With the 2019 NFL Draft behind us, it’s time to break down the Falcons’ seven draft selections. My compatriot Eric Robinson got things started with Atlanta’s 14th overall pick, G Chris Lindstrom. Next up is the Falcons’ second first-round selection, which they achieved via a trade up with the Rams. At 31st overall, Atlanta added OT Kaleb McGary from Washington. McGary played right tackle throughout his career at Washington, and he’ll be competing for the same spot with the Falcons—who just moved on from RT Ryan Schraeder.
The McGary pick was instantly polarizing because it was perceived as a pretty significant reach, including by me. But after doing some digging—and with the persistent buzz that the Patriots were planning to take McGary at pick 32—I have come full circle on the pick. Read on for the reasons why I’ve changed my mind on McGary’s evaluation and now view him as a vital part of this draft class.
Scouting Report: OT Kaleb McGary (#58), Washington
Games Watched: Ohio State (Rose Bowl), Utah (Pac-12 Championship), @Auburn, @Utah
- Aggressive, physical blocker at the point of attack—always looking to pancake someone
- Punch has a lot of power in pass protection
- Always looking for work as a blocker
- Impressive athlete with good mobility in space. Can execute second-level blocks with ease
- Strong anchor, rarely pushed back by power rushers
- Excellent football IQ and blocking instincts—very capable of reading and reacting to stunts, twists, and blitzes
- Quick, controlled footwork
- Aggressive, unconventional technique in pass protection can catch defenders off guard
- Not always pretty, but consistently gets the job done
- Struggles at times against speed rushers
- Angles to block defenders on the second level can be sloppy
- Lack of ideal length for an OT
- Can his unconventional technique work consistently in the NFL?
- Tall frame can lead to leverage and balance difficulties at times
Grade: 1.5 (late first-early second)
When I first watched Kaleb McGary, there were certainly aspects of his game that I liked. His physicality, athletic ability, and football IQ all stood out—but I couldn’t get past his technique, which seemed unusual at best. That’s why I graded him out as my OT9: he was well-worth a Day 2 pick, but concerns about his “lack” of technique and short arms for the position gave me pause. After reading Cover 1’s excellent breakdown of McGary’s technique—which everyone should do, because the article explains it better than I possibly could—I began to see McGary in a whole new light.
What I mistook for poor or erroneous pass protection technique was actually a completely different style of offensive line play. Calling it “unconventional” might be the best way to phrase it—because as McGary’s film can attest, it wasn’t as if he was getting beat often on film. While his aggressive pass protection style can lead to some ugly reps, one thing seemed to stand out about McGary: his play wasn’t always pretty, but it consistently got the job done.
The aggressive style can lead to McGary getting beat off the line by speed, but it can also allow him an opportunity to recover. I highlighted a particular play on Twitter, which you can view below:
Here's an example of a good aspect of his aggressive pass protection technique. McGary gets beat off the line by the edge rusher. But because of his aggressive set, McGary forces the defender to take a wider arc than normal--effectively pushing him out of the play. pic.twitter.com/VfVq4Qf12b— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) April 30, 2019
Aggressive pass protection does two things that standard, “passive” pass protection does not: 1) it engages the defender earlier than normal, forcing them to adjust their plan of attack, and 2) it creates a wider pocket by putting more distance between the edge rusher and the QB. In the above play, McGary gets beat off the line, but it doesn’t end up affecting the play. The defender was forced to take a very wide angle to get around the aggressive set of McGary, which essentially forced him out of the play.
With aggressive pass protection, however, you’re more likely to get beat on inside moves and can fall prey to stunts and twists. This is why it’s important for OTs using this style to have very good blocking instincts and football IQ. McGary would often anticipate his opponent’s responses to his aggressive sets, stonewalling their inside moves by waiting them out or handing them off to the guard. Here’s a particularly impressive example of McGary’s awareness as a blocker:
I honestly can't explain this one. McGary is engaged with a blocker on the run play. Then notices the CB blitz, immediately disengages, flips around and gets just enough of the blitzer to spring the RB for a big gain. Extremely impressive play. pic.twitter.com/rCDcQSucq8— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) April 30, 2019
I honestly don’t know how he saw that blitzer. Perhaps I’ll ask him about it if I ever get the chance. Until then, I’m assuming he simply sensed a disturbance in the force.
Can McGary’s style work consistently in the NFL, against the most athletically gifted and savvy defensive linemen in the world? That’s the big question—but it’s not like every OL coming out using traditional technique is guaranteed success, either.
There’s a lot to like about McGary outside of his technique. You can tell he’s a player that Dan Quinn would love—he’s nasty and can be downright dominant at the point of attack. I counted at least a dozen pancake blocks. His anchor is strong and he’s very good at handling power rushers. McGary is always looking for work as a blocker, making him a big factor on screens and broken plays. Here’s a particularly good example:
One thing that stands out immediately about McGary is his competitiveness. He's always looking for work as a blocker, as demonstrated by this play where he executes a double team, then sprints downfield to block for his QB on a scramble. pic.twitter.com/JOl8cfw8Bq— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) April 30, 2019
As you can see, McGary’s got plenty of athleticism and tons of experience as a zone blocker. The one thing I could nitpick is that he doesn’t always take great angles to second-level defenders, but his punch is so strong that it didn’t usually matter.
McGary isn’t a perfect prospect. He needs to improve his game against pure speed rushers. His aggressive sets have helped him in this regard, but he’ll need to keep working at it to find success against Von Miller types. Physically, he’s got great size (6’7, 318) but less than ideal length (only 33 inch arms, 7th percentile for OTs). That could give him some problems against players with truly elite length in the NFL. His frame sometimes led to issues with balance and leverage, which is to be expected when you’re 6’7.
At the end of the day, Kaleb McGary is a very good RT prospect. He’s got the attitude that Quinn covets from his linemen. The run blocking chops and athleticism are there, and he’ll bring an element of nastiness to the line that fans have been clamoring for. Can his unconventional pass protection technique succeed in the NFL? Who knows, but I know it’ll be exciting to watch. If anyone can make it work, it’s McGary. Also, I submit one final scouting note—keep in mind, the following video is NSFW:
November 24, 2018
I rest my case.