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Cameron McGrone draft scouting report

Cameron Goes Beserk

"I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I'm going to take a stand." Cameron, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Michigan LB, Cam McGrone, has the highest ceiling of any of the LBs I've profiled so far. My comp for him is Deion Jones of the Falcons. Which is just another way of saying that if he could reach his potential, McGrone could be one of the best LBs in the NFL. The downside is that he's very raw. The word "raw" gets overused in the draft. We're talking about college players, so many of the prospects are going to be projects. In this case, it is well deserved. There are plays in McGrone's games where I'm not sure he has any idea what he's doing on the field. His awareness and technique are almost completely absent.

McGrone has had a Jekyll and Hyde college career. In 2019, he broke out with a very high 14.4% of his tackles going for loss, 9.5 TFLs, and 4 sacks in only 10 games started. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network called him a star in the making. The 2020 season was an entirely different story. Partly due to being hampered by injury, McGrone was graded poorly by PFF, ranking 227th out of 375 LBs in FBS college football. He went from being a dynamic playmaker to being invisible with a bunch of negative plays. He only had 2 TFLs and half a sack. Is McGrone an ascending talent who is the next great NFL linebacker or did that sophomore slump expose the substantial flaws in his game? McGrone could be a very polarizing prospect in war rooms during the draft.

Mel Kiper called McGrone one of the most underrated prospects in the draft. He has McGrone ranked as the 6th best ILB, with a 3rd to 4th round projection. Tony Pauline also has McGrone as the 6th ranked ILB, and a 3rd round grade as the 81st overall prospect.

ESPN not ranked (I don't know why. Maybe they haven't updated their board.)

CBSSports 118th overall (4th round)

PFF 123rd overall (4th round), 12th LB.

The Rams hold the 57th and 88th draft slots, late in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. If the Rams were interested in McGrone, how early would be too early to target him in the draft?

Background

Listed at 6'1'' tall and 236 pounds.

Redshirt Sophomore. Turns 21 years old in June. General Studies.

Was 4 or 5 star recruit. One ranking had him as the best OLB recruit in the nation. ESPN had him as the 9th best OLB. Good student in HS.

2019: 66 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks (10 starts). Michigan only played 6 games in 2020 and he had 5 starts.

15 career starts, 92 tackles, 52 solo, zero INTs, 1 career PD, 11.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 12.5% TFL rate.

McGrone was not a starter to begin 2019. He only became the starter in the 4th game of the season when Josh Ross got injured.

His left hand was in a cast in the first game of the 2020 season. In the second game, he appeared to have a concussion on a helmet to helmet collision with a blocker on a screen pass and left the game in the 2nd quarter. The doctors didn't let him return. In the first half of the 5th game, he suffered a lower body injury, assumed to be an ankle injury and was carted off the field. He missed the rest of the game and didn't play in the final game of the season.

McGrone tore his ACL in October of 2016, his junior season in high school. The summer after his injury, McGrone ran 4.67 sec in the 40 at a Nike football camp.

At Michigan, McGrone appears to be faster than that 40 time. I'd estimate his speed to be around 4.5 seconds. Don Brown, the former DC for Michigan, said that if Devin Bush (4.43 sec at the Combine) and McGrone were to race each other, he'd predict that Bush would only be slightly faster.

Strengths

Super Athletic

Very fast. Agile, changes direction very well. Accelerates like a red Ferrari.

Tremendous pursuit range. Sideline to sideline speed. Very good recovery speed sometimes makes up for his lack of technique, size and positioning. Scrapes laterally quickly when not locked up. Wins races to the edge against RBs.

Bursts into pocket as blitzer with reckless abandon. A threat to even the most elusive NFL QBs with the speed at which he can close on the QB. Barely missed sack, zooming in as B gap blitzer.

Can hit crease between offensive linemen with speed to attack LOS and penetrate into the backfield.

Hits speed button when CB falls down on pass completion to help chase down WR.

Crazy fast as backside pursuit on run plays. Runs down LOS from opposite side to track down RBs. Pounces on RBs like a lion.

Can jump up in air and deflect pass at LOS.

Disruptive, Blows up Plays

Explosive ability to make stops that would be impossible for lesser talented players. Lined up in C gap outside of RT. RG pulls to the left on counter run. The LB runs between the C and LG and behind the pulling RG, swivels his hips to adjust to the RB, then drags the RB down to limit the play to a 2 yard gain. Highlight reel.

Knifes through the line and tackles the RB. Zone run to right. Crashes in from back between TE and LT, runs down the RB from behind and makes tackle.

Goes by RG, redirects in tight quarters like a slalom skier and tackles RB.

Dips under FB, reaches out and wraps up RB to bring him down.

He is 4 yards off the LOS on a blitz. Goes through B gap, dodges a block by the RB, then snakes back towards the QB for the sack. Based on the game clock, I estimate that he covered 14 yards of ground (avoiding the RB in the middle) in approximately 2.5 seconds. When Devin Bush ran 4.43 sec in the 40 at the Combine, his 20 yard split time was 2.58 seconds running in a straight line with a sprinter stance start in underwear and no pads.

Good tackling form. Shoots through a gap in the line and eats up the RB for a TFL. Kept clean by DL, stuffs RB on hole.

Pass Coverage

Instincts to read QB and cut underneath slant route, hunting for an INT on 3rd down.

TE crosses his face and cuts inside. He flips his hips quickly and does a decent job recovering, avoiding getting completely left behind by the TE.

Flips hips after play action fake and quickly gains depth in zone coverage.

As zone defender, very agile. Flips hips and turns his body to stay with receivers in space. Looks like Olympic short track speed skater as he moves around field.

Ran fast staying with RB, running in an arc.

Plenty of speed to carry TE straight down the seam, run with WR on shallow crosser or fly out to get to RBs in the flat. Ran with shallow cross WR, zero separation.

Ran fast enough to carry slot WR down the middle of the field.

Good recognition and speed to cover intermediate route on bootleg pass.

Sometimes lined up out wide on RBs.

One play, was S in some type of inverted zone coverage.

Covered RB out wide on deep fade. On 26 yard pass, he was about a yard behind at catch against RB who ran 4.54 sec in the 40 in high school.

Fiery and Feisty Play Demeanor

Don't know if this is a pro or con. One game, he was really pumped up. Trash talking on field. Yapping at RB after making tackle. Animated and vocal after plays.

Loves to hit things. When kept clean and he reads and aggressively fills the hole, delivers nice, strong sticks on RBs to stop them cold.

Hits FB in the hole on block, encounter was a draw. Another defender pushes the FB to the ground. McGrone steps over the head of the FB in a taunting manner.

Leveled WR blocker. Knocks LG on his rear end on run play, then turns around and tells LG about it after the play.

Physically took on Tristan Wirfs on run block and won rep.

Good effort in pursuit. Ran nearly 40 yards down the field to make tackle.

Shows some potential to take on blocks better. Attacked RG with outside arm, got under him, beat block and tackled RB for short gain. Bench presses lineman at 2nd level and shed the block well.

Special teams experience. Could be outstanding ST player due to speed, agility, aggression and tackling ability.

A young prospect. A team could give him a "redshirt" season to sit and learn and he'd still be younger next year than other players in this draft. McGrone is over 3 years younger than Chazz Surratt. He's 2 years younger than Dylan Moses and Jabril Cox.

Weaknesses

I feel like his reputation is built more on the "splash plays" on his hightlight reel than how he performs on a consistent basis. His best plays are exciting, but he's not a reliable player.

Question Marks about Football Character

One thing I don't like about McGrone is he said in an interview that he wasn't a sports fan growing up and didn't start watching football until he was about 14 or 15 years old. He tore his ACL in the middle of the season when he was 16. He's currently 20 years old. This might be why he is so raw. Not only does he have relatively limited experience starting games in college, he hasn't even been watching the game as a fan for very long.

How much does McGrone even love football? Is he driven to work at his craft and be great? Or would he be satisfied with just being in the NFL and making money?

Has a low key personality in interviews. He says that he's not a vocal leader and prefers to lead by example. That's fine if your actions set a good example. Very hard from the outside to tell whether he is a good leader or not. Michigan had 7 captains in 2020 and he wasn't one of them.

When David Long was at Michigan, they were one of the top defenses in the country. In 2020, Michigan suddenly collapsed, ranking very low in yards per play and in scoring defense. The DC got fired. Late in one of the games when they were getting run over, the opponent was driving for yet another TD in the 4th quarter. It looked to me like McGrone stopped playing hard. Earlier in the game, he had been trash talking and acting tough. At the end, his tail was between his legs and he's getting pushed around. I don't like that. If you say you are going to lead by example, then go do it.

Block shedding and Technique

Average taking on and shedding blocks. Doesn't use proper technique. Gets caught too upright and square, getting pushed to the side.

Gets stuck on blocks. Late to the hole when delayed by blocks he should be able to defeat faster or avoid.

Too much of a finesse player in box. Needs to be more physical and have better play strength. He has a tough guy attitude, but his technique and lack of size don't allow him to consistently back up his bravado.

Gets overpowered, knocked off balance and pushed around in box by linemen. Sitting duck, lacking feel and plan for how to attack or shed the block.

Clumsy taking on some blocks, attacks with wrong shoulder or pads too high. They get the advantage and push him out of his gap. Gets pushed to the side or driven backwards.

Running diagonally against outside zone run. Has advantage against climbing blocker and should be able to beat it with either burst of speed or by using his hands to shed. Instead, he slows down and momentarily gets caught up on the block. This causes a distortion in the defense, with him not being tighter to the 2 defenders on either side of him, opening up a lane that potentially could have been exploited by the RB.

No pass rush moves. Generally, he just runs fast into the blocker. Can't use his hands to get by them. Runs into LT or easily gets pushed wide by LT and his blitz stalls. No power or moves to rush from the inside at the LOS. Sacks come just from pure speed, typically when not blocked. RB appeared to make mental blunder on one sack and didn't block him. Might be good for DC who can scheme him free or bring overload blitzes, but not so dangerous if the offense has him accounted for in the protection call and the RB doesn't stink at pass blocking.

Footwork not disciplined moving laterally. RB cut back and LB's feet were too close together, not able to push off and drive in direction of RB. McGrone turns his hips and shoulders perpendicular to line and "runs in place" with a short step to get going towards RB.

Average Play Strength

Struggles to hold up at the point of attack and maintain his gap.

Little impact in short yardage situations, almost a liability. Lacks play strength and size. Light in the pants. Narrow, linear build.

Short 3rd down. Pads too high, stance upright and weak, can't offer much resistance taking on the block or preventing forward progress.

3rd&1, taking on FB in hole, the FB gets lower than him, overpowers him and knocks him backwards. Pushed back 2 yards, making the first down conversion easy for the RB. Tossed to side like rag doll on 4th&1 play.

Run blitz and has open diagonal lane to RB on short yardage run due to well designed call by DC. He hesitates instead of immediately firing into gap. This prevents him from hitting the RB with sufficient velocity and force and the RB picks up the first down.

Doesn't anticipate TE block and gets blasted when he's caught by surprise.

Jonah Jackson of Ohio State got the better of him and pushed him around.

Bows out of some physical challenges. Needed to take on LT block with strength to hold ground and shrink running lane so that other LB could make tackle. Takes the finesse way out and tries to step around the LT, getting pushed to the side, making the gap bigger for the RB.

Awareness and Decision Making

Multiple plays appears to be in the wrong gap or doesn't understand the run fit.

Shift in formation by offense and he doesn't adjust his key, getting surprised by TE block. Nearly led to huge play.

Takes on wrong shoulder of FB, fails to force RB to unblocked safety. Results in huge gain. No technique against pulling OT, gets engulfed by block.

RB motions out of the backfield and splits all the way to the outside. McGrone appears to be completely befuddled and confused as to how he's supposed to respond. He doesn't know whether to stay in the box or follow the RB. The RB is just a decoy. It is a bubble screen to the WR. After the snap, the screen is happening directly in front of McGrone, but he's not even looking at it, he's running fast out to the RB, thinking he's needs to get out there. Very lucky this doesn't result in a huge gain.

WR goes in motion, the CBs communicate to hand off the coverage. This causes a change in the gap assignments for the LBs as the defense shifts. The other LB adjusts and moves to the side. It looks to me like McGrone is confused and isn't on the same page as everyone else. He's standing in the same gap as the other LB. This creates a problem right in the middle of the defense.

Takes on wrong shoulder of blocker, wrong leverage in gap. This leads to him getting thrown back by the G into the lap of a different LB, when McGrone should have been forcing the RB towards that unblocked LB. It also messes up the angle for the S coming up in run support, who now has to veer the other way instead of where he thought the RB would be heading. Ends up being a big run.

Loses sight of the ball, gets faked out by misdirection plays. Late finding ball with eyes. Literally ran away from QB who had ball in his hands. Misplays option run, vacating his area and running towards the RB instead of allowing the OLB to force the QB into his gap.

After play fakes, sometimes double covers receivers for no reason or leaves a receiver he should continue to cover. It is 4th and goal. Initial reads for QB are covered and he begins to move outside of pocket at the 13 yard line. The RB who was chip blocking is standing near the GL, in front of McGrone. The LB leaves the RB and runs towards the QB. This makes zero sense. The RB is now all by himself and goes into the end zone, wide open. It should be an easy TD, but the pass by the QB is too high. McGrone nearly converted a sure 4th down stop into a gift wrapped TD for the offense.

Multiple plays, appears to cover wrong receiver after play action run fakes. One play, he runs after the RB, who is covered by a different defender, leaving the TE wide open.

Receiver in his area of the zone. LB doesn't cover the receiver, his focus entirely on the QB. Simple dump off pass by QB to the wide open WR goes for a TD.

It is 3rd &3. The offense is running a pick play where the TE picks off the CB on a shallow crossing route to free up the WR. McGrone doesn't notice this happening. He runs completely in the wrong direction and collides with the CB. Like he's a 2nd TE playing for the offense, setting a 2nd pick for the WR.

Late reacting to play action fake, not able to drop into his spot in zone quickly enough. This distorts the zone coverage, because he's out of position in relation to the other defenders next to him in pass coverage. There is a big window of space vacated right in the middle of the zone that any receiver could run into and catch an easy pass from the QB. Got manipulated out of position on other play action fakes.

Counter run with RT and RG pulling towards the left. LB gets distracted by ghost motion by WR and steps in the wrong direction. This puts him out of position and helps make the LT's block easier. The hole is so big you could drive a semi-trailer truck through it.

Steps in the wrong direction on counter run when QB shows the ball early, late reacting back the other way.

Outside zone run, LB tries to backdoor it, but not fast enough to get to RB. Hopelessly out of position and since there is now nobody to meet the RB in the hole, it becomes a nearly 20 yard run.

Takes some poor angles to the ball, even when he has plenty of time to prepare. Overly aggressive and overruns tackles. One time he goes sliding to the side like a baseball player at home plate, barely making contact with the RB. Gives up first down.

Folded up like a lawn chair when hit by a RB, because he doesn't attack the runner with powerful body positioning.

Inconsistent anticipating hole. Sometimes does it well. Other times, doesn't feel it developing and is late, taking weak angle, causing him to weakly catch the RB or drag down the RB without much power, surrendering extra yardage. Took himself out of play by running into wrong hole, ends up behind the RB.

Lacks patience. Stepped forward too far, sucked up in wrong hole, not anticipating that RB would cut different way. Should anticipate cutback when he sees DL get moved, but late to react.

Not reading keys, late reacting to WR screen.

Justin Fields steps out of bounds in red zone, which would have led to 3rd&9, but LB hits him way out of bounds, the penalty resulting in an automatic first down. Completely unnecessary and silly.

One game, multiple snaps he seemed to be confused where to line up. One play, 2 different defenders were pointing and telling him where to stand and who to cover. Another play, TE is in slot and he doesn't know if he's supposed to line up over TE or be somewhere else.

3rd &15. Plenty of yards to work with. Properly reads RB screen. He tries to blow up the play instead of being more conservative to give the other defenders time to rally to the ball. He attempts to split the blockers but misses the RB, who runs for 20 yards and gains the first down. Not good decision for that situation.

Lacks Coverage Experience

Few man pass coverage snaps. Ball skills unknown, because never saw him with opportunity to make many plays on the ball in pass coverage.

Got smoked on a whip route, losing his balance. In trouble against Texas route when he fell for fake by RB.

3rd&10. Shallow cross by WR. He has yards to work with, no reason to be overly aggressive and get out of position. He tries to reroute the WR and misses, ending up a step behind. The WR catches a short pass, then runs for the first down.

3rd&14. Another long 3rd down. Poor awareness to rub route. Trying to cover RB, he slams into the WR, leaving the RB wide open. Almost 30 yard gain.

Footwork is poor getting depth in zone coverage when facing the QB.

Injury history involving different parts of his body. Is he injury prone? I don't know anything about the status of the leg injury that ended his 2020 season or where he's currently at physically.

Pro Comparison and Grade

Deion Jones (2nd round Falcons 2016, LSU.) 3rd round grade.

McGrone has the athletic skills to be an elite NFL linebacker. He can cover, running with even pretty fast RBs and WRs. He is very fast as a blitzer. He has decent size, length and striking ability to be very good against the run. He has the potential to be a 3 down ILB who never leaves the field and excels at everything. It is very difficult to find a well rounded LB like that in the NFL. When it is all said and done, Cameron McGrone could end up being the best LB in this draft class, maybe better than the 1st round prospects.

Will McGrone ever realize that high ceiling? We're talking about a prospect who was a "bad" linebacker at the college level last season. He has to make a huge jump just to be a solid NFL starter. Yes, he had some injuries last year, but many NFL linebackers also have to play through injuries. Plus, some of the mistakes he made happened when he was healthy or had nothing to do with his injuries.

If you like one of the other highly rated LB prospects, McGrone is a player to watch. If he leapfrogs them and gets selected early, it could push one of the others down in the draft.

Jones measured 6'1'' tall and 222 pounds at the Combine. He's currently listed at 227. He ran 4.59 sec in the 40, then improved that time at his Pro Day to 4.39 seconds.

I think that Jones was a better prospect coming out of LSU compared to McGrone. It is important to note, however, that when Jones was the same age as McGrone, he had yet to become a starter at LSU. McGrone's rookie season in the NFL is going to be the counterpart to the year that Deion Jones emerged in college.