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NFL draft preview: Boise State's McClellin best fit for Packers in first round

Apr. 25, 2012
 

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Packers draft preview: Defense: Mike Vandermause talks with draft guru Pete Dougherty about the 2012 NFL draft and the Green Bay Packers' needs on defense.
While Shea McClellin is the type of player that typically appeals to Green Bay Packers GM Ted Thompson, the Boise State product's concussion history has raised red flags with some NFL teams. / File/Getty Images

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Last year with the final pick in the first round of the NFL draft Ted Thompson passed on an outside pass rusher, Brooks Reed, who had Green Bay Packers written all over him.

Reed had a strong rookie season (six sacks) as a 3-4 outside linebacker and was among the players who helped the Houston Texans weather the season-ending loss of their best defensive player, outside linebacker Mario Williams, and still make the playoffs.

Late in this year’s first round, there’s another player at that critical playmaking position who appears even more tailor-made for defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme: Shea McClellin of Boise State.

With the Packers desperate for pass rushers after finishing last in the NFL last season in sacks percentage, Thompson might very well consider McClellin the best fit among the defensive players available when the general manager picks Thursday night at No. 28 overall. Assuming the Packers have cleared McClellin medically after he sustained at least two and possibly three concussions in college, the guess here and around much of the NFL is Thompson will take him.

With the way teams study each other, it’s no secret in the league that McClellin is the type of complete outside linebacker who appears to appeal to Thompson. McClellin isn’t viewed by most teams as a great athlete, but he’s regarded as a good one with blue-chip intangibles.

“(McClellin) is a perfect fit for Ted Thompson,” an NFL scout said late this week. “He can play any number of positions; he can play down, up, you can play him anywhere. He can be a rusher, a standup guy, he can play inside (linebacker). He’s a great fit if you want to play him on the other side (of outside linebacker Clay Matthews) or if you want to shift Matthews around.”

The Packers could be looking at several outside linebackers and defensive linemen worth considering selecting at No. 28 — that’s one of the strengths of this draft in the later part of the first round. Among them are Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw, Southern Cal’s Nick Perry and Clemson’s Andre Branch at outside linebacker, and Penn State’s Devon Still at defensive end.

If any or all are on the board at No. 28, McClellin looks like the best bet.

But if Thompson is as high on McClellin as some in the league think, there are two possible road blocks to the Packers selecting him: his concussion history and another team taking him shortly before their turn.

The NFL Network reported this week that McClellin sustained three concussions in college. McClellin denied the report and told the Idaho Statesman he’d had two, one last season and one in 2009, that he characterized as “1½” concussions in his career. He also said he didn’t have any after changing to a different helmet design for the final four games last year.

Teams have flagged McClellin as a medical risk, which means they’ve studied whether he sustained the concussions on blows that would suggest he’s especially susceptible to injury. Sources from three teams this week said their teams were concerned but had cleared him medically, and there were no signs late this week that McClellin’s stock was slipping.

“Especially with how they’re treating concussions now,” one scout said, “the mandatory time off and baseline testing and everything, you have to cover all the bases. If people still have him high on their boards, they do a pretty good job checking it out and feel good about where he is.”

There’s also the possibility that another team will select McClellin ahead of the Packers, with New England the most likely at the pick just ahead of them, No. 27. Patriots coach Bill Belichick also covets versatile defenders for his hybrid 3-4 and 4-3 scheme.

If Thompson likes McClellin enough, he appears to have the ammunition to trade a spot ahead of Belichick just to make sure. According to the standard NFL draft trade chart, there’s a 40-point difference between the No. 28 pick (660 points) and Houston’s pick at No. 26 (700 points). That’s the equivalent of the No. 130 pick, which is early in the fifth round, not counting compensatory picks.

The Packers’ fourth-rounder is No. 123, which is worth 49 points and might be enough to get Houston to flip-flop first-rounders. Thompson generally has been averse to trading extra picks to move up in the draft, but he’s done it three times in his seven previous drafts, and this year he has 12 picks, including two fourth-round compensatory selections shortly after No. 123. Teams can’t trade compensatory picks, but those fourth-rounders (Nos. 132 and 133) might make Thompson feel better about sacrificing his regular fourth rounder for a player he especially likes.

“If it’s a guy (Thompson) covets and that could be integral to what they like to run, I could see him do it,” said a scout who knows Thompson and has observed him from afar. “He likes to do the opposite and accumulate more picks. But if it’s a guy they have a role for and everybody’s on board, the head coach likes the guy, the coordinator likes the guy, yeah, I think he’d do it.”

New England also has two first-round picks, Nos. 27 and 31 overall, and Belichick has a history of moving up and down in the draft. There’s no telling where he’ll end up. Among the possibilities is packaging those two picks to move close to the top 10 for a player he especially wants.

There’s a good argument that if Thompson had drafted Reed last year, he would have helped his defense (No. 32 in yards allowed) substantially. In comparing McClellin to Reed, who went 10 picks after the Packers’ first-rounder last season, there are more than superficial similarities, though all three scouts asked late this week said they consider McClellin the better 3-4 prospect.

Reed played primarily defensive end in college and at the NFL scouting combine was 6-feet-2½, 263 pounds, ran the 40 in 4.65 seconds, and had a 30½-inch vertical. McClellin, who lined up all over the front seven and played far more than Reed in coverage, measured 6-3 3/8, 260 pounds, ran the 40 in a nearly identical 4.66 seconds and had a 31 ½-inch vertical. Their 10-yard splits in the 40 were nearly identical also (1.54 seconds for Reed, 1.56 seconds for McClellin).

The major difference was upper-body strength, where Reed did 30 bench reps of 225 pounds to McClellin’s 19.

On the field, both became starters in their sophomore season. Reed had 16½ sacks in his final three years, McClellin 19½.

Last season with Houston, Reed wasn’t a game changer, but he started the final 11 games and finished tied for seventh among rookies in sacks with six.

“I thought McClellin was a much better overall player (coming out),” another scout said. “Brooks Reed was a guy that you put his hand on the ground and let him rush. That kind of guy, rush, rush, rush, rush, rush. Gets up field and then occasionally makes a sack. The Boise kid, I think he’s a much better player.”

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