The Miami Dolphins may have found yet another diamond in the rough with linebacker Chris McCain, who signed with the Miami after he wasn't selected in the 2014 NFL Draft after declaring as a junior.
McCain, much like running back Damien Williams (who you all know by now is my favorite UDFA), didn't go undrafted due to his talent level. McCain entered the draft early after being kicked off the Cal football team halfway through his junior year for conduct detrimental to the team. Dolphins' management decided to take a chance on a few players with troubled pasts in undrafted free agency, which I find funny considering the emphasis on character in the locker room.
However, I do believe everyone deserves a second chance, and these players could be steals if they keep their heads on straight. It is also noteworthy how well Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey wrangled in talented undrafted free agents in his first year as a general manager.
McCain has Dion Jordan-like size (though much thinner at 6'6", 225 pounds) and has potential to turn into the linebacker that many people wanted Jordan to be converted to. McCain has good instincts and is very long, which, like Jordan, gives him an advantage that most linebackers don't have when covering tight ends.
McCain is very athletic, testing very well in drills that measure athleticism and explosion such as the 40 yard dash (4.67), broad jump (10'01") and 3-cone drill (7.04, better than all but eight running backs from the 2014 draft), and even covered the slot at times in his days at Cal. He finished his collegiate career with 90 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss (-50 yards), 5.0 sacks (-28 yards), one pass breakup, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 24 games played and 18 starts.
If McCain can consistently blanket tight ends in training camp then he will almost undoubtedly be able to unseat Jonathan Freeny as a back-up outside linebacker. Coverage from the linebackers is an area I am extremely concerned with. It was the main reason I so adamant about Miami drafting CJ Mosley in the weeks leading up to the draft. Despite the linebacker switch that puts Dannell Ellerbe in a more comfortable position, I predict that the Dolphins will still have trouble with scatbacks and tight ends this season.
McCain, who intercepted an attempted throw-away by QB Pat Devlin in training camp on Wednesday, could keep moving up the depth chart if he keeps excelling and the Dolphins feel the same way I do about the coverage abilities of their linebackers.
McCain needs to prove also that he can play special teams as he has almost zero shot of making the roster (unless he goes absolutely nuts throughout the rest of training camp) otherwise. Freeny is a staple on special teams so in order to take his spot McCain must be able to handle his duties effectively.
McCain, who has experience as an outside linebacker in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, as well as time as a 4-3 defensive end, has a nice wiggle to him to be able to slice through offensive lineman when blitzing and intriguing burst to be able to close and make a tackle when in pursuit.
McCain is a very thin and will benefit from filling out his frame. McCain only benched 225 (his own weight) ten times at his pro day. He will likely struggle to disengage from NFL offensive linemen until he bulks up. Even so, McCain plays very physically. McCain finishes on nearly every play and sometimes plays a little bit after the whistle, which resulted in him being ejected for targeting against Northwestern in 2013 and getting involved in a few on-field scuffles in his days at Cal.
This former Cal Golden Bear plays with above average instincts and recognition ability and displayed the discipline to be able to hold his extremely important outside lane against the read-option (instead of crashing down to tackle the running back before seeing who really has the ball, which results in a giant hole for the QB to run) when facing UCLA in 2012 and their dual-threat QB Brett Hundley, who's widely considered as one of the best QB prospects in college football.
Despite all these positive things I have laid out regarding McCain, he still has a ton of work to do in order to secure a roster spot. McCain needs to consistently play at a high level and play fast to impress coaches. As previously stated, his ability to contribute on special teams will be a huge factor to whether he makes the 53-man roster or not.
Other than that, McCain, like all rookies, must refine his technique, become more discipline and make big plays throughout camp and the preseason (a criteria he is already thriving in).
McCain will be one of the players I watch closely when I attend the Dolphins' team scrimmage on Saturday. Hopefully (and likely) by then, McCain will have gotten the call up to the second team defense so I will be able to gauge if he has been a playmaker due to his ability or if he has just been flashing against inferior talent.
If McCain can keep his priorities straight, he has a real opportunity to shock the fans in Miami and contribute to the Dolphins and earn playing time on one of the defense's weakest unit. He has a lot of work to do, but the talent and opportunity is there. It is up to McCain to now take advantage.