A natural leader of the defense when he was on the field
The son of a former Ohio State captain, Mike McCray was born into Buckeye football. Despite being named Defensive Player of the Year and an Under Armour All-American high school player in Ohio, McCray wasn’t offered by Ohio State. Instead, he saw his best fit at rival Michigan. There, the fifth-year senior grew into a productive two-year starter on some of the best defenses in the country. McCray was named team captain this past year in 2017, after the 2016 defense had 8 players selected in the NFL Draft. Coached by legendary defensive coordinator Don Brown, McCray posted back-to-back seasons with 73+ tackles, 13.5+ tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
Reads Down/Down but with the outside rush McCray fills B gap inside of the puller. I love how he comes to balance right at the L.O.S, avoids the blocker and wraps the ball carrier. pic.twitter.com/kb5B8IMNRI— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) November 10, 2017
McCray has consistently gotten on his keys faster than other Michigan linebackers over the last two years. He reads the offense well and plays downhill, with the awareness of the line of scrimmage that you like to see out of stand-up linebackers. McCray comes downhill with speed and brings a good amount of power, and understands his run fits and gap exchanges. He has no wasted movements when coming downhill, and plays right at the line of scrimmage to not further open up running gaps. McCray does a great job of gathering his feet at the line of scrimmage and has the size to hold up in gaps. He gets lateral down the line of scrimmage when necessary and doesn’t lose ground or take beatable angles toward the sideline. His prowess as a downhill linebacker resulted in his 16 tackles for loss this past season. While he is more of a “traditional” linebacker instead of the sideline-to-sideline burners that are becoming increasingly popular, against heavier sets his sound run defense will be a distinct advantage.
Went back to look at why I liked Mike McCray as a prospect so much in the summer. Vs Ohio State (2016) film: Reads Down/Down, Taco squeezes into the B gap and McCray gap exchanges to the C. Patience makes the option read cloudy. pic.twitter.com/G4yFtpWYG1— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) November 10, 2017
McCray is adept as a blitzer, and has shown the ability to rush with decent bend and a dip-and-rip move. He isn’t the most flexible athlete, but he brings decent power and a high motor in a relentless pursuit of the quarterback. While he isn’t explosive or bendy enough to be an edge rusher, he is good enough as a blitzer from depth and can wrap around the edge at a decent pace. His downhill play style and motor could keep him on the field on third downs as part of a pressure package.
3rd and 6, 12:50 to play with his team up by 3. McCray comes on the blitz, dips and rips, gets lateral and wraps. Excellent play in a clutch moment. pic.twitter.com/RWZT0Ev350— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) November 10, 2017
While McCray isn’t a superior athlete to any running backs or tight ends, he is developing as a cover man. Man-to-man coverage isn’t a strong suit, but his motor usually keeps him trailing closely behind potential receivers. Against Penn State, McCray took some questionable angles in his pass drops, even getting burned by Saquon Barkley for some big plays. However, as the season progressed, McCray’s path became faster and deeper, and he did a good job of staying on top of receivers. In zone coverage, he is feverishly looking for crossers and does a pretty nice job reacting to them.
In man coverage, stays on top of his route to not get caught in the wash and protect the sticks. He breaks on the underneath route immediately on the throw and rallies to the ball carrier. pic.twitter.com/dbMIE4gGZv— NFL Clips (@NFLDraftVideos) December 7, 2017
McCray has sound mechanics while tackling in the box and in the open field. He isn’t going to fly in and take a runner’s head off, but his technique can be appreciated. McCray settles his feet at a good pace and distance from ball carriers, and continues to climb into the wrap. In the open field, he has consistently made multiple sound tackles on shiftier runners, including JT Barrett from Ohio State. He plays with proper pad level and leverage and, while he can occasionally slip off of tackles due to a lack of overwhelming play strength and speed, overall it is a strength of his game. McCray has good awareness when it comes to destroying blocks, attacking the blockers’ chestplate when necessary. However, longer lineman have given him trouble as far as getting off blocks goes. McCray has shown some good lateral agility on tape and a keen awareness of how to replace hips, which should translate to the next level as a tool for his block destruction toolbox.
After zone coverage drop, McCray plays with good leverage as JT Barrett scrambles, keeping his half man and forcing Barrett to stay inside towards the defensive pursuit. McCray is a sure tackler in the open field, again coming to balance before wrapping the ball carriers legs. pic.twitter.com/Z7XNzzav89— NFL Clips (@NFLDraftVideos) December 7, 2017
McCray has everything you could want in a player off of the field. He has the athletic pedigree with his dad being a former captain at Ohio State, and a proper career arc of being a high school All-American turned two-time Big 10 honoree. He studied Kinesiology at Michigan and was voted team captain by his peers. In Mobile, McCray was given the responsibility of calling the defense, identifying the offense’s strength, and making checks. He was also placed on all of the special teams, given high responsibility roles like being the contain player. His attitude throughout practices was infectious and his energy was high. He was the natural leader of the defense when he was on the field.
The little things that Mike McCray does during practice are infectious. Calls the defense, calls the strength, runs after the ball on incomplete passes, communicates with his teammates pre-snap.— Brad Kelly (@CoachBKelly) January 24, 2018
There's a spot on my team for him any day.
Grade: 3.6 Potential Starter in year 2, 4th-round pick
Interview: Highlights from an interview with Mike McCray during Senior Bowl week:
Can you speak on what it was like being named a captain in your final year at Michigan?
“That was one of the biggest awards of my life was being named Captain at Michigan because it was a player vote, for them to vote me as captain felt special.”
What was it like playing within Coach Brown’s system?
“Coach Brown’s defense is aggressive, downhill, and we don’t have to think a lot to make our reads which allows us to play fast.”
As far as staying sound and aware of the line of scrimmage, is that something you work on and recognize before every snap?
“In practice we work as a whole defense in playing at and being aware of the line of scrimmage, being sound and filling our gaps.”
As far as your pass rush and blitz ability, is that something you see as translatable for the next level?
“I’m looking forward to being around veterans who will be able to help me develop as a pass rusher and applying that to the field.”
What is it like to be able to call plays for the defense so far during Senior Bowl practices?
“I enjoy being able to call plays, control the huddle and give the whole defense their calls, and it’s something I feel comfortable doing.”