With opening day still more than two months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and studying sessions, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with a versatile member of New England’s defense.
Name: Shea McClellin
Jersey number: 58
Opening day age: 28
Size: 6’3, 250 lbs.
2016 review: Because the Chicago Bears decided not to pick up the fifth-year option of Shea McClellin's rookie contract, the linebacker became an unrestricted free agent following the 2015 season. The former first round pick (2012; #19) did not remain on the open market for long: The Patriots signed him to a three-year, $12.0 million contract one week into free agency.
McClellin proved to be a valuable addition to the team in his first season and became a versatile presence both on defense and special teams. He appeared in 14 regular season games, playing 36.5% (381 of 1,044) of defensive snaps and 48.8% (219 of 449) in the kicking game. During the playoffs, when McClellin saw action in all three of New England's contests, his defensive playing time percentages remained almost unchanged at 36.6% (68 of 187) but increased to 62.4% on special teams (58 of 93).
While he was unable to establish himself as a starter at linebacker or the defensive edge, McClellin became a piece of the three-player rotation next to Dont'a Hightower; alongside Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts. Seeing most of his action in the passing game, he finished the regular season with 39 tackles, a sack as well as a quarterback hit and 14 hurries. He also added two fumble recoveries. During the playoffs, McClellin registered two tackles, two quarterback hits and two hurries.
While McClellin was solid playing downhill and attacking the ball carriers, he struggled a bit when asked to play in coverage, mostly against running backs and tight ends: He finished the season allowing a combined 13 catches on 15 targets for 129 yards. Still, his overall defensive contributions were, albeit limited, positive. His most prominent moment did not come on defense, though.
During the Patriots' week 14 prime time game against the Baltimore Ravens, McClellin blocked an extra point attempt by hurdling over the offensive line (one of two blocks he had on the season). While the play, which he also unsuccessfully attempted during Super Bowl LI, has since been outlawed by the NFL, it is a perfect example for the athleticism and versatility he brought to the table during his first year in New England.
2017 preview: Entering his second season with the Patriots, Shea McClellin looks like a relatively safe bet to make the 53-man roster. After all, he offers a blend of athleticism, positional versatility and experience that makes the soon to be 28-year old a valuable member of the personnel rotations at linebacker and defensive edge as well as a core special teamer.
Despite his $3.28 million salary cap hit (the 15th highest on the team), McClellin's role is therefore projected to look similar to the one held last season: Playing at least one third of defensive snaps as well as almost two thirds on special teams. And while his 2016 season was far from perfect and he saw inconsistent playing time, he has a rather solid foundation to build upon.
A year and another offseason in the Patriots’ system might consequently help him turn into the player – or at least come closer to – that the Chicago Bears thought they would get in the 2012 draft. And if that happened, New England’s linebacker corps would receive another boost together with the projected growths of Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts.