John McClain grew up in Waco and graduated from Baylor in 1975. He worked for the Waco Tribune-Herald from 1973 to October of 1976 when he came to the Chronicle. He's covered the Oilers, Texans and NFL for 33 years.
He's a past president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He's a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He has a plaque in the Pro Football Hall of Fame after earning the 2006 Dick McCann Memorial Award for long and distinguished reporting on the NFL.
He does weekly radio shows in Houston, Nashville, Austin, Waco and Knoxville.
Which NFL teams have the strongest rosters and therefore have the luxury of drafting best player available?
Very few teams draft the best player available. They almost always draft the best player who fills a need. For instance, the Patriots were 14-2. They have two picks in each of the first three rounds.
Watch them use select players who fill needs in the first two rounds. The best franchises like the Patriots, Steelers, Eagles, Ravens and Colts made sure to have their QB in place and build the rest of their team around him.
Which defensive prospects in this years draft have the “IT” Factor?
LSU CB Patrick Peterson and Alabama DT Marcell Dareus are the best defensive prospects. There are questions about all the others. Only Peterson appears to have perennial Pro Bowl potential among the defensive players.
Which draft prospects, in your opinion have special leadership qualities and the ability to inspire and motivate others?
Of the prospects expected to go in the first two rounds, Auburn QB Cam Newton,Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert, TCU QB Andy Dalton, Texas A&M OLB Von Miller, USC OT Tyron Smith, Baylor G Danny Watkins, Cal DE Cameron Jordean, Alabama DT Marcell Dareus, LSU CB Patrick Peterson, Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara, Texas FS Aaron Williams.
Once you get into the second and third rounds, who are some second tier CB’s that stand out to you?
Miami’s Brandon Harris, New Mexico State’s Davon House, Utah’s Brandon Burton, Texas’ Curtis Brown, USC’s Shareece Wright, Virginia’s Ras-I-Dowling, Ohio State’s Chimdi Chekwa, Louisville’s Johnny Patrick, Utah State’s Curtis Marsh, Clemson’s Marcus Gilchrist and Virginia Tech’s Rashad Carmichael.
With many teams converting to a 3-4 scheme, who are a few prospects that teams should target in the later rounds as a situational pass rusher?
Here are five possibilities: Oklahoma State’s Ugo Chinasa, Pitt’s Greg Romeus, Ohio State’s Ross Homan, Connecticut’s Scott Lutrus and Mississippi State’s KJ Wright.
If a team needing a QB misses out on Gabbert or Newton early in the first round, is there a QB you feel is worth trading up for at the bottom of the first round?
Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick’s stock is on the rise. I’d take him, TCU’s Andy Dalton or Florida State’s Christian Ponder in the second round before I’d take Washington’s Jake Locker or Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett in the first round.
What are the most likely landing spots for Carson Palmer and Kevin Kolb?
I think Palmer will stay with Cincinnati. I think Kolb will end up with a team that’ll trade a first-round pick this year and a future pick based on his performance. I could see Minnesota trading the 12th pick for Kolb. I don’t see San Francisco giving up the seventh, Tennessee the eighth or Washington the 10th pick in the first round. The Vikings are desperate and have a window that’s closing. They have to win now. They want a new stadium.
Do you think OL Mike Pouncey could be selected within the first ten picks of the draft?
No. He’s the best inside player, but there are too many tackles who are more valuable. I have him going to the Giants in my latest mock draft.
What are the biggest needs for the Texans and Titans respectively?
The Titans are desperate for a quarterback. They also need a defensive lineman, preferably a tackle like Nick Fairley. They could use another outside linebacker. The Texans need an OLB for their 3-4. They also need a CB and FS.
Should the Colts start thinking about drafting a QB to groom behind Peyton Manning?
This would be a good time if Bill Polian thinks he has a prospect in the third or fourth round. They need defensive players. Free agency may hit them hard if we have free agency.
Which teams have the biggest need at RB and where do you see Mark Ingram landing in the Draft?
Just about every mock draft has him going to Miami. I could see Baltimore drafting an RB. The truth is, there are so many who are just about equal prospects that we may see a run on them in the second and third rounds.
I know you particularly fond of Baylor University, which team in the middle to late first round could use a true 3-4 NT like Phil Taylor?
I went to Baylor, and I wouldn’t draft him in the first round, but a 3-4 team needing a nose like the Jets or Chiefs might do it. I have him going to the Jets. Rex Ryan might be able to motivate him to play hard on every down.
Many experts feel that A.J. Green is among the safest picks in the Draft. If you were a GM, would you select Green ahead of Julio Jones?
Yes. They’re close, but Green is healthy. I think Green and LSU CB Patrick Peterson are the two-best prospects in the draft.
Which second tier receivers do you feel would make a quick transition to the NFL?
That’s a tough one because WR's have such a difficult time adapting to the NFL, even first-round picks. It’s a hard position because they have to read so much, and they have to make a lot of adjustments. I’d go with seniors from passing systems like TCU’s Jeremy Kerley, Boise State’s Titus Young, Abilene Christian’s Edmond Gates and Hawaii’s Greg Salas.
DE, Da’Quan Bowers has had injury issues and was unable to perform at the combine. His Pro-Day was less than stellar. Who are your top five pass rushers that fit a 4-3 scheme?
If Bowers is healthy, he and North Carolina’s Robert Quinn would be first and second. Quinn, like Missouri’s Aldon Smith, can also play 3-4 OLB. But the five best pass rushing defensive linemen could be, either because of ability, potential, production or all of the above: Bowers, Quinn, Auburn DT Nick Fairley, Smith and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan. I’m not including Texas A&M OLB Von Miller because he’s a 3-4 OLB who’ll drop down in passing situations.
The Cowboys are among the teams that will be looking to Draft at the safety position. This position is relatively weak. Who are your top five safety prospects and do you see any of the CB’s converting to safety?
Safety is a weak position, especially in the first round. Texas CB Aaron Williams might be a better free safety. UCLA’s Rahim Moore and Oklahoma’s Quinton Carter are the best free safeties. Both should go in the second round. West Virginia’s Robert Sands should go in the third round. The top strong safety is Clemson’s DeAndre McDaniel, who should go in the third round.
Could you rank your OL prospects, regardless of position?
First-round offensive tackles should be USC’s Tyron Smith, Boston College’s Anthony Castanzo, Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, Colorado’s Nate Solder and Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod. Florida’s Mike Pouncey will be the first inside player. Baylor's Danny Watkins might sneak into the bottom of the first round.
How do you see the CBA talks progressing and do you think there will be a free agency signing period after the Draft?
I don’t think we’ll send an end in August, and then it’ll be a scramble during free agency before the season begins.
Could you list your top 5 LB prospects?
3-4 OLB Von Miller, 3-4 OLB Robert Quinn, 3-4 OLB Aldon Smith, 3-4 OLB Justin Houston, 3-4 OLB Akeem Ayers. The best inside prospect is Martez Wilson.
Tell us about some sleepers or diamonds in the rough that you are high on?
Idaho SS Shiloh Keo, Nebraska FS Eric Hagg, Oregon ILB Casey Matthews, Alabama OT James Carpenter, Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers, TCU WR Jeremy Kerley, LSU ILB Kelvin Sheppard and Nevada OLB Dontay Moch.
In the War Room how should Draft day decisions be spread out among the GM, Coaches and Scouts?
It depends on who’s in charge. At Dallas, Jerry Jones is the GM, so he runs the draft. He’s the only owner who does that. Al Davis sits in and listens and gives his opinion. He has the final say, but because of age and health, he doesn’t run the whole show like Jones does. Davis used to.
The GM, head coach and scouting director should be in the main room with the scouts and assistant coaches close by to answer any questions. The assistant scouting directors should be constantly working the phones about trading up or trading down.
One person must have the final say, whether it’s the owner like Jones, the coach like Bill Belichick or the GM like the Colts’ Bill Polian.