Robert McClain: The Atlanta Falcons’ definition of “sleeper”

By Gil Alcaraz IV
Robert McClain
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Many successful NFL careers don’t start as a first-round draft pick or a surprise minicamp stud who wins the starting job from Day 1. Instead, some begin with one team before bouncing around the league and landing with a franchise that finally sees the potential a player has.

That’s exactly the case for Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert McClain, who has flown under the radar for the majority of his three seasons in the NFL. If his 2012 performance was any precursor, though, McClain could be headed for a breakout season in 2013.

The first sign that McClain is slated to have a bigger role with the Falcons is their willingness to let Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes go this offseason. While Robinson turned out to be a disappointment, Atlanta wasn’t willing to overpay for Grimes, who was coming off of an Achilles tendon tear. They did address the position via the 2013 NFL Draft with the selections of Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, but there’s still plenty of room for McClain to contribute.

When McClain finally saw consistent snaps last season, they came as a slot cornerback. With the athleticism and speed to keep up with shifty slot receivers, the Falcons depended on McClain to lock down the No. 3 spot. He did just that.

While serving as the slot cornerback, McClain had 71 passes thrown his way. Of those 71 passes, 46 (or 64.8 percent) were caught. The impressive statistic, however, is that he only allowed 9.2 yards per reception and never gave up a touchdown. Considering some of the receivers he faced, that’s quite the accomplishment.

Despite starting the season as a backup and special teams player, McClain quickly found himself lined up against some of the best wide receivers that the league has to offer. Whether it was Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald, Victor Cruz or Calvin Johnson, the young cornerback found a way to win against the biggest names in the game. Heck, his first career interception came against Peyton Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

With a year of significant snaps under his belt, McClain should be well on his way to becoming a staple in the Atlanta secondary. He proved his worth as the Falcons’ slot cornerback in 2012, and should do more of the same in 2013.

Gil Alcaraz IV is a Content Planner/NFL Featured Columnist for Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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