Zakoby McClain NFL Draft 2022: Scouting Report for Auburn LB

BR NFL Scouting DepartmentContributor I

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 18: Zakoby McClain #9 of the Auburn Tigers reacts after being ejected from the game for targeting against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the second half at Beaver Stadium on September 18, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

HEIGHT: 5'11 3/8"


HAND: 9 1/4"

ARM: 31 3/4"

WINGSPAN: 6'3 1/4"

40-YARD DASH: 4.69




BROAD: 9'9"


— Good sideline-to-sideline speed. Can get out to the perimeter against outside runs or screen passes to help rally and tackle. Also has the speed to flow over the top from the weak side of a run and find his way into the backfield. Tough moving target for OL to get a hand on at the second level.

— Made a clear effort to get better at taking on blocks in 2021. Results are still questionable, but McClain went from getting bullied by every blocker to being able to hold his own on occasion, thanks to a slight increase in weight and a massive increase in energy/willingness to take on blocks rather than just slip by them. Hopefully a sign that he can continue to improve in this area, though it is still a bit of a concern at this stage.

— Navigates through traffic better than someone his size should be able to. Understands when to fight to the gap in front of his defensive lineman versus when to fall back behind them. Still has some issues getting pushed out of the trash heap due to size, but he consistently puts himself in the right spot.

— Has flashed the ability to play against gap runs well. Identifies pullers and closes downhill to box or spill his man at or before the line of scrimmage. Does not have the strength to blow pulling blockers off the ball and create chaos, but does well to fill his gap in a timely manner and let the rest of the run fit fall into place.

— High-energy player. Willing to get into the mix now more than in previous seasons and is always chasing players across the field to help with late tackle efforts.

— Great eyes and spacing in zone coverage. Sinks and plays tight to vertical routes as he passes them off to deeper coverage defenders. Keeps his eyes fixed on the quarterback and is quick to trigger when the ball is thrown underneath, often arriving in a timely fashion to limit yards-after-the-catch chances.


— Small build. Does not have much weight to his frame, either. Likely to be an issue against bigger, stronger athletes in the NFL.

— Play strength is an issue. Does not always have the anchor to take on a block, stand it up in its place and shed it. Can only beat blocks with quickness. Often gives up extra yards on tackles because players can run through him. Rarely brings players down right at the point of contact or pushes them back to negate extra yardage.

— Turn-and-run ability in coverage remains to be seen. Rarely asked at Auburn to turn his back and run up the seam, which makes the projection tough. Has the athletic ability to pull it off, but wasn't given many chances to prove it.

— Tackling technique comes and goes. Shows great range and flexibility to always get a piece of runners at times. Just as liable to dive at a runner's ankles when he does not need to. Leads to some yards getting tacked onto runs and short catches that just should not be there.

— Great speed to get to the outside, but sometimes has issues settling down and squaring to make the tackle. Not entirely sure if it's an issue with stiff hips or just misreading angles and getting too excited to be moving at max speed.


12 G, 95 TOT, 8 TFL, 2 SK, 6 PBU


Zakoby McClain is a bit of a test between a player who knows how to play the position versus someone with the physical tools to do so.

A three-year contributor at Auburn, his defining traits are speed and hustle. McClain shows sideline-to-sideline range and a nonstop motor that helps him rack up tackles down the field or to the perimeter. His energy also shows up when sifting through traffic in the run game, which is a noticeable improvement he made between 2020 and 2021.

McClain sees the game well, too. He not only triggers quickly against zone like any decent linebacker, but he has plenty of reps against pulling plays in which he met a pulling blocker in the backfield and helped create some muck at the point of attack. The same baseline level processing shows up in coverage. McClain does a good job gaining proper depth, feeling routes develop around him, and squeeze routes based on the quarterback's eyes.

The hang-up with McClain is size and strength. He did make some strides there in 2021, but at roughly 220 pounds, he is clearly undersized for the position. That shows up when he takes on quality blockers at the second level. McClain is also an underwhelming tackler for that reason since runners can typically run through him for one or two extra yards on the way to the ground every time.

McClain's best home would be a team invested in good interior defensive linemen who can help give him clear runways to the ball-carrier. Even then, he may need a year to add a few pounds and reap the benefits of an NFL strength-and-conditioning program before becoming a real contributor.

GRADE: 6.7 (Potential Role Player - 4th Round)