The Baltimore Ravens have a history of success finding undrafted gems, especially at inside linebacker.
They’ll be hoping to repeat the feat this year after signing four undrafted inside linebackers, including Josh Ross, who played at Michigan under new Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald in 2021. The Ravens also added Jeremiah Moon out of Florida and former Navy standout Diego Fagot after the draft.
But Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski thinks the Ravens signed an even better undrafted inside linebacker in former Auburn standout Zakoby McClain, who he named the Ravens’ “Most Exciting 2022 Undrafted Free-Agent Addition” on May 20.
“Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain showed consistent improvement during his time in college,” wrote Sobleski. “McClain committed to the program as 6’0″, 205-pound recruit and then grew into a 228-pound second-line defender, who displayed an evolving game with each passing season.”
He led the nation with 113 tackles as a junior in 2020 before earning second-team All-SEC honors in 2021 with another 95 tackles, including eight for loss.
Sobleski praised McClain’s “instincts, quickness, comfort level working in space and relentless motor,” calling him “an ideal weak-side linebacker and special teams contributor.”
That last part will be especially important in Baltimore, where head coach John Harbaugh has always prioritized special teams. After the departure of Chris Board and the retirement of Anthony Levine Sr. in the offseason, the Ravens will need more core special teamers, opening a potential path for McClain – or any of the other undrafted rookie linebackers – to make the 53-man roster.
Zakoby McClain Film Study
At 5-foot-11 and 228 pounds, McClain is noticeably undersized on tape, but that doesn’t stop him from taking on blocks from lineman with almost 100 pounds on him. His lack of size does mean he gets bounced around from time to time, but that doesn’t stop him from launching into blocks and chasing down ballcarriers with the same intensity every play.
McClain is a reliable tackler who wraps up and finishes plays consistently. He clearly loves to lay big hits on opposing ballcarriers and takes every opportunity to do, but rarely winds up and misses a tackle as a result.
But he lacks any elite physical traits, with a slower-than-expected 4.69-second 40-yard dash from the 228-pound linebacker. He’s instinctive and sudden on the field, though, with impressive straight-line closing speed that helped him produce 19 tackles for loss over the past three years.
He added more pass coverage chops to his game in 2021 with a career-high six passes defended, looking more comfortable than ever dropping back into zone coverage. However, McClain lacks the physicality and athleticism to match up with running backs and tight ends in man coverage, which will limit his third-down upside in the NFL.
History of UDFA ILBs in Baltimore
Bart Scott and Zach Orr both earned All-Pro selections during their time in Baltimore after signing with the Ravens as undrafted rookies. While Scott has blasted his former team multiple times, Orr returned to the Ravens in February as their new inside linebackers coach on Macdonald’s defensive coaching staff.
Chris Board is another undrafted inside linebacker who made played in 63 games from 2018 to 2021 before signing with the Detroit Lions this offseason.
Veteran inside linebacker Josh Bynes is amidst his third stint with the Ravens after initially signing with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn in 2011, even winning Super Bowl XLVII with the team.
If any one of this year’s undrafted rookie linebackers can make a similar contribution to the Ravens, they could be Baltimore’s next diamond in the rough.