McKinney saw time in a half-dozen games in 2006, finishing with a modest two tackles. His impact was far greater in 2007, when he played in 14 games (including two starts) and recorded 21 tackles. His breakout games came in Week 14 against the Tennessee Titans, when he notched a career-high six tackles.
As is the case with most defensive linemen in the 3-4 defense, the numbers don't accurately reflect McKinney's impact on the field. The stout nose tackle (6 foot 2, 324 lbs.) has the size to hold up at the point of attack and the quickness to get off blocks and make plays in the backfield.
NT Brandon McKinney
Otto Greule Jr./Getty
Nonetheless, there are some areas where the lighter, quicker McKinney is superior to Williams. McKinney has the speed to chase down screens and slow-developing runs from behind. Also, he has the versatility to play some defensive end on early downs.
Are these positive attributes enough to earn McKinney heir apparent status? Probably not. The 3-4 defense is predicated on have a nose tackle who can jam up the middle and keep the linebackers clean. McKinney has yet to prove dominant enough to start at such a prominent position.
What McKinney has proven is the ability to be effective in spot duty, which is essential when playing for a D-line coach like Wayne Nunnely, who loves to rotate his players to keep the starters fresh. McKinney's best shot is to earn a multi-year contract as a backup, similar to the five-year, $4.1 million deal signed by Jacques Cesaire in 2006.
As for the search for the next Jamal Williams? That will have to wait for another year.
Looking for an outside-the-box answer for landing Williams' eventual replacement? Click here to learn how the Bolts could reel in another franchise nose tackle.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.