Taking a look at the long list of NFL hopefuls for the 2017 NFL Draft I came across a 6’2″, 240 pound linebacker by the name of Raekwon McMillan. Reason his name caught my eye was because Raekwon, AKA “The Chef”, a member of the Wu Tang Clan, is one of my favorite rappers.
Much like when I bought my first Chef album, I began to look at Raekwon’s discography. He put together a very impressive career at Ohio State. Over his 39 game career, he complied 275 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, six sacks, and a total of three turnovers forced and one fumble recovery.
His numbers don’t lie. He was able to produce in a complicated system, was coached by some of the best, and played in big games on the big stage. This should be of no surprise; he was a talent well before he even stepped onto campus. In fact, he was the nation’s top rated inside linebacker and high school’s Butkus Award Winner in 2013.
As a true freshman he played in all of OSU’s games, went on to lead the team in tackles his sophomore season, and was named a finalist for the Butkus Award. He carried momentum into his 2016 junior season, where McMillan, a co-captain, again led the Buckeyes in tackles.
Versus the Run
As I downloaded Raekwon’s Ohio State film and began to take a deeper look at his play I was as impressed.
Raekwon, in my opinion, is one of the best linebackers at the point of attack (POA) in this draft. He brings it all. On this play, he is near the line of scrimmage at a depth of three yards. He knows the entry point of the running back, but doesn’t attack ruthlessly. He does it with good technique and leverage. On the snap, the left guard widens the hole and then climbs to pick up Raekwon. Raekwon remains calm, sticks to his keys, and sifts to his right as the fullback leads through the C-gap. The guard climbs, but the McMillan leads with his very strong hands, getting his head to the outside shoulder, and simultaneously places his hands inside before the guard can gain leverage. With his lower body strength he is not only able to anchor down in the hole, but even drive the lineman back, controlling him with his hands. He sheds the block and makes the tackle.
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McMillan shows good mental processing ability. He is able to diagnose the type of run and how the offense is going to execute it. On the following play, the offense tries creating an extra gap with the fullback, who is in a three point stance in the backfield. Raekwon is responsible for the B gap, but on the snap the guard immediately takes a great angle, scooping to pick him up. McMillan needs to recognize his gap post snap, get his head playside, and fill that gap.
The guard did a good job of winning with angles, working his helmet playside to reach the backer.
McMillan leads with his hands, gets up under the lineman, and bench presses him while keeping leverage on both the running back and his assigned gap.
The strength and leverage Raekwon used forced the RB to hug the inside hip of that guard, and the pursuit makes the tackle.
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Regardless of what type of defense you play, whether a 3-4, 4-3, or hybrid front, you need linebackers who know how to leverage the ballcarrier and their gap assignment, as well as take the right angles, with the ability to stack and shed. Raekwon does all of these things really well, and he makes them look easy.
He is a physical player, not afraid of contact in the slightest. That is the mentality with which we want our inside backer to play. He knows a collision is coming, so he drops his pads and lays the hammer without ever giving any ground.
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McMillan is very effective in tight quarters. On this play, Oklahoma is trying to execute an inside zone run. The left tackle and left guard work the combo block on the DT, and the right guard scoops to the second level to pick up Raekwon, but he has already flowed over the top. The back has an opening, and the play could hit up inside, right at McMillan, but the defensive end crashes hard. This ‘spills’ the play wide.
Once that initial window closes and the back bounces it, the outside linebacker boxes the back in.
Raekwon smoothly slides laterally, keeping his hands active, then explodes into the back as he commits. He is, in my opinion, the best linebacker in this draft at diagnosing the entry point of the running back, filling and finishing the play.
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He is a very intelligent player, but he possesses average acceleration. This will cause issues at the next level. If the play is running at him, then he can use technique to bring the ballcarrier down. But if the play is a wide run or a run that bounces outside, then he struggles.
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Versus the Pass
He has decent top end speed, but he is not a twitchy athlete. He was not heavily relied upon to cover, as Ohio State’s secondary and outside linebackers carried most of that responsibility. McMillan was only targeted 14 times, allowed six receptions for 84 yards. Four of those passes were contested, one he deflected and ultimately only allowed four first downs through the air all season. Raekwon looks comfortable backpedaling while processing the crossing routes in front of him. But much like his run defense, his strong mental processing will be his M.O. at the next level.
On this play, he is responsible for one of the best tight ends in college football, Jake Butt. Butt executes a nice pivot route early in the 3rd quarter in McMillan’s zone, McMillan slightly overcommits, and Butt catches it and nets a good gain. Later in the 4th quarter, Michigan goes back to the well. Look at how McMillan stays home and doesn’t get out leveraged, then forces a contested catch. This kind of play projects well to the NFL.
His play speed, use of angles, and ball skills are on full display on this play versus Penn State. Due to the motion he becomes responsible for covering PSU running back Saquon Barkley. He has to work through traffic initially and close the gap.
But what is so remarkable about this play is not that he closes the gap. It’s his ability to stay calm and play the man, not the ball. He waits for Barkley to go up to high point the pass, jumps, and floats 5 yards, all while making a play on the ball, ultimately forcing the completion. That’s a special display of mental toughness.
He has a very well rounded skill set, one that can be utilized as a blitzing LB. He had a knack for finishing on secondary blitzes or pressures, like on this next play. It appears that he bites hard on the play action, but then realizes that the back actually stayed in to block, so he shoots the gap and attacks the quarterback. This could have been pure improvisation on his part, but it also could have been him green dogging it because of the back’s actions.
Nonetheless, the impressive part of this play is his presence of mind to attack the extension of the throwing arm of the QB. He knows that he isn’t going to get the sack, so as the QB starts his throwing motion he gets his left hand up and attacks the QB’s release point.
The QB is under duress and really needs to carry out the throwing motion to get some zip on it. McMillan restricts that motion and gets a piece of it, leading to the Malik Hooker pick six.
I really like what I’ve seen out of LB Raekwon McMillan. He processes blocking schemes and RB entry points very well. He displays powerful hands in conjunction with a strong lower body that allows him to get under OL’s pads, which leads to him to winning one-on-one match ups consistently. With that being said, I have seen some trouble disengaging while keeping leverage on zone runs or runs outside the tackle box.
As much I like his skill set, I am not sure where he would fit, considering the linebackers the Bills have and how first time head coach Sean McDermott will scheme things up. I believe that Reggie Ragland and/or Preston Brown will be manning the Mike and Will LB positions. Zach Brown would make a good Sam, a la Shaq Thompson, but he is not currently under contract. I think Raekwon has the strength, hands, and size to play the Sam LB position, but I don’t think he has the athleticism to cover tight ends consistently. The Sam in this defense has typically been a lighter, more athletic player.
I have Raekwon McMillan slated to be drafted somewhere in the mid second round.
Naturally, I was going to like Raekwon Mcmillan no matter what. Made it through half of the Michigan game and had to create something ? pic.twitter.com/lMUY8l6Ohx
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) February 10, 2017
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