Shea McClellin working against another first-round draft pick, Vikings tackle Matt Kalil.
Phil Emery expects immediate impacts from his first-round draft picks.
The defensive end out of Boise State was drafted 19th overall by the Bears last season. He was expected to produce at a high level in the Bears' defensive line rotation, and he came through with two sacks through the first three weeks of play.
The rest of McClellin's year was plagued by injuries.
McClellin suffered a concussion in Week 10 and a knee injury in Week 14.
He finished the season with 14 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. McClellin did not record a sack after Week 7 against Detroit.
On a scale of Vernon Gholston to Aldon Smith, where does Shea McClellin’s rookie year rank?
While it is fair to characterize McClellin's first pro campaign as disappointing, he is far from a failure at this point in time. He showed the ability to impact a game in the first matchup against Green Bay.
Injuries derailed the latter part of his season, but he could bounce back as a sophomore.
What should the Bears realistically expect in 2013?
The easiest statistical comparison for McClellin would be to the last defensive end the Bears drafted in the first round (14th overall), Michael Haynes, in 2003. Haynes had 2.0 sacks his rookie season and was gone after three years. On Haynes’ trajectory, McClellin would match or decrease his output the next two years.
In reality, McClellin and Haynes are nothing alike. McClellin is 6’3”, 260, while Haynes was 6’4”, 283. McClellin is an athlete with a great motor, while Haynes was a larger end who overpowered linemen at Penn State. Haynes ran a 4.87 at the combine; McClellin ran a 4.63. Their bodies, skill sets and speeds are completely different.
Based on McClellin’s motor, it should not be hard for him to outperform his rookie season if healthy. He works hard and has plenty of athletic ability for the position.
Unfortunately, McClellin’s build and skill set make him better suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Kevin Seifert, an ESPN blogger, suggested that the Bears might convert McClellin to linebacker next season.
The Bears liked what they saw in McClellin, though, and drafted him as a 4-3 end nonetheless. If he stays a hand-on-the-ground pass rusher, he will continue to make strides.
Other defensive ends drafted in a similar range had significant jumps from their first to second year.
J.J. Watt, the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, added 15 sacks onto his rookie total.
Aldon Smith, Von Miller and Cameron Wake, all elite pass rushers, produced at least five more sacks in their second season.
Chris Long and Michael Johnson, who both had 11.5 sacks in 2012, did not break double digits until their fourth year.
There’s no need to write off Shea McClellin right now.
That being said, the concerns around McClellin are obvious. His production was low for a first-round pick, and injuries are a concern.
Emery told ESPN that “historically you need to get those first and second picks as starters.”
Low production and injuries are the primary ways first-round picks disappoint. Check both for McClellin.
As a 4-3 end, McClellin could benefit from adding weight. Added pounds, combined with more experience, could make his production jump. Playing with Julius Peppers and Henry Melton will help, too.
If McClellin continues to get hurt, however, expect to see him gone in a matter of years.
The injury concerns are not an aberration for McClellin. It was reported that he struggled with concussions at Boise State, though he claimed in 2012 to NFL.com that he had “one concussion” in 2010 and “concussion-like symptoms” in 2009.
Regardless, a history of concussions is cause for concern. Hunter Hillenmeyer’s career was cut short by concussions, and the Chicago Tribune reported that his history increased his likelihood of being concussed.
If McClellin does have a tendency to be concussed easily, no amount of talent or work ethic will keep him on the field. Concussions could mean his oft-praised motor will be shut down for good.
If Shea McClellin can avoid further injury, expect to see increased production. A double-digit sack total would be ideal, but realistically, 7.5 sacks is the best expectation for 2013. That’s an increase of five sacks from 2012, and it matches Israel Idonije’s production from last year.
No doubt though, Phil Emery and Bears fans are hoping for more.