Michael Clay of the Oregon Ducks is an unusual prospect. He should be raved about as one of the guys who should undoubtedly be drafted in the middle of the draft as opposed to a late-round guy. However, with the depth of this draft, Clay's draft prospects are looking slim.
Let's explore what makes Clay someone NFL teams should have on their radar.
+ Michael Clay is a positive influence that everyone would want on his team.
+ He's got great quickness and uses it to flow to the ball effectively.
+ His instinctual zone-coverage abilities can be a true asset.
+ He can read the gaps effectively on blitzes and knows where to attack.
+ Over-pursuit is not an issue for Clay in the run game.
+ He's a pure-form tackler who racks up tackle stats all game.
- Poor hand usage is a huge weakness that spills over into other parts of his game.
- While he can stack blockers, he has trouble shedding them against the run.
- In pass rush, his inability to effectively shed blockers hurts him here as well.
- Man coverage isn't his game and should be schemed around.
As it sits right now, Michael Clay looks unlikely to be drafted. However, it would not shock me to see a team take a late-round flier on him as someone to compete in an NFL camp for a special teams roster spot and depth.
More quick and agile than fast, Clay is also an intelligent player with a ton of heart. He's got a lot of natural athleticism to work with that shows up more on tape than in the combine drills. His 4.73 time in the 40-yard dash doesn't do his athleticism justice, as he flies around the field and can flow effectively to the ball despite a "slow" time for a linebacker.
Intangibles, Character and Injuries (+)
Michael Clay has never been arrested, suspended and even strives to be successful academically as well as on the football field. This was proven by his 2010 Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention.
He's a coach, general manager and owner's dream off the field, as he is a charitable person giving up time to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving on top of keeping his nose clean. He's a heart player on the field, and according to Rob Moseley of The Register-Guard:
Oregon's captains are Kiko Alonso, Michael Clay, Jackson Rice and Avery Patterson. All Bay Area guys.— Rob Moseley (@DuckFootball) November 11, 2012
So, he's a captain. He's another Warrick Dunn-type off the field who is known for charity and hard work more than anything else. He also has only missed four games due to injuries—all in his last two years in Eugene.
Clay's story here is quite unique. While most players just sit on the bench and slowly work their way onto the field, Clay said that he wanted to play and earned a starting role as the long snapper his freshman year on punt units.
He was used as a reserve linebacker in Oregon's defense and stayed on the special teams units his sophomore year, racking up a 64-yard run on a fake punt. In his junior and senior years, he played both the strong- and the weak-side linebacker roles in a 4-3 defense as well as the primary nickel linebacker.
Pass Coverage (+ and -)
In man coverage, Clay has shown that he should not be used. He doesn't trail effectively and has trouble manning up on tight ends. Ideally, he isn't used in man coverage at all. However, in zone coverage, he can be excellent. He drops back effectively and plays the ball well in the air. He can read the defense and reacts instinctively in zones.
Pass Rush (+ and -)
When trying to fight off blocks, Clay has a ton of trouble, as his hand usage needs a ton of work. He does do well when he gets the open lanes, as he can explode through the holes given to him by the defensive line. He chases down the quarterbacks effectively and creates pressure well when he has his number called for blitzes.
Against the Run (+ and -)
While Clay can stack up blockers effectively, the issues comes when he has to shed them. He can't seem to get the blockers off of him when engaged. However, he's very effective with free open lanes to the ball and racks up tackles at and behind the line.
When it comes to pursuit, there are few defenders better at doing it properly in this year's linebacker class. His run fits are beautifully executed, and he will be a linebacker coach's dream, as he understands where to be and the quickest paths to get there.
Michael Clay isn't someone with a huge-hitter mentality. His goal is just to take down whoever has the ball in the quickest way possible. He won't force a ton of fumbles with a knock-around style, nor will he separate a ton of receivers from the ball in coverage. However, he will limit yards after the catch and turn in one of the best efforts on the team while he racks up tackle stats.
Use of Hands (-)
This is the biggest negative of his game. While he does have great strength, he needs to learn how to properly use leverage and rip effectively. He does also need to learn how convert his speed into power in his hands. With proper training and possibly even some mixed martial arts training, he could end up an extremely well-rounded defender.
Future Role and Scheme Versatility
In the NFL, Michael Clay could have an excellent career as a special teams ace and reserve linebacker. However, his competitive nature will get him on the field in at least nickel packages and could even earn him a starting role. Long term, it wouldn't surprise me to see him resume a role as a long snapper just to make a roster. He's got that "I'll do anything to help the team" mentality a coach will love.