I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 26th-ranked player: cornerback Robert McClain.
To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.
Total Score: 50/100
Last year’s rank: 21
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 7 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 30 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +4
Unlike other players that fell in this year’s rankings, it’s probably fair to say McClain’s drop from a year ago has a lot to do with his play in 2013. As one of the pleasant surprises from 2012, McClain fell back to Earth last season.
But despite this, McClain will still be counted upon to be the team’s nickel cornerback. However, now he will face stiff competition from Josh Wilson and Javier Arenas, free-agent pickups this offseason.
McClain has an edge in the competition simply because he’s a more known commodity to this coaching staff. He’s also a more effective corner when it comes to matchups against size and is probably the team’s best corner in run support. That latter ability is important for a nickel cornerback since he functionally replaces a linebacker on the field, making a team playing nickel a bit more vulnerable against the run.
Also despite a disappointing 2013, McClain also showcased his versatility particularly on special teams. After Harry Douglas was removed from punt returns and Robert Alford botched his first fielded return, McClain emerged as a breath of fresh air. He averaged 10.2 yards on 19 returns, a mark on par with the likes of Eric Weems and Tim Dwight from Falcons history.
Even if McClain loses the nickel job this summer, it’s still very likely that he’ll make the team given his versatility. Thus far in Atlanta, whatever the coaching staff has asked McClain to do: cover, tackle, play special teams, etc., he has done so with some gusto.
Those are the types of players that carve out long careers in the pros, even if they are considered nothing more than role players.
But obviously McClain hopes to be a little more year. Last year, there were dreams that he, Alford and Desmond Trufant could be solidified as the team’s long-term trio of corners. Those dreams are still alive, but they need to be reinvigorated by better play from McClain in 2014. Given that this season will also be a contract year for him suggests the odds are good that he will rebound.