Justin McCray is an interesting signing in an offseason full of them, one that is going to fly under the radar a bit when names like Dante Fowler and Todd Gurley are justifiably dominating headlines here and elsewhere.
That doesn’t mean we should ignore McCray. He’s joining an offensive line that is returning at least four starters but still feels pretty in flux. Atlanta jettisoned Ty Sambrailo, has a three man competition at left guard that McCray might be joining, and doesn’t have an obvious swing tackle or backup center on the roster today. McCray stands a pretty good chance of earning himself a top backup role, but I am a little dubious that he’ll actually push for the left guard job even though he’ll likely be competing for it, as the mothership suggested.
So what does McCray add?
Run blocking acumen
Overall, here were his Pro Football Focus grades each of the past three seasons.
- 2019 - 50.8 in CLE
- 2018 - 64.0 in GB
- 2017 - 53.1 in GB
That 2018 number in Green Bay notably came when he played right and left guard, positions he appears better suited for than tackle, where he dabbled for part of 2017 and much of 2019 with the Browns. The Falcons seem to be committed to trying him at guard in the early going, which is probably a good sign.
One notable item, however: McCray was poor in pass protection in 2019 but earned a 65.0 grade in run blocking, which is quite respectable. The Falcons will likely use him as a reserve across the line, but when they need an extra blocker on run plays, McCray is athletic and savvy enough to help out. With Todd Gurley joining the team and a commitment to the run seeming all but inevitable, McCray will add some value even if he doesn’t play much.
This is the other key piece. McCray has played right tackle and both guard spots in his career, and having a lineman with a proven (if shaky, as we’ll get to in a minute) track record at multiple spots is something the Falcons love. Atlanta will be hoping he wins one of the final spots on the line if he doesn’t muscle Jamon Brown, James Carpenter, and Matt Gono out of the way at left guard, which again I think he probably will not do.
The positional versatility is appealing, but if the Falcons don’t hand Matt Gono the starting left guard spot, I’d trust him a lot more as the swing tackle than McCray given their respective histories. McCray’s ideal role is probably a reserve guard who can fill in as an emergency tackle, but that does have real value for a team that won’t want to overload its roster with linemen.
So the versatility and run blocking is nice, but could McCray be a steal despite his PFF numbers?
Here’s our good friends at Dawgs by Nature, SB Nation’s Cleveland Browns site, who got to watch McCray start multiple games last year. Their answer to the question I posed above...is no.
He is meh. He got into the starting lineup last year because Greg Robinson was bad. After a few games he was sent back to the bench, and rightly so.
Granted he is probably better suited for the inside and the Browns were playing him at tackle, but alas the Browns OL sucked balls so whatever. He is at his best a below average OL and a decent guy if you need someone to stop the bleeding. But if you are counting on him to be a large part of your OL, chances are you are going to be drafting some OL in the offseason, like the Browns will be.
Generally speaking, what McCray brings to the Falcons is experience, positional versatility, and value as a run blocker. Like many of the team’s other pretty problematic options at the guard position in particular (outside of Chris Lindstrom, anyways), it’s probably best if he doesn’t have to start in 2020.