One of the most anticipated Pro Days of 2017 took place on Thursday, March 23, when the latest draft-eligible athletes at The Ohio State University took to the field at Ohio Stadium for one last big workout in front of NFL scouts and coaches.
Among the youngsters who worked out was Raekwon McMillan, who Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBS Sports rank as the No. 2 inside linebacker prospect in the 2017 draft. “McMillan already shows NFL-caliber strength,” they said, “taking on and shedding opponents efficiently with active, powerful hands, lateral agility and balance. He is a powerful tackler, often stopping ballcarriers dead in their tracks. This is not to say that McMillan is simply an old-school battering ram. In fact, he shows impressive diagnosis skills to read the play, including the spatial awareness to “slip” blocks simply by taking efficient angles to the ball to beat blockers to the action.”
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com also talked up McMillan’s strength and aggressiveness. “There’s a lot to like about McMillan,” he wrote. “I love his size, instincts and physicality. He isn’t as twitched up as former teammate Darron Lee (a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets), but he has the tools to be a dominant run defender at inside linebacker. He reminds me a little of former Alabama LB Reggie Ragland, a second-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. Both guys were the quarterbacks of dominant college defenses.”
However, as Jeremiah said, McMillan doesn’t have Lee’s speed. In fact, there are those who question whether or not McMillan has the wheels to be an every-down starter at the NFL level. “I see him as a backup early on who will become a starter at SAM (strong-side) for a 4-3 team,” one NFC scout told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. “He’s been pretty productive but I don’t see anything special.”
McMillan has apparently heard the criticisms of his speed and coverage ability. Of course, as he told reporters at February’s NFL Scouting Combine (per Bill Landis of Cleveland.com) that doesn’t mean that he buys it.
“When I guarded (Penn State running back) Saquon Barkley on the wheel route,” McMillan said. “People were talking about my speed and how I’m not fast, how I can’t cover. If you look all year on his wheel routes, he caught three or four touchdowns on that same play. And I was able to defend it.”
The 6’2″, 240-pound McMillan, who had 102 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles for the Buckeyes in 2016, also assured teams in Indianapolis that they will be getting a potential defensive cornerstone if they select him.
“Everything we did on defense (at Ohio State) came through me,” he said. “I can do the same thing for their program. I’m never gonna give you a reason to let me go from the team, and I’ll always be a leader — never a follower.”
As an Ohio State fan (I was born and raised in Columbus, so it was either join or face deportation to somewhere awful like Michigan) I’ve probably seen more tape on McMillan than any young linebacker in this year’s class. Personally, I think the concerns about his speed are overblown — his plus instincts can more than compensate. He does have some issues with being stood up at the point of attack inside though, so it’s possible some 4-3 teams could view him as an outside linebacker.
I rather see McMillan as a larger Kwon Alexander-type. There are similarities between the two in both their strengths and weaknesses, and much like McMillan Zierlein called Alexander an “outside ‘backer with a chance to become a starter in a 4-3 defense,” back in 2015.
We all know how that turned out.
The lofty IDP heights Alexander has achieved in Tampa Bay would be McMillan’s ceiling, but it’s hard telling before the draft how long it could take him to get there. In a best-case scenario, where McMillan has a clear(ish) path to significant early playing time, McMillan could conceivably slot as an LB3 in redraft IDP leagues and the No. 2 overall rookie IDP behind Alabama’s Reuben Foster.
However, if McMillan finds himself on a crowded depth chart or headed for limited snaps as a rookie, his fantasy value will be limited to dynasty owners willing to wait until 2018 to cash in.