LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The scouting staff of the Chicago Bears looked beyond measureable attributes in the build-up to new general manager Phil Emery making the first draft selection of his tenure with the club.
In taking Boise State defensive end Shea McClellin, the Bears did what too many teams around the league don’t do. They didn’t overthink it.
They relied on the production they saw on the field from burning through copious amounts of McClellin’s game tapes from Boise State, and private workouts with defensive line coach Mike Phair. Not bench-press reps, 40-yard dash times, or Bod Pod testing.
At least that’s the impression Emery gave in explaining the team’s decision to use the 19th pick on McClellin, who -- despite a history of playing multiple positions -- will start off playing left defensive end for the Bears.
The Bears chose McClellin despite the availability of several big-name prospects that were viewed from the outside as more appealing.
“If there’s one area that stands out for me as an evaluator in evaluating Shea -- myself and our coaches and scouts -- is his high level of football instincts. This is a very natural player,” Emery said. “He plays with a very low pad level. He finds the ball quickly, through blocks, which is a skill in itself. He reads pressure well. He can feel where the ball’s going. He has a very natural ability to find the right path to the ball off blocks, and make tackles as quick as possible.”
Notice how none of what Emery said had to do with 40 times, bench-press reps or anything else that’s measureable?
At Boise State, McClellin started 38 games, posting 130 tackles and 20.5 sacks over four seasons. As for measureable attributes, McClellin ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times.
“This whole journey has been great,” McClellin said. “I came from a small town, but I really consider myself a big-city guy. I don’t think it’s much of a hard transition, really. I knew in Chicago, I’d be getting after the quarterback, rushing the passer a lot. I think I can [make an impact as a rookie]. They believe in me. It’s gonna be a great opportunity to play there.”
Emery admitted that many teams “got into him late” for a few reasons.
At the Senior Bowl, McClellin played SAM linebacker, where he wasn’t asked to flash his prowess as a pass rusher. In fact, when Chicago’s scouts returned from that all-star game, all they could find on tape from the week of practice was one snap featuring McClellin in a pass-rushing drill.
Emery said McClellin’s week of playing linebacker at the Senior Bowl “was kind of good for us because not as many people saw him as a rusher.” Before becoming the GM in Chicago, Emery had already done plenty of work scouting McClellin as a potential outside linebacker in Kansas City’s 3-4 defense.
“He was one of the more attractive outside linebackers,” Emery said. “His normal starting role at Boise was as a Mike backer, and he would come down and rush on third downs and sub package situations. There’s a lot of versatility to this player. He’s a good natural athlete. We’re very excited about Shea in terms of his all-downs ability. This is an all-downs football player, including special teams. This is a four-down player.”
In fact, Emery said the club’s scouting staff gave McClellin its highest grade as a special teamer.
When the Bears made their choice, Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus remained available, along with Syracuse’s Chandler Jones, two players widely considered to be better prospects than McClellin, who grew up on a farm in Caldwell, Idaho, where he also excelled in baseball and basketball.
Mercilus and Jones project in the NFL as classic 4-3 defensive ends. McClellin (6-3, 260 pounds), meanwhile, is somewhat of a tweener, who was projected by many teams around the league as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
“He showed some natural things that the other [defensive ends] did not show us to as high a level: his ability to bend, his pad level, [his ability] to get from blocker to ball and close the gap as quick as possible through a combination of instincts and quickness,” Emery said.
The GM took the explanation deeper.
“Say an offensive tackle was trying to reach to my outside,” Emery said. “He instantly has a feel for feeling that block, getting his body in the right leverage position and working off that block to the ball; taking as natural and as quick a path from blocker to ball as possible. Some people possess that at a high level. Some don’t. They get stuck on blocks.”
What’s apparent here, though, is the Bears didn’t get stuck on big names and measureable physical skills. By doing that, the club may have uncovered a gem. Time will tell.