STRENGTHS - McDonald definitely looks the part of an NFL safety "on the hoof" with his thick, muscular build. When playing aggressively, he has shown a willingness to come up the field quickly in run support and can make strong, violent tackles when he stays over his feet and under control. Showing off his versatility, he lines up deep and near the line of scrimmage in different defensive alignments, can avoid blocks and is constantly around the ball. Surprising acceleration and playing speed give McDonald excellent range vs. the run and pass. He flashes an explosive closing burst to finish plays with hard hits/tackles. When he reads the QB/Pass correctly, he flashes the ability close fast on passes in front of him and makes hard tackle right after the catch. Despite his size, he has the quickness and speed to cover tight ends in man coverage.
WEAKNESSES - Despite having the size and athleticism of an elite prospect, McDonald does not produce like one. Right now he is a much better athlete than football player and needs to improve his production if he wants to start in the NFL. While he flashes quickness coming up quickly in run support, he does not do it consistently and goes through stretches where he seems content to sit back and allow his teammates to make the tackle. Like many defensive players, McDonald loves making the "blow up" hit and it leads to him launching himself to try and make big hit too often and ends up missing tackles he should make. Additionally, when he is not going for the big hit he tends to become an upright, grab tackler. For a player with his experience, it is surprising that he does not read and react consistently in coverage and if often a beat late reacting to sideline and deep passes. He is much more effective going forward in pass coverage than he is in deep coverage and has not shown the skills to come down and be effective covering slot receivers at the next level.
SUMMARY - For a player with elite physical talent, it was frustrating to evaluate McDonald because he does not impact games the way he is capable of. The son of former NFL All Pro safety Tim McDonald, T.J. has a lot to live up to and to do that he will need to play at a higher level than he did at USC. For a player with three years starting experience, it surprises me at how inconsistent McDonald is reading and reacting to pass plays from a deep alignment. He has shown the ability to be an intimidating hitter/tackler in run support and on passes in front of him, but his missed tackles make him a risky player to have at the back end of your defense. Overall, I am confident that McDonald will test out very well at the Combine and will end up being drafted higher than I have him graded. However, I do not believe he will ever be a consistently productive starter in the NFL and will always struggle with missed tackles and in deep coverage.