Atlanta Falcons: Robert McClain Has Shocked Fans, Seized His Opportunity
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McClain is a third-year player out of the University of Connecticut. His 5'9", 195-pound frame got him drafted in the seventh round as he was labeled a developmental prospect in the 2010 NFL draft. He worked hard and earned a spot on the Panthers for 2010, but was cut the following training camp.
Then he worked his way onto the Jaguars' 53-man roster but was inactive every game. In 2012, it looked like he was lining up for his last shot at a pro career when he came to camp for the Atlanta Falcons.
I had even written that it would be an uphill battle for him as he was the seventh of 10 cornerbacks on the roster. However, he earned his roster spot as the fifth corner and even forced the Falcons' hand in cutting Dominique Franks before the season.
Franks has since been re-signed, but it's easy to see why McClain has been kept. His contributions to the 2012 Falcons defense has been nothing short of amazing. And for the value of the contract he signed, he's been worth every penny.
He's the first true nickel the Falcons have had since Kevin Mathis
Though, to be fair, the Falcons didn't really have a pair of starting caliber corners from the 2007 to 2009 seasons either. However, since Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson proved to be great options as long-term starters in 2010, the Falcons have had stability on the outside.
The issue has been the nickelback. For the 2012 season, Thomas Dimitroff had a great idea to bring in Asante Samuel and have the Falcons run with three Pro Bowl-caliber corners in nickel packages. That plan failed when Brent Grimes got hurt with an Achilles injury in just the first game of the season.
So in order to replace Grimes, the Falcons had to try out Chris Owens, Dominique Franks and Robert McClain for the nickel role. After each one tried out in a game, the best by far of the three was Robert McClain. He won out with top-notch special teams play and good ball skills.
To top it all off, McClain has shown his worth as an effective blitzer and run defender from the slot. On just 14 rushes, he has created two quarterback disruptions—one hit and one pressure. And on 159 rushing snaps, he's had one tackle for loss and 15 tackles for no gain.
He's able to play both outside and inside
Not only can he play in the slot well, he showed that he was more than capable of playing the starting left corner role if need be. He did so in the second Carolina game for the Falcons this season, and allowed just 44 yards through the air against Steve Smith—18 of it on one play.
And that 18-yard catch has proven to be the longest one he has allowed all year either inside or outside. On 54 targets through 14 games this season, he has allowed 35 of them to be caught. However, opponents have only gained 263 yards against him.
The resulting 4.87 yards per target average and his 0.88 yards per coverage snap allowed both rank in the top five out of any cornerback in the NFL. His ability to produce so well no matter where he lines up has given the Falcons versatility and motivated the cornerbacks behind him to step up as well.
With McClain showing that he can cover anyone, stop the run and even blitz, it would be shocking to see the Falcons let him leave this offseason. And at 24 years old, there's no reason why he shouldn't be a Falcon for the next five years, which leads me to the next topic.
He gives the Falcons versatility with his contract situation
McClain is currently signed to an exclusive rights free agent tender of $540,000 according to sportrac.com. That's great news for the Falcons on multiple fronts. The first is they still have control of his rights for another year.
The second is that they don't have to break the bank to keep him as restricted free agent tenders top out around $3 million, and the Falcons could give him an offer that would lead to second-round compensation should another team snatch him away with a bigger, unmatched offer.
After that, it could get a bit sticky, but McClain has proven to be worth at least the second-round tender. His overall talent level has shown that he could be a steal for someone who knows how to use cornerbacks the way Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan can.
But ideally, the Falcons can sign the talented 24-year-old corner long term. He's got the talent on the field and the drive off the field to be a true building block for the Falcons long term. It's now up to Thomas Dimitroff to re-sign him.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.
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