Rolando McClain of Alabama Expected to be First Linebacker Selected in 2010 NFL Draft
INDIANAPOLIS – Rolando McClain knows what he prefers.
McClain, a rarity in that he is a middle linebacker with a very real chance to be selected really, really early in the NFL Draft, said while he has played interior linebacker in both three-linemen, four-linebacker and four-linemen, three-linebacker schemes, he liked the former the best.
For McClain, that's not a bad thing.
Because not only is he the most coveted middle linebacker in the 2010 NFL Draft, more teams are playing 3-4 than in years past.
"I played the 4-3 in high school," McClain said during the NFL Scouting Combine, which was held at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis in late February.
"I played the 3-4 (in college) and it was a lot better than the 4-3."
McClain, who is widely projected to not only be the first middle linebacker, but possibly the first overall linebacker selected in the April 22-24 NFL Draft, is generally considered a Top 10-to-15 selection, with some projecting him as high as No. 10 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Few have him slipping past the New York Giants at No. 15.
And while few middle linebackers have been selected so high in recent NFL Drafts, McClain is a rare middle linebacker who projected as a core player in an era dominated by passing offenses and situational substitution.
That has led to the devaluation of the middle backer in recent seasons, but McClain has elevated in the eyes of many draft analysts dispute that trend.
He is a versatile, athletic player who has a history in college of not only playing well against the run, but playing on third downs, too. That's something he said he believes he can do professionally as well.
"Obviously, I can do it," McClain said. "I did it in college. I never came off the field. I guarded running backs, tight ends, slot receivers.
"Obviously, the guys in the NFL are a little bit better, but I know I can do it."
McClain (6-feet-4, 249 pounds), after moving into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2007, started 36 games in three seasons at Alabama, foregoing his senior season to enter this year's draft after helping the Crimson Tide win the 2009 National Championship.
"When I came into college, I had goals," he said. "I accomplished all of those goals and I led a team to a national championship and an undefeated season. What better way to go out?"
McClain, who registered 27 tackles for losses in his final two collegiate seasons, was an All-Southeastern Conference selection each of those seasons. He finished his career at Alabama with 275 tackles and 32.5 tackles for losses, earning consensus All-American honors as a junior.
He also was named the Butkus Award winner this past season, becoming the first Alabama player so honored since the late Derrick Thomas and crediting Alabama coach Nick Saban – who spent 2005 and 2006 as the head coach of the Dolphins – with his development.
"He's an NFL coach," McClain said. "He coached in the NFL. He knows what it takes to be great. I think me playing under Coach Saban kind of gave me an advantage, especially playing in his 3-4. His 3-4 is so complicated.
"He's one of the best defensive minds. I learned so much from him."
And with the NFL producing fewer superstar middle linebackers in recent seasons, McClain said he patterns himself after perhaps the position's biggest star of the last two decades.
"I love Ray Lewis," McClain said, referring to the Baltimore Ravens' perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker. "I like the way he plays the game. He's one of the best to ever play linebacker. Not just his play, but the way he's able to get the guys up. He's inspirational and he's a real leader. That's why I pride myself after him."
While only four true inside linebackers have been selected in the first round since 2000 – and while just 15 middle backers have been selected in the entire draft over the last two years – analysts believe McClain worthy of being a franchise-type selection. And while an interior linebacker – and particularly a middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme – often is asked to be the quarterback of the defense, McClain said that's something he likes about the position, and a role he wants in the NFL.
"I've been doing this since my freshman year," he said. "This is something I'm used to, I'm used to being the leader on defense as a (middle) linebacker, the quarterback of the defense. The things I've done in college will carry over to the pros. We kind of talked about some of those things. It's something I'm used to it's because I've been doing it for three years.
"I'm a leader. I had to lead seniors as a freshman. My biggest thing is wanting to win. So if I have to be a leader in order for us to win, that's what I'll do, no matter the circumstance."
BREAKING DOWN THE 2010 NFL DRAFT'S TOP MIDDLE LINEBACKERS
In an era in which middle linebackers are rarely selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, Rolando McClain of Alabama hardly could be more of a rarity. He not only is projected as the first middle linebacker to be selected in the 2010 NFL Draft, he likely will be the first linebacker and could be a Top 10 overall selection. After McClain, the 2010 middle linebacker class takes on a familiar feel, with Sean Lee of Penn State the only other player at the position considered a consensus second-round selection. In an era in which many starting backers are late-round selections of free-agent acquisitions – Colts MLB Gary Brackett went undrafted in 2003 – there are about 15 middle backers generally considered draft-worthy this year.
ON THE COLTS' ROSTER
Gary Brackett, eighth season, Rutgers.
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of 15 inside linebackers expected to be selected in the 2010 NFL Draft . . .
Pat Angerer, Iowa, 6-0, 235
Donald Butler, Washington, 6-1, 245
Reggie Carter, UCLA, 6-0, 238
Jamar Chaney, Mississippi State, 6-1, 242
Phillip Dillard, Nebraska, 6-0, 245
Travis Goethel, Arizona State, 6-3, 240
Josh Hull, Penn State, 6-3, 237
Micah Johnson, Kentucky, 6-2, 258
Boris Lee, Troy, 6-1, 238
Sean Lee, Penn State, 6-2, 236
Rolando McClain*, Alabama, 6-4, 249
Mike McLaughlin, Boston College, 6-0, 242
Darryl Sharpton, Miami, 6-0, 236
Brandon Spikes, Florida, 6-3, 249
Kion Wilson, South Florida, 6-1, 239
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.