Career Recap: McDonald made his presence felt in his first season as a starter in 2010. He led USC in tackles with 89, including three tackles for a loss, four passes broken up, three interceptions and a blocked punt. He was named an All-Pac-10 Second-Team selection. McDonald then had a solid junior year with 67 tackles with three interceptions, two passes broken up and a blocked kick. He had two interceptions against Arizona quarterback Nick Foles.
McDonald is a hard hitter and physical defender. He drew a half-game suspension for a hit during USC's triple overtime loss to Stanford. McDonald could have been a late first-round or second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but decided to return for his senior campaign.
2012 Season Outlook:
McDonald enters the 2012 season as one of the top safeties in college football. He is a leader on the USC defense. The Trojans lost a couple quality defensive linemen, but McDonald should have the supporting cast in place to keep him from having to do to much. It's worth noting, however, that former Trojans safety Taylor Mays lost a lot of good teammates and was exposed without those players next to him. That caused Mays to go from a first-rounder to the second day of the draft.
That shouldn't happen with McDonald in 2012. McDonald should be the best safety in the Pac-12 and teams will avoid him. That would impact his production, but McDonald should be able to accumulate totals similar to his 2011 campaign.
McDonald has a fantastic and versatile skill set. He has the speed to play free safety and cover a lot of ground in the deep part of the field. He does a good job of picking up receivers running deep and seldom ever gets beat in coverage. He also has good size and strength to play in the tackle box. He is a tough run defender that is adept at operating in the short part of the field.
McDonald looks like an ideal safety for the majority of NFL defenses that like their safeties to be interchangeable. McDonald has the speed to cover tight ends in man-to-man or run with receivers going deep. He also can play in the tackle box. His physical style of play will also appeal to many defensive coaches.
McDonald has received good preparation for the NFL at USC. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin uses him in a manner that will be identical for many pro defenses. McDonald also practices against a pro-style West Coast offense. Mentally, he is more advanced than most safeties entering the next level.
2013 Draft Expectations:
From a draft perspective, McDonald made a mistake returning for his senior season. The 2012 draft class was very weak at safety, and as a result, McDonald definitely would have been the second-rated safety after Alabama's Mark Barron. McDonald could stay in the same general range of the 2013 NFL Draft if he plays well, but he will have a lot more competition. There is a strong class of safeties combining seniors and juniors. As a result, it wouldn't be that surprising if some have big seasons and leap McDonald in the safety rankings. As long as he has a quality 2012 campaign and stays healthy, he should be a second-round pick at the very worst.