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Takkarist McKinley’s shoulder injury didn’t stop him from standing out at UCLA's pro day

The pass rusher could be a first-round pick, but he doesn't care where the mock drafts have him going.

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NFL Combine - Day 5 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Takkarist McKinley met a lot of people at the UCLA pro day Tuesday, but most of the handshakes were awkward. With his right arm in a sling, the All-Pac-12 pass rusher had to turn his left hand upside down every time people walked up to introduce themselves.

And there were a lot of them.

With just over a month until the 2017 NFL draft begins, McKinley was in demand at the pro day — even if recent surgery meant he could only watch from the sideline. The operation repaired a torn labrum and will keep him out of action for the next four months, but NFL personnel and media still want to talk to the potential first-round pick.

“I still have visits set, but the biggest thing I’m worried about is my rehab and I’m hitting it hard,” McKinley said. “The doctor just cleared me to drive again only two weeks out of surgery so that’s a plus. Each day I’m getting better, and just sticking with the plan to get healthy.”

That plan should end with McKinley fully healthy and ready to participate in training camp at the end of summer. Where that will be is tough to tell.

In a survey of media mock drafts, McKinley is projected all over the first round, landing anywhere from No. 7 to the Los Angeles Chargers to No. 31 to the Atlanta Falcons. In the latest mock draft from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., McKinley is slated in the top 10 to the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I honestly don’t care where people got me,” McKinley said. “Mock drafts are mock drafts and at the end of the day it’s all about that one team that’ll pick me up and that’s all I’m worried about. They’re not the team that’s picking me. Who’s picking me is a team in the NFL, not mock draft analysts.”

But McKinley does pay attention to the media enough to take notice when presumptive No. 1 pick Myles Garrett asked the Dallas Cowboys to make a trade to draft him.

McKinley certainly isn’t lacking in confidence. While he was one of the top performers at his position at the NFL Combine in the 40-yard dash and broad jump, he feels he could’ve done more.

“I grade myself pretty high so there were a few things I wish I could’ve done better,” McKinley said. “But the combine is the combine. At the end of the day, it’s what you do between the lines and I feel like I’m the biggest playmaker in the class.”

On the field, McKinley blossomed from a junior college transfer who had seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss in his first two seasons at UCLA, to a nightmare off the edge with 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss as a senior in 2016. But the promise of even more is what makes McKinley intriguing.

“We take a lot of pride in sending guys out here that aren’t raw, but Takk — even with all the success he’s had — really just kinda started playing that position,” UCLA coach Jim L. Mora said. “So he’s still got good upside and I think that scouts and decision makers recognize that and love that about him.”

What may be especially impressive is McKinley’s production as a senior came despite the shoulder injury that required surgery earlier in March.

“Played with it my entire senior year, never knew anything was wrong with it,” McKinley told reporters at the NFL Combine. “One day my agent asked me, 'Is there anything wrong?' I said I got this little shoulder that sometimes bothers me. Got an MRI. Doctor was pretty much amazed that I played with it. Me, I just told my trainers at UCLA just tape me up, I'm ready to go.”

Even with the knowledge that he was days away from surgery, McKinley participated in all drills at the event, including putting up an impressive 24 reps on the bench press.

In the last month before the draft gets started, McKinley won’t be doing any more bench press. But he’s done more than enough for NFL teams to take notice, and it likely means his name will come off the board quickly in April.