When the Chicago Bears selected former Boise State outside linebacker Shea McClellin in the first round of this year's draft, I called it a stretch. My opinion was that a one-dimensional player, who struggled mightily against the run in college, was not worth the 19th overall pick.
I also said at the time that, if he racks up 10 sacks as a rookie, no one would care about his deficiencies against the run.
Through three games, McClellin is exactly what we though he would be: a situational pass rusher that gets destroyed against the run. Yet he's having success getting to the quarterback, which is exactly what the Bears were hoping for. As a third-down rusher, McClellin has been able to use his speed and quickness to rack up 2.0 sacks, which is second-most amongst defensive ends selected in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Here is the current list of rookie ends, with their draft position and sack totals:
1.16 Quinton Coples (0.0)
1.18 Melvin Ingram (0.0)
1.15 Bruce Irvin (2.5)
1.19 Shea McClellin (2.0)
1.21 Chandler Jones (1.0)
1.26 Whitney Mercilus (0.0)
1.28 Nick Perry (0.0)
2.4 Derek Wolfe (1.0)
2.6 Andre Branch (0.0)
2.27 Vinny Curry (yet to dress this season)
As you can see, only Seattle's Bruce Irvin has more sacks than McClellin – due mainly to Green Bay's offensive line acting as a collective turnstile against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
DE Shea McClellin
This doesn't excuse McClellin for his play against the run – which has been just atrocious – but it demonstrates his potential as a speed rusher in the NFL.
"With every game I feel more comfortable," McClellin said after Sunday's 23-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams. "I am adjusting to the tempo and the intensity. It's enjoyable to face those challenges and to learn more every day."
To make room for McClellin on passing downs, Chicago has been shifting around their defensive linemen, often sliding either Israel Idonije or Julius Peppers inside to defensive tackle. The results have been outstanding, with the team currently leading the NFL in sacks (14.0).
"Our job is to put pressure on the quarterback and throw the receivers off of their routes," said McClellin. "The sacks of course are an important part of the equation as well. It's all about turnovers, takeaways and shutting down the offense. Any time there is the opportunity to disrupt their timing, we'll try to do that."
Chicago has also been experimenting with McClellin as a standup linebacker. On a handful of plays the past two weeks, coordinator Rod Marinelli has deployed just three defensive linemen, with McClellin acting as a standup roving linebacker. Obviously, the Bears are looking for more ways to creatively utilize his speed and athleticism.
If McClellin stays on his current pace, he'll end 2012 with 8.0 sacks, a great total for a rookie and something he can build on going forward. In addition, his versatility gives the defense different options in presenting varying looks to opposing offenses.
So even though he's invisible against the run – which does not change my mind about him being a first-round reach – his ability to pressure the quarterback gives the Bears' defense an added dimension, which has paid off significantly in the first part of this season.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.