Tabloids and pundits hailed Raekwon McMillan as the “best linebacker in the Big Ten” prior to the 2016 NCAA season. Since then the steam has cooled off on the former 5-star Buckeye. McMillan enters the draft as one fish in a large pool of defensive talent, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is still a very talented prospect.
McMillan played the Middle (Mike) linebacker position for Ohio State and was very effective. He attacked running lanes and used his tremendous power and 6’2″, 240- lb. frame to push blockers around. Now that the former Buckeye is headed to the NFL, how effective will he be at the next level? Let’s dissect this question in depth as we go through his strengths, weaknesses and potential future in the NFL.
Power. Let’s talk about Raekwon McMillan’s elite-level strength. The kid refuses to be pushed around; he stands his ground. He positions his body very well to take on hits, lowers his center of gravity and uses solid hand placement to prevent blockers from pushing him one way or another to form gaps. This skill set is tremendously important for a “Mike” linebacker because of how often they have to play the A- and B- gaps and take on offensive lineman instead of tight ends or running backs. Check out this video. In the first couple of plays you can see McMillan’s great power. McMillan should be a solid run defender from day one for the team that drafts him. He is pro-ready in the power department, to say the least.
Coverage. Another strength of McMillan’s game is his coverage skills. A linebacker being proficient in coverage is becoming more important every year in the NFL, and McMillan fits that bill. He knows how to position himself to use angles to his advantage. Check this video out. Within the first couple of plays you can see McMillan dominate in the run game, and see some next-level coverage skills as well. Covering speedy tight ends such as Jimmy Graham or Jordan Reed may prove to be a challenge for McMillan, but his size and general coverage skills should help him cover most tight ends well.
Well, I must be honest, Raekwon McMillan does not have any glaring weaknesses; however, there are parts of his game that concern me. Let’s start off with the most important trait for a linebacker:
Athleticism. Is he athletic? Yes, but I can’t say with certainty that he has the athleticism of an NFL star. In other words, his athleticism is run of the mill compared to other top prospects. Watch this video again. In the first couple of plays, along with the obvious power, McMillan’s average athleticism is also on display. Too often, McMillan is not quick enough to close a gap or get to the edge on an outside run. With how rangy Mike linebackers must be in today’s NFL, I wonder if he would be better suited for the strong side (Sam) linebacker position. We’ll have to see how McMillan handles the speed of the NFL, but I think his athleticism could hold him back from becoming a star.
Blocks. Another skill that I would like to see the former Buckeye improve upon is handling blocks. While he has crazy power which allows him to push blockers around, I would like him to improve on his hand fighting with getting off blocks. If he could improve here, he would become the ultimate run-stuffing linebacker, and frankly a pain to play against.
Decision Making. Lastly, it would be nice to see McMillan become a little quicker in his reading of offenses. For example, if an offense is running through the A- gap to the strong side of the formation, McMillan who would hypothetically be responsible for this gap, would ideally fill it early before the guard or the center could get downhill and create space for the running back. Even hundredths of seconds shaved off of your decision making can be a big deal. Would we maybe have seen an improvement here if he had stayed for his Senior year in Columbus? Probably, but his instincts and decision-making are something to keep an eye on as he heads for the NFL.
Raekwon McMillan should be drafted in the middle of the second round, preferably to a team that runs a 4-3 defense where they can explore whether he is a Mike- or Sam- backer. McMillan’s skill set is relatively pro-ready, as he should be a quality run defender right away. If he can find a way to compensate for his lack of elite athleticism, McMillan could have a very bright future ahead. Here’s to hoping the best for the former Ohio State superstar!
NFL Player Comparisons:
- Rey Maualuga, Cincinnati Bengals
- Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings