I've had a little break from our 'On The Trail' series over the last month, but now I'm starting it back up again with a position of need. I fully expect T.J McDonald to have a Thorpe Award winner worthy season. He has got progressively better with more starts and in 2012 it will be his 3rd year starting at free safety. He won USC's 2011 Defensive Perimeter Player of the Year Award. He was also one of the captains on the 2011 USC team .
There really is a lot to like about T.J and I'll be watching with anticipation this year. He's a senior so he will be entering the 2013 NFL draft and if he continues his progression, most believe he'll be selected in the first round from picks 15-30. I think we'll be picking in there, so it seems logical to look at a player like McDonald at a position of need for the New York Jets. We've brought in some short term fixes but sooner or later we need to pin this position down.
So what does T.J bring to the table. First of all like a lot of USC safeties, he has excellent physical attributes. 6'3 and 205lb's he hits hard and tracks the ball well. In 2011 he had 67 tackles, 2.5 for a loss and 3 interceptions. He also recorded 2 deflections, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt. What McDonald has that separates him and makes him appealing is his ability to flip his hips and run with slot receivers and tight ends in coverage.
While playing in the USC defense, T.J often finds himself in solo man to man coverage. Either off the line or up in press. The good news is that he looks comfortable playing both and can fly off the edge on a safety blitz at times. As far as pro ready safeties go in 2013, McDonald is my favourite guy along with Eric Reed down in Louisiana. The reason I place McDonald a little higher is due to football intelligence.
T.J comes from a footballing background, his father Tim McDonald also played his football at USC as a strong safety. Tim was a 6 time pro-bowler and 6 time all pro as a member of the St Louis/Phoenix Cardinals and the San Francisco 49'ers, a team that he won a Superbowl with. He has learnt from a great player and he manages to hide his weaknesses with intelligent positioning and a high work ethic.
I would strongly suggest paying close attention to T.J McDonald this year. I think he will put on an extra 5lb's and if he improves against the run, he could become one of the most sought after players in the draft.