When I was trying to figure out which defensive lineman I wanted to write about after Solomon Thomas, I went back to our trusty SB Nation Super Mock Draft Compilation something or other. Missouri’s Charles Harris was the next-highest projected pick, but Draft Breakdown only had like three games posted for him. So I moved on to Malik McDowell. Then I looked up and, low and behold, an edge rusher had leap frogged my guy Derek Barnett in the latest mock draft compilation.
The new guy was Takkarist McKinley.
So of course I was excited to check McKinley's tape out. Hell, if he is going before Barnett, I figured he must be a beast outchea.
And then I got into his tape, and I was very, very ... confused. Through four games, I saw a few flashes of first-round potential, but nothing all that special.
Then I got to that fifth game, and everything started to make a little sense. Against Utah, statistically, McKinley had one hell of a day. Three sacks, three hurries, two tackles for losses, and two other tackles: I mean, it doesn't get much better than that. That's some hellafied production.
That being the case, maybe had I watched the Utah game first instead of last during my first viewing, I'd have a more positive opinion of him when watching the other four games, which might have then colored my perception a little more on the positive side.
But even with the Utah game — which I made sure to watch first on my second time through, when I took notes — once you get past the numbers, his performance isn't quite as impressive.
His first sack was more the product of Utah's linemen busting their assignments, rather than McKinley beating anybody.
The second sack, the one where he also caused a fumble? Totally legit. I didn't see much of this from him in the other four games, but that takes nothing away from the fact that he beat a guy with his speed and made a huge play.
Third sack, however, might as well have had a big bow on it. McKinley just avoided a shitty cut block attempt, came in basically unmolested, and tackled a QB who held the ball a mite too long.
You can't put an asterisk beside sacks, but context is key. I might be a little jaded by the fact that McDowell, whose breakdown I just finished, didn't have nearly the amount of opportunities to rush an offensive tackle one-on-one as McKinley did, and thus didn't have the sack numbers. However, I don't think there is any question that McDowell will be the better edge rusher in the NFL, barring injury.
Hell, those three hurries against Utah?
The second, he was unblocked against a run/pass option.
The third, he looped inside and came scot free.
But when McKinley actually had to win a one-on-one?
Yeah, he only won one out of 12 against Utah.
Oh, and he got pancaked something fierce.
Keep in mind that this was by far his most productive game as a pass rusher. He only had two sacks in the other four games combined, and he had more tackles for loss against the Utes than in any other game in his college career.
But see, I already kinda knew he wasn't the type to actually beat a lineman on a regular basis with a good move, because I started with the Arizona State game. And in the Arizona State game, I would say McKinley was pretty meh.
Whether you are talking about his stat sheet that game (zero sacks, two hurries, one tackle for loss, three other tackles) or the tape (only won one out of seven one-on-one opportunities), McKinley didn't make much of an impact.
Oh, and he caught the business again.
Even though he got a sack against Stanford, McKinley's tape against the Cardinal was largely more of the same.
In addition to the sack, he had one hurry, after initially being stuck on the block, and a tackle for a loss where he got good penetration as a five technique.
But as a pass rusher?
McKinley saw 15 one-on-one opportunities against Stanford.
He won two.
And, yes, he ended up on his back again, too.
Now look, I don't want to come off as mean, because I don't think you have to be a dick, even when you aren't high on a player. I'm just going to say McKinley's tape against Colorado didn't do a lot for me either.
Yes, he did have a sack.
It came when he was spying the quarterback and ran him down when he tried to scramble. Didn't have to beat any blocks.
He also had three hurries that game.
First was legit on a bull rush. I like that he pushed the blocker into the quarterback's arm's path to help force the incompletion.
The second hurry, however, came after McKinley had once again lost containment on the quarterback.
And hey man, great showing off those wheels to recover and track the quarterback down! I have no doubt that it is McKinley's speed (4.6 at the combine) that has him racing up draft boards in the first place.
I, however, tend to prefer guys who beat the lineman without letting the QB break containment most of the time.
The third hurry was from McKinley again beating a cut block.
Beating cut blocks isn't easy. I'm just saying it would be nice to see McKinley beating linemen more.
He also had a tackle for loss, four other tackles, and three missed tackles against Colorado.
Also got pancaked again.
He also only won three out of 11 one-on-one opportunities.
Do you sense a pattern?
Now the fourth game I watched, against Cal, was unique in that McKinley made a shit ton of tackles. By my count, he had a tackle for a loss.
As well as seven (!) other tackles.
On the other hand, McKinley had no sacks. And while he did have four hurries, one was on a stunt inside that he won (not technically a pass rush however) ...
... an actual clean win (unicorn for him) on Cal's left tackle on a rip move ...
But at least he didn't get pancaked, amirite?
And McKinley did win three out of seven one-on-one opportunities against Cal.
And that's fine, but where was this in the other games?
By my count, McKinley only won 12 out of 52 one-on-one opportunities in five of his biggest games. Derek Barnett might have had that many in one of the five games I watched for his breakdown.
Now, maybe I'd be a little higher on McKinley if he was bigger than 6'2, 250. The fact that he has long arms is a positive, but it is not going to replace the lack of height and anchor he has, especially when he is also deficient in technique. Like, Khalil Mack was of a similar size and athleticism, but his pass rushing technique and McKinley's are on totally different planets.
That isn't to say that, with some good coaching, McKinley can't get better. I suspect he will. But his lack of size and poor pass rush technique as an edge rusher mean he is going to be more of a project, and I am not sure how many GMs are going to wait after they take him in the first round.
There is, of course, the possibility that a team drafts McKinley as an off-the-ball linebacker. After all, UCLA lined him up as a middle linebacker several times to blitz ...
... as well as walking him out on the slot to blitz.
McKinley has the blitzing part down, so maybe, at his size, he can figure out the rest about linebacker. Or maybe a team values him as a guy who can do a little of both.
I don't evaluate true linebackers, so I can't really tell you if he is a first-round talent there, but I will say that I don't see him as a first-round talent as an edge rusher. I do think his athleticism gives him some room to grow and get better. But I doubt he is going to hit a growth spurt and get any taller, and guys who show up to the combine weighing 250, knowing teams are looking at them as edge rushers, generally have a hard time gaining a whole lot of weight.
Sup, Vic Beasley!
Sup, Randy Gregory!
On a positive note, he played the run pretty well, but nobody drafts a 6’2, 250-pound run-stopping edge rusher in the first round (at least not on purpose).
Anyway, I sincerely hope that this came across as just an honest critique of Takkarist McKinley's projection as an NFL edge rusher, rather than mean. If I wasn't successful at walking that fine line, I apologize to him. I don't see him as a first-round talent, but plenty of guys go second day or later and do great things. No matter where he is drafted, I wish McKinley all the best.
Since I don't have access to all-22 film for college games, I use the next best thing for my NFL draft profiles and go to draftbreakdown.com, where they have the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects already cut up and ready to go. Also, their site is compatible with the noHuddle app, which turns your cell phone into a cowboy clicker.
For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley against Stanford, Arizona State, Utah, and Cal. Those represented the fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth, and 12th games on UCLA's schedule last season.