Today Steve Shoup and I decided to sit down and discuss our thoughts on USC safety T.J. McDonald. Being from USC, he's naturally a big name guy, but what is he all about and how well would he fit with the Washington Redskins.
UK: So Steve, T.J. McDonald has been a guy linked to the Redskins in the second round of a lot of mock drafts, but I'll be honest, I just dont see it with him. As a free safety, you're main priority is to be the last line of defense and for me McDonald makes too many risky decisions in coverage. One play in particular stood out where the quarterback rolled to his left under pressure, McDonald was playing single high but came down to cover an intermediate route while he left a guy wide open in the end zone. Had the quarterback not paniced, it would have been an easy touchdown. What do you see in him?
Steve: I do feel that McDonald would be a great pick-up for the Redskins in either the 2nd or 3rd round. I do feel he can be a free safety in this league, and in the Redskins system that means an ability to play both up in the box and as that single high safety. In the box McDonald is pretty advanced with both his run defense and his blitzing ability, as well as short area coverage. The real question is as you said when he's back deep, this is where his decision making has come into question. It is a fair question as he's been streaky in this area, but I do feel he has some natural coverage ability. In man he rarely gets beat or allows for separation, and in zone he's got really good closing speed. That might not fully answer the question about his ability to diagnose a play, but it leaves me with enough confidence that he can learn. What really sold me on McDonald was his play Senior Bowl week, where he consistently showed better instincts and was complimented by the coaching staff.
UK: He's certainly athletic enough to play free safety, his size and fluidity is tough to fault. His athleticism might even be able to bail him out sometimes when he makes an incorrect decision. But when I've watch him on film, I noticed he can be lazy at times, perhaps because of his athleticism. On more than one occasion I saw him jog rather than sprint to the ball and at times he appears to go for the big hit because its easier to throw your entire body at someone than try to wrap them up. I've seen him miss those big hits a couple times. You were at the Senior Bowl, did anyone you talked to have any of these kinds of concerns?
Steve: I did talk to a few people at the Senior Bowl who had those same concerns, and in fact I was in that group heading into the week. What I saw down there though impressed me. He showed an ability to go 1-on-1 with just about every receiver and tight end. And while he gave up some catches, he would typically force the quarterback to be perfect in his throw, which is the most you can really ask from a safety on a play-by-play basis. In 7-on-7 drills and full scrimmage he looked much better in his zone coverage responsibilities. Another thing that really impressed me was the angles he'd take to the ball or ball carrier, which were exactly what you'd want from him. Though it is just one week, the fact that he showed that well at all the little things sold him to me as a potential Redskin.
UK: So to wrap this up then, where do you see him going right now? I have him as a late third, early fourth kind of guy. I like his athleticism and his range, but his decision making concerns me as the last line of defense; especially when you consider the Redskins play a lot of single high safety. I agree he had a solid Senior Bowl, but ultimately his performances for USC during the season leave me enough doubt to pass on him until the last third at the earliest.
Steve: Right now I see him as an early 3rd round value, but could see him moving either up or down. He could work his way into the 2nd round with a strong combine/pro day (something I'd expect given his athletic ability) and his name recognition. Or he could slide to the later part of the 3rd round given the concerns that you mentioned, and the fear that he will be Taylor Mays 2.0. From a Redskins perspective a lot will depend on how the board plays out. If he's there in the 2nd I feel he can be a viable pick, though perhaps not the best pick. If he's still there at the end of the 3rd then I feel he's a great pick-up for Washington.
Thanks to Steve to helping me out on this one. Check out his other draft content over at FanSpeak. Let us know your thoughts on T.J. McDonald and if you want the Redskins to draft him in the comments below.