Mailbag: The Development of Mike McCray

Tag: Mike McCray

17Jan 2018
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Mailbag: The Development of Mike McCray

Mike McCray

Here’s a question from mejunglechop:

Hi Thunder, huge fan, but this is my first time commenting. I apologize in advance for the number of questions.

First I’ll say I really enjoyed reading through your original Hello post. It was interesting that your rating, although, controversially low at the time, turned out to be prescient. McCray has turned into a good Big Ten starter with some NFL draft potential.

My big question(s) for you looking back :
Originally you thought McCray’s best fit might come at SAM as you thought this would maximize the strengths you saw in his tape (straight line speed combined with size and coverage instincts) while mitigating his weaknesses (forcing him to play more aggressive and downhill). McCray eventually became a very good downhill Mike. Do you think this is more attributable to Don Brown’s scheme and how he uses his Mikes, or McCray developing better instincts reading run plays? If Mike McCray was a prospect being signed today do you think the staff would recruit and develop him for a Noah Furbush style SAM role or would they see him as a Mike prospect?

Check out the answer below the jump.

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11Jan 2018
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Goodbye, Mike McCray II

Mike McCray II (image via Land of 10)


McCray attended Trotwood (OH) Trotwood-Madison and was a part of the 2013 graduating class, just a few years after Michigan wide receiver Roy Roundtree graduated from Trotwood-Madison. McCray is the son of a former Ohio State captain, so it was thought that he would end up a Buckeye, but Ohio State never offered the younger McCray. He picked Michigan over offers from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, along with many others. I gave him a final TTB Rating of 74 (LINK).


McCray redshirted as a freshman in 2013. In Brady Hoke’s final year as coach, McCray played special teams and as a backup linebacker, most notably blocking a punt against Appalachian State in the opener that was returned for a TD by Ben Gedeon. However, a pre-existing shoulder injury was aggravated in the spring of 2015, and he redshirted that year; there were rumors that the shoulder injury would end his career, and indeed he wore a harness on his shoulder for the next two years. When he did return in 2016, he was Honorable Mention All-Big Ten with 76 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 interceptions (including a TD against Florida State in the Orange Bowl), and 9 pass breakups. He followed that up with another Honorable Mention All-Big Ten season in 2017, finishing with 84 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 1 pass breakup.


161 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 2 interceptions (for 36 yards and 1 TD), 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 8 pass breakups


Honorable Mention All-Big Ten (2016, 2017)
Team Captain (2017)
Robert P. Ufer Bequest for enthusiasm (2017)


McCray had a career that I feel I have come to expect from Michigan linebackers. Michigan isn’t the Miami Hurricanes when they had a steady flow of elite ‘backers for many years. They never have been. McCray is a guy who didn’t contribute much during his first few years on campus, but when it was time for him to play, he did an admirable job. Despite being listed at 6’4″ and 248 lbs. – pretty large for a college inside linebacker – he was surprisingly adept at reading quarterbacks’ eyes and defending the pass. On top of that, he’s #12 in career tackles for loss at Michigan, though admittedly the school didn’t start tracking that stat until the mid-1990s. I feel he got a bad rap at times for his struggles to cover running backs out of the backfield on wheel routes, but those plays are designed to take advantage of 6’4″, 248 lb. guys trying to cover the likes of Dalvin Cook and Saquon Barkley out of the backfield. Defensive coordinator Don Brown basically said, “Yes, they’re going to hit some plays against him, but I’ll take my chances.” At his size, if McCray had the speed and athleticism to cover Barkley or Cook on wheel routes, we would be talking about a potential first or second round pick.


. . . his punt block against Appalachian State in 2014 that was returned for a touchdown by Ben Gedeon.


McCray was a productive inside linebacker who looks like a 3-4 inside linebacker at the next level. He’s not an edge rusher, and I wonder if Michigan kept him at WILL linebacker instead of MIKE to cut down on how much contact he would take with a bad shoulder. He’s not your typical WILL, and his primary backup is the shorter, smaller former safety Devin Gil. McCray may have been a SAM linebacker in a 4-3, but some of those guys have disappeared or morphed into different body types now that the NFL is a passing league. McCray has the size and athleticism to play in the NFL. I think he has pretty good awareness and is more of a zone coverage guy than a man coverage player. He should be a third day pick in the NFL Draft as long as his shoulder holds up to teams’ scrutiny.

23Oct 2017
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Michigan vs. Penn State Awards

Let’s see more of this guy on offense . . . Brandon Peters. Peters has only played a couple snaps this season, which included a handoff and a quick pass to Mo Ways for 4 yards. I wasn’t one of the guys longing for Peters against Penn State, but if Michigan can pull away from Rutgers, it would be nice to get Peters some snaps.

Hit the jump for the rest of the weekly awards.

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22Oct 2017
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Penn State 42, Michigan 13

This looks like a “Finish him!” moment from Mortal Kombat (image via

A loss is a loss. I predicted a 20-9 loss, which was obviously incorrect. It ended up being a 42-13 loss. Remember when Michigan beat Penn State 49-10 last year? The Nittany Lions went on to win the Big Ten. Obviously, a 42-13 loss hurts at the time, but so do close losses. The bottom line is that Michigan is 5-2, and this game was confirmation that Michigan doesn’t have it this year. It was said all off-season – you don’t lose that many players to the NFL and go right back where you started. Michigan lost its top two wide receivers, one of the best TEs in the country, three senior starting linemen, and basically 11 starters on defense. And this year, they’re already down the #1 QB and the #1 WR. No rational person was expecting a Michigan win in Happy Valley at night, so let’s not overreact.

Hit the jump for more on the game.

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