills. More important, he made some of the more impressive plays of the day during scrimmages.
Proving much more comfortable than expected considering his lack of experience at the position, McClellin showed good diagnosis skills, quickly attacking gaps in the running game. He took on blocks aggressively, using his long, strong arms to quickly disengage as well as the flexibility and awareness to keep his feet free from the mass of humanity surrounding him near the line of scrimmage. Though not allowed to take ball carriers to the ground during practice, McClellin closed quickly and wrapped up securely before releasing them to finish their runs.
As impressive as McClellin was defending the run, it was his surprising agility and awareness in coverage that caught some by surprise.”
McClellin’s natural ability at linebacker caught many by surprise, but further investigation reveals that maybe it shouldn’t have. Boise State was known to use McClellin in a versatile manner during his time there, and wouldn’t you know it, McClellin played linebacker in High School.
Its not every day you see a defensive end impress scouts as a weak side coverage linebacker. McClellin’s combine numbers further added to the intrigue. Rob Rang once again:
“[McClellin's] workout certainly showed off the straight-line speed (4.63) and change-of-direction skills (7.07 seconds in the three-cone drills) to handle this conversion. McClellin’s speed, in fact, would have ranked him fourth among the 29 linebackers tested at the Combine — and this is after measuring in at 6-3, 260 pounds.”
Having scouted him in a couple of games, I’m personally not the biggest fan of McClellin as a pure defensive end. He looked average in most ways but made up for it with a high motor and relentless pursuit. He was a great football player with questionable tools to star at defensive end at the next level- he reminded me a bit of Grant Wistrom. If drafted purely as a defensive end, I’d probably give him a 4th round grade.
But if McClellin’s Senior Bowl performance and Combine numbers are to believed, he’d be one of the fastest linebackers in the draft after Brown and Kendricks leave the board. He’d also have the versatility to lineup at defensive end of course. That could score McClellin bonus points for our front office, as they are looking for players that have versatility. Our defense could use the flexibility in game situations where defensive substitutions are impossible (hurry up offense, etc). We’ve already seen some evidence of this as Seattle signed Jason Jones for his ability to handle looks at both defensive tackle and defensive end. If Seattle could get a speedy linebacker who can put a hand in the dirt too, that would be close to a best case scenario, even moreso if for some reason Seattle does not select a pass rusher in round one.
I don’t know how Seattle grades the linebackers, but it would not completely shock me if they have McClellin even higher than a guy like Mychal Kendricks. Kedricks is a very good player with a ton of speed, but McClellin is bigger and faster than KJ Wright, looks natural at the WILL spot, and comes with impressive pass rush versatility. McClellin’s stock is rising, and he’s certainly worth keeping an eye on as the draft nears the 43rd pick. As one NFL scout said when talking to Rang: “Don’t write too much about the guy, we’ve been on him all year long and don’t want others jumping on him now.”