Video cut up of USC S T.J. McDonald against Stanford (2012) courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com
In finding fits for the Jaguars 4-3 defense that will be installed by new head coach Gus Bradley, much attention has been brought to the LEO position and the potential candidates in free agency, the draft and even the current Jaguars roster that could fill the spot. However, there are more nuances than that single role and among those other slots that are important are the safety positions.
While the safety position isn't considered by many to be a spot of weakness for the Jaguars, the depth behind Dwight Lowery and Dawan Landry is lacking, to say the least. One potential solution is USC Trojans safety T.J. McDonald.
|NFL Comparison||Kam Chancellor||Projection||Mid rounds|
In Eric Stoner's breakdown of Bradley's defense in Seattle, he provided a few pictures of some basic sets that were commonly used by the Seahawks. While the defensive line were the ones highlighted, the position of the safeties is also very worth noting.
At first glance it almost appears as though there is only one safety in the defense, Earl Thomas (#29), but on the opposite side of the LEO, there is Kam Chancellor (#31) playing as a box safety, which is to say a very shallow safety that acts almost as a fourth linebacker.
As can be seen in the video, McDonald played in a similar role during his senior season with the Trojans after previously serving in much more of a center-field role in years past. While he didn't earn the All-America nod that he did after his junior year, his tackle numbers shot up from 67 to 110 and he recorded 6.5 tackles for loss compared to 2.5 in 2011.
At 6-2, 211 pounds, McDonald has plenty of athleticism and has been compared to former USC safety Taylor Mays. While slightly smaller than Mays, and without the world-class speed, McDonald is a very intimidating figure in the secondary and is very athletic. And while Mays never turned into the player the San Francisco 49ers thought he could be, Tony Pauline of TFY Draft noted that some scouts are calling McDonald "a better version" of the Cincinnati Bengals safety.
McDonald has plenty of range and straight-line speed, with the ability to get to his fastest quickly, although his coverage is lacking. He can be hesitant at times and it often results in him not making much of an impact at all in a center-field role, as he is often late to get to where he needs to be and sometimes has the tendency to take a poor angle get there.
That's why I reject the notion that his best fit is as a free safety, as McDonald looked much more comfortable in the box during his senior year. While not overly strong, McDonald is relatively good at knifing through traffic and can be a very good weakside blitzer.
A physical, hard-hitter, McDonald is a good tackler, although he can be known from time-to-time to drop his shoulder and try and lay the big hit rather than wrap up soundly. Generally, though, he runs through ball-carriers and does a very good job staying square.
In coverage, McDonald isn't as great as you'd expect most safety prospects to be, but if he's being evaluated as almost a fourth linebacker-type of player, he is more than adept. He has the length and athleticism to cover tight ends and the speed to hang with most NFL receivers, although the smaller, shiftier receivers and backs could give him trouble.
If the Jaguars were to mirror the 2012 Seahawks defense in 2013, the current outlook would probably feature Landry filling Chancellor's role, while Lowery would play deep like Thomas. At 30 years old, though, finding an apt replacement at the safety position not named Chris Prosinski could be a priority for the Jaguars in the later rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Ranked as the No. 12 safety in SB Nation's rankings from Dan Kadar, it's certainly possible that McDonald could be available in the third day of the draft. That could be plenty late enough for the Jaguars to take a swing at a player with plenty of athleticism.