Some thoughts on Rolando McClain and the Ravens

April 10, 2013|By Matt Vensel

The Ravens are interested in inside linebacker Rolando McClain, a former top-10 pick of the Oakland Raiders.

No deal is in place and no terms have been finalized -- my colleague Aaron Wilson says it would likely be a one-year deal -- so it’s hard to evaluate the potential signing from a cost standpoint, though I can’t imagine McClain being too pricy. Still, the potential deal would at least be a risky signing from a team image standpoint.

McClain allegedly threatened to kill a man and fired a gun next to his head during a fight two years ago. Raiders coach Dennis Allen also suspended him for two games last season for conduct detrimental to the team.

It is worth nothing that McClain, who was initially convicted of four misdemeanors in the alleged gun incident, had the charges dismissed during the appeal process. While there is a pattern of behavior here, I believe in second chances. Most importantly, so do the Ravens. And McClain claims he is a changed man now that he is married with children. Plus, he is just 23 years old, younger than 2012 Ravens rookies Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski.

Those off-the-field issues must be pointed out when talking about this potential signing, but the purpose of this post is not to dive into his past, but to evaluate the player the Ravens could be getting.

First things first, McClain is an Alabama guy, so general manager Ozzie Newsome has probably had his eye on McClain for a while now. The Ravens have a track record of acquiring defenders from Alabama, which employs a 3-4 defensive scheme. Newsome has recently spent second-round picks on nose tackle Terrence Cody and outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw.

Many of Alabama coach Nick Saban’s pupils have been productive at the professional level, but McClain is one of the few early-round picks that haven’t panned out. That being said, I’m not sure McClain is the complete bust that some are making him out to be.

Drafted eighth overall in 2010 and paid handsomely to play for one of the most dysfunctional organizations in the NFL -- Oakland can be called “the Black Hole” for multiple reasons -- McClain has not lived up to his draft status. But he has played 41 games and made 38 starts in the NFL before his 24th birthday. He ranked third on the Raiders in tackles as a rookie and second in 2011.

McClain also recorded five sacks during the 2011 season.

He played a career-low 11 games in 2012, recording a career-low 62 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.

So why then would the Ravens want to roll with Rolando, outside of their obvious need at inside linebacker?

As we know, the team struggled against the run at times last season, and Newsome said back in February that the Ravens needed to improve the middle of their defense. You know about the mass exodus that ensued, and that the Ravens filled needs at safety with Michael Huff and on the defensive line with Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. Those signings should help the Ravens improve against the run, and adding McClain to the mix would potentially help as well.

Pro Football Focus gave McClain positive grades against the run in each of his three NFL seasons. And for comparison sake, his plus-9.8 rating in that area in 2012 was better than its grades for Ray Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain, both individually and combined. He missed just three tackles. And PFF also says Rolando McClain made a tackle resulting in a defensive stop on 11.4 percent of running plays last season, which was eighth best among inside linebackers who played at least 25 percent of the their team’s defensive stats.

While the fact that he had five sacks in 2011 is intriguing, he struggled in pass coverage with the Raiders, who tried to use him sparingly in that regard. So it may be unlikely the Ravens would want to use him in their sub packages for passing situations, but that’s OK if they draft an inside linebacker with coverage capabilities.

The Ravens just need a two-down plugger to help them improve their run defense, and McClain fits the bill.

The deal is not done yet, though, and there is a chance it could fall through. But assuming the Ravens give him a short-term redemption deal -- and that McClain truly is a changed man -- it is a gamble worth taking.

If he can’t play, they can cut him. But if he finally plays to his potential here, he may feel inclined to stick around.

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