Summary: With the emphasis on the passing game, running backs and middle linebackers have been downgraded in the NFL Draft, and it now takes a rare athlete to go in the first round as an inside linebacker. This year, McKinney could be that exception as he is a versatile athlete who can do everything a team asks of its inside linebackers.
For the Bulldogs, McKinney was the leader of a really tough defense in 2014. He had 71 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and four passes broken up on the year. After redshirting in 2011, McKinney made a splash in 2012 and was named a First-Team Freshman All-American by numerous media outlets. He recorded 102 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and four passes broken up that season. The sophomore had 70 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2013.
In speaking with NFL teams, there is a lot they love about McKinney, namely his pass coverage. He is tall, long and fast, and uses that combination to be a real weapon in the middle of the field. McKinney does well operating in zone converge and has the skill set to eventually be an inside linebacker who handles tight ends in one-on-one man coverage. Teams love to have linebackers like that because it frees up the safeties to provide double coverage elsewhere, plus it takes away a mismatch that offensive coordinators love to exploit. Not only is McKinney projected to being good in pass coverage, but he also is a talented at rushing the quarterback. McKinney has speed off the edge along with surprising strength and physicality. One of his sacks came against Cedric Ogbuehi last year, one of the top offensive tackles in the nation, and that play was one of example that McKinney has some pass-rushing moves. He should be a good blitzer in the NFL.
As a run-defender, McKinney can get the job done, too. He is tough to take on and shed blocks. McKinney consistently shows the instincts to fire into the backfield and make a tackle while also being fast to cover sideline to sideline. He is built well and is physical in the tackle box. One question though regarding McKinney is why he didn't produce more in college. With his skill set, it seems that he should have produced bigger tackle totals.
In speaking with many NFL teams, they really like McKinney and believe he has the ability to be a three-down impact starter. McKinney left some teams unimpressed during his team interviews, so that could hurt him on draft day. In the 2015 NFL Draft, McKinney looks like a late first- or early second-round pick.
Player Comparison: Lawrence Timmons. McKinney's game reminds me of Timmons. They both are versatile athletes who can do everything asked of the position. Like McKinney, Timmons doesn't produce huge tackle totals, yet is a real weapon in pass coverage. In the NFL, I think McKinney will be a linebacker similar to Timmons.
NFL Matches: Houston, Arizona, Dallas, Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New Orleans
McKinney should go in the late first round or early second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The highest that McKinney could hope to go would be in the middle of the first round. Houston has a huge need at inside linebacker. Brian Cushing isn't the same after all of his injuries, and one of the Texans' biggest needs is for an inside linebacker. Taking him with the 16th pick would be a bad value, and the organization would probably prefer to move up in the second round for McKinney if he slips out of the first round.
The Cardinals wanted to improve their speed and athleticism at inside and outside linebacker this offseason. Arizona signed Sean Weatherspoon, but he's struggled to stay healthy, and McKinney could be too good for the team to pass up.
Dallas could consider some help at linebacker, and McKinney could be a fit as a Will (weakside) linebacker or Mike (middle) linebacker in Rod Marinelli's version of the Tampa 2.
Denver is another landing spot for McKinney in the late first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The Broncos need an improvement at middle linebacker after Nate Irving didn't work out. McKinney could play the middle for them.
In the NFC North, Green Bay would be a perfect fit. The Packers moved on from A.J. Hawk and have needed a linebacker like McKinney for years. He would be an immediate upgrade and could really thrive in Green Bay's defense.
The Colts have a screaming need at inside linebacker, and McKinney would be an immediate upgrade for them. D'Qwell Jackson turns 32 next September, and his play looked like it was slipping last season. Adding some young talent would make sense for Indianapolis.
New Orleans needs help at inside linebacker after letting Curtis Lofton and David Hawthrone leave. McKinney would be a great fit in the middle of Rob Ryan's defense and could be used in a variety of ways.