Pushing 345 pounds in 2012, Ellis McCarthy had knee problems all year. His weight became the main focus of his development during the 2013 season, though, as he was successful in overcoming a slow, injury-riddled start to his UCLA career. But the physical changes were really only a small part of the Bruin defensive lineman’s transformation, as he showed good field awareness and urgency closing on the ball.
Whether lining up at left end, right end or manning the nose, he was constantly the subject of double-team coverage. After posting only 10 tackles as a freshman, he managed to deliver 31 tackles with four stops-for-loss during the 2013 campaign. The “bottom fell out” for McCarthy in 2014, though.
Expected to be the force on the defensive front, he would be relegated to third-string duties at the left end and nose guard positions, never stepping on the field with the first unit in any of the 13 appearances. He did surpass his previous career total of two sacks, taking down the quarterback three times, but he was limited to 21 tackles for the year.
Even at his current weight, McCarthy shows solid muscle tone throughout, especially in his broad shoulders. With his wide hips and thick lower body, it is very tough for blockers to gain movement off the snap vs. him. He is not the type to pile up large amounts of tackles, but like former Steelers great Casey Hampton, the Bruin is better served at neutralizing multiple blockers.
However, he has battled weight problems, which has led to his poor stamina. Even though he is used in a line rotation, he still tires late in games and you can see the drop-off in his play. He does show good feet and above average balance, but is best when he is kept operating strictly in the box.
His playing strength does not always match up to his weight room totals. He is a strong athlete with above average hand strength, but he needs to play with his pad level down. When he comes off the ball in a high stance, blockers immediately attack his exposed chest, driving McCarthy off the point of attack.
Even with his thick lower body, he fails to get anchor, especially vs. double teams (does not sit well). He can generate a strong hand punch, but his placement and usage are lacking. He needs to get more active with those hands in order to be able to stack and control. He lacks sudden quickness coming off the snap and has limited range working outside the box, but shows powerful arm swipes and a strong anchor to deliver crunching tackles along the line of scrimmage.
McCarthy has valid field instincts and is quick to recognize blocking schemes. Despite his wide hips and waist, he demonstrates the knee bend to drop his weight and stay low in his pads. He needs to do a better job of coming off the snap, as he looks sluggish at times and will lose balance, letting blockers create rush lanes by washing him out of the play.
His best asset is his ability to stand up blockers and control them in the trenches. He is quite effective at gaining leverage and it is rare that a blocker can ride or push him back, but when he flows laterally to the ball, he can get neutralized due to stiff hips and the inability to redirect or escape when working in motion. Despite his field vision, he will get caught up in traps, especially when he fails to recognize screens. When he gets high in his stance and exposes his chest, he struggles to hold at the point. He has the strength to stack and control, but needs to keep his pads low in order to accomplish it.
McCarthy is an immovable force once he digs in and plants, but must do a better job with his hands in attempts to disengage. He is just not the type that gets the hand placement needed to gain separation. He can control and throw the blockers around when he locks on, but does not do this with consistency. He is better on down blocks, where he can backdoor single blocks, but would be even better if he can generate consistent hand explosion.
McCarthy shows good effort in attempts to flatten down the line, but it is rare to see him make tackles outside the box. He has limited range to work in space and is more comfortable when he is allowed to just run the box rather than outside of it. As a bull rusher, he is capable of turning the center and rocking him back on his feet, but lacks any sort of pass rush moves. He destroys backs that come up the rush lane, but needs to be quicker with his hands to combat combo blocks.
His range is suspect, as he can’t accelerate for long distances and while he has a decent burst to close, he is better off shooting the gaps that coming off the edge. He is tough to block once he gets into the backfield, though. With his thick frame, he might be better served in a 3-4 alignment, especially with his lack of lateral range to chase outside the box. He will need to drop more bulk to play that position in the pros, as he might be a big, stationary force, but NFL teams require that there players have at least adequate mobility.
One possible solution is a recent turn of events involving the Bruin. While recognizing his power and size are assets, teams also realize that he might never produce on the defensive side of the ball. Several teams put McCarthy through the paces in offensive line drills during their visit to campus for the Bruins’ Pro Day. With the inclusion of practice squads in the NFL, some team might deem that he could bring a better return by “red-shirting” and learning blocking techniques.
Ellis McCarthy NFL Scouting Combine measurables
6-5/338 (5.21 forty)
34 1/8-inch arm length
9 7/8-inch hands
32-inch vertical jump
109-inch broad jump
8.16 3 cone drill
5.07 20 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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