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Position Switch May Benefit McMichael

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb discusses North Carolina defensive back Kyler McDaniel.

Once a 4-star prospect, Kyler McMichael had all the makings of developing into a premiere college player and solid NFL prospect. 247Sports ranked him the eighth-best recruit at cornerback and No. 56 overall player in the 2018 recruiting class.

But he never fulfilled those lofty expectations in college.

McMichael transferred to North Carolina following one season as a reserve at Clemson. After sitting out a season, McMichael became a starter in 2020 but eventually lost his job and returned to a reserve role at the end of the 2021 season.

For the next level, McMichael has the play strength and tackling ability to succeed. But he must prove his lack of athletic ability won’t be a liability in coverage in order to receive a serious opportunity in the NFL.

It’s hard not to view that as anything but ironic. Again, McMichael was a top 100 prospect heading into college and reportedly received offers from Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Florida State. Those schools don’t usually recruit non-athletic players.

But a lack of athleticism for the NFL is the reality McMichael faces as he tries to become an NFL draft pick.

“Perimeter cornerback with good size but a below-average athletic profile that shows up too often on tape,” NFL analyst Lance Zierlein of wrote. “McMichael’s strength in press and as a tackler works in his favor but everything in between could be a problem for NFL evaluators.

“He doesn’t plate with the anticipation to match route breaks and is missing the quick twitch to recover quickly when he gets behind.”

NFL draft evaluator Brentley Weissman of The Draft Network was overall more positive in his scouting report of McMichael (all evaluations from The Draft Network are more positive). But his overall conclusion was largely the same.

“McMichael possesses the necessary physical attributes to develop into a productive NFL player,” he wrote. “But lacks the overall athleticism to hold his own against quicker and speedier receivers.”

The timing of McMichael’s college career didn’t help his draft stock. Sitting out 2019 after transferring proved costly because his first season as a starter was the COVID-19 shortened campaign. Then with an opportunity to play a full season with North Carolina in 2021, he was unable to hold onto a starting role.

If he had started his college career at North Carolina, maybe he would have played more in 2018 or 2019. Staying at Clemson would have also provided him the chance to play at least some in 2019.

The 2020 season was McMichael’s best on the stat sheet. He posted 26 total tackles with six pass breakups and one quarterback hurry that season. In 2021, McMichael had 18 total tackles with one pass breakup, one tackle for loss and one interception.

Overall, he had 46 total tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception in 32 college games.

With a physical tackling style as one of his better traits, Zierlein proposed the possibility of McMichael switching to safety. That would make a lot of sense given that one of his worst attributes is matching the athleticism of speedier receivers.

Weissman concluded that McMichael will not be able to play inside at cornerback because in that role he will be matched up even more often with quicker wideouts in space. But his toughness and physical approach to run defense could offer him better potential at safety.

“McMichael is a strong run defender who takes pride in his game. He is quick to come downhill and does a good job staying outside forcing the ball-carrier inside,” Weissman wrote. “He does a good job fighting off blocks and is a good overall tackler.”

Weissman also wrote that McMichael may have a better pro career than college. To make that a reality, he will have to overcome a lack of athleticism in coverage to become an NFL contributor.

The quickest way to do that may very well be a position change to safety.