Carolina's version of "Mr. Irrelevant" came with the 249th pick in the draft, when the Panthers selected UConn defensive back Robert McClain in the 7th round. The selection of McClain was surprising to some (myself included), as it was the third consecutive selection that the team used on a defensive back (a position that most of us thought we had an abundance of) and failed to use one of those picks to bolster the defensive line (as many of us thought they should do). However, McClain appears to be the kind of player who would be a good fit to a Ron Meeks led defensive unit, so the front office decided to take a late round flier on the UConn product to see what he can bring to the table for the Panthers in 2010.
More after the jump...
Looking at him on paper, there's no reason to go out and buy a McClain jersey (at least not yet), but he is an average sized defensive back (5-9, 195) with excellent speed and great jumping ability, as was displayed during his pro-day exercises (4.42 40 yard dash, 38" vertical jump, and 23 bench press reps of 225 lbs). According to NFL.com, he is rated as being good in man coverage, with excellent speed and physique, and has the tools that should allow him to compete for a backup spot during training camp (as we all know that Meeks loves faster players).
In his last season at UConn (2009), McClain was tied for the Big East lead with 4 interceptions, and was 3rd on his team with 60 tackles (although ESPN says he only had 52), and he forced one fumble. He was also a decent punt returner for the Huskies, averaging 14.8 yards per return with 1 touchdown (15 returns in 10 games), and he was tied for 6th in the nation among seniors in punt return average. His return ability earned him 1st Team All Big East from the media as a punt returner, and his defensive play earned him 2nd Team All Big East honors from the coaches.
McClain was a team co-captain for UConn in 2009, and he was awarded the Brian Kozlowski Award last year, which is given to the player who proves to be a "courageous, hard working, and productive person". This honor speaks a lot of his character, and could be part of the reason the Panthers drafted him in the 7th round even though they had already taken 2 defensive backs before him: they like to draft good character guys, and McClain appears to fit this description well.
On the surface it appears that McClain will bring the potential for speed at the cornerback position and a possible threat in the return game - something that the team has desperately needed for some time. With the right amount of work and reps on the field during the preseason, McClain could sneak up and earn a spot on the special teams unit. I believe that McClain will compete for and earn a spot on the roster during camp, and I believe that he has a slight advantage because of his experience returning punts. The team has totally retooled the special teams unit during the offseason, and there could be a spot available on special teams for McClain if he proves that he can return kicks in the NFL as well as or better than he did in college.
Overall, I believe that McClain is a good fit for this team, as he is a hard working player and a good person off the field - he should find himself right at home in Carolina and I will be somewhat surprised if he doesn't make the roster given his speed and his apparent off-field character and work ethic.