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After making the first big move of the NFL’s free agency with the signing of Case Keenum, the Denver Broncos first couple weeks of the new season have been relatively quiet.
After the signing of veteran cornerback Tramaine Brock, Denver’s inked their third free agent of the 2018 season in Clinton McDonald, another under the radar veteran.
The former Seattle Seahawk and Tapa Bay Buccaneer comes to the Broncos after a five-sack season in Tampa, a fairly noteworthy number for a defensive tackle.
Here’s how he fits and what to expect from the newly-minted Bronco, who comes to the Mile High City on a two-year contract worth $7 million.
McDonald’s a 6-foot-2 297-pound tackle, who will have to move to defensive end in the Broncos three-man front. He’s a pass rushing specialist who seemingly hasn’t been his best the last two seasons with the Bucs.
That said, he did grade out fairly well this past season as a pass rusher per Pro Football Focus, with a 74 rating in that aspect of his game, good for 39th in the NFL—and higher than anyone on the Broncos in that category amongst interior defensive lineman. That’s exactly where he should fit in, as the interior pass rush has been lacking the past two seasons since Derek Wolfe’s been slowed down by injuries and departures like Malik Jackson’s have cost them deeply.
McDonald’s five sacks, six tackles for a loss, and 10 quarterback hits in 460 total snaps out of 14 games should help greatly in that regard. When watching the tape, it’s easy to see his get-off and agility up close to the line. McDonald uses his hands well, and while he’s not a freakishly explosive athlete, he’s adequately athletic and effective in creating interior penetration.
When he has to attack the line vertically, he can create penetration, and he’s also talented in pursuing the play while rushing the passer. He also flashes the ability to spin out of his initial block to close down on the quarterback, which allowed him to get a couple of sacks in 2017.
At the beginning of the year, he looked pretty damn good, particularly in a Week-5 matchup against the New England Patriots. He also benefited from fewer snaps in the early part of the year, before he was forced onto the field more due to injuries and a depleted rotation for a struggling Buccaneers team.
When winning off his first step, he can create plays against the run as well, even if it’s not his forte. He’s also able to shoot gaps, creating pressure that way.
While more of a flash-play type rusher than a dominant penetrator on a play-by-play basis, he does make his pressures count and does a nice job closing down on the quarterback when he gets into the opposing backfield.
McDonald’s shown himself to be fairly clutch, as he makes his presence felt when it matters most, at the end of games, down in the red zone, and on third down.
McDonald is an interesting fit with the Broncos, as he’s always played in a 4-3 as a defensive tackle, his fit in an odd-man front will be an adjustment. He’s a bit light at 297 pounds, and not equipped to take on double teams, which he’ll see more as a five-technique. He can play too high at times and get pushed around as a result.
It’s clear when watching the nine-year vet that he’s not the strongest at the point of attack, and will get swallowed up by interior lineman at times. He struggled towards the end of the season, when he was forced to play more snaps and play closer to the ball as a one or zero-technique—i.e., as a nose tackle.
As a run defender, he struggled quite a bit—as you can see here below where No. 98 is lined up in front of the left guard.
McDonald doesn’t always show a consistent pursuit and really seemed to wear down by the end of the year. He totaled only 18 solo tackles and 29 combined in 460 snaps this past season, which is an incredibly low figure. He can struggle to get going laterally and was inconsistent on tape.
Frankly, McDonald’s tape was underwhelming. He has his flashes but on a play-to-play basis loses more plays than he wins.
However, he fits nicely for what the Broncos are looking for, and might actually be better off playing further outside as a defensive end where his athleticism should shine. At 31, he remains a talented athlete attacking the line vertically but not so much laterally, and can be a bit slow on slants.
He might not have been very fresh at end of the year and forced to play in too many snaps. McDonald was way better in pursuit earlier in the year, where his tape was much more impressive. Even though he was unimpressive at times, he was still fairly productive rushing the passer.
If Denver can keep him to 20-25 snaps per game, using him primarily in a rotational role on third down as an interior rusher, he’ll be useful.