Ten years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers went into the NFL draft with the goal of bringing into the fold a dominant player in the defensive secondary. They traded up to the 16th pick, and they got their man with USC safety Troy Polamalu. And while I have been critical of Polamalu and his skills at this point, he’s been an excellent player for his career.
But all good things must come to an end, and this Steelers team is getting old in the secondary. So why not, ten years later return to USC for his replacement. Here’s my scouting snapshot of TJ McDonald, S USC.
TJ McDonald, S USC
-Ideal NFL size
-Excellent straight line speed
-Super athletic with great leaping and smooth hip turn
-Strong in coverage, both man and zone
-Brings it like a hammer in the run game
-Solid football resume’
-Can play FS and SS
-Smart football player w/high football IQ
-Doesn’t always use good technique
-Takes poor angles to the football
-Plays too aggressive at times and gets out of system
-Needs to make quicker reads and decisions
-Less quick than fast
McDonald is an impressive football player and I’ve really enjoyed watching him develop as a player the past 3 seasons. Other than the fact that he plays with too much aggression at times, and with too much hesitation at others, there’s very little not to like about what he can do on the field. He just needs to trust himself, and his team a little more so the flow of his game becomes more organic. A lot is asked of McDonald in that Trojan defense and he steps up to the challenge week after week. I expect him to be in the running for the top safety spot next April.
Steelers perspective-With both Polamalu and fellow starting safety Ryan Clark both showing their age, an upgrade is a must. McDonald is talented enough to play either safety spot, and do so at a high level. And if you look closely at McDonald’s scouting report, there are a lot of similarities between McDonald’s game and Polamalu’s in college.
How do they get him-Depending on how the season plays out, the Steelers could end up picking in the top 10 of the 2013 NFL draft. That’s probably too early for McDonald, but it would be a perfect situation for them to make a trade back or two and stockpile some picks before drafting him. This Steelers team needs to get younger and more athletic on defense, so why not do it through the draft? If they passed on McDonald in the first round, they would almost have to trade up in the 2nd if they didn’t want to miss out on him.