GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers failed to land one of the big fish in a deep sea of off-the-ball linebackers in the 2021 NFL Draft.
In the first round, Zaven Collins and Jamin Davis were off the board long before Green Bay was up at No. 29. In the second round, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Nick Bolton and Pete Werner were selected just before Green Bay was on the clock at No. 62.
Did they perhaps find a future starter in the sixth round with the 220th overall selection?
Perhaps the answer will be yes.
“To be honest, I think there’s some starter potential,” a team’s East Coast scout said of Boston College’s Isaiah McDuffie.
The scout compared McDuffie to another former Boston College standout, Matt Milano. The Buffalo Bills selected him with a fifth-round pick in 2017. Milano started five games as a rookie and 28 times in 2018 and 2019. Just before the start of free agency this offseason, he signed a four-year, $44 million deal to remain in Buffalo.
“Would anyone have expected Matt Milano to start for three years in Buffalo and then get paid this offseason? I don’t think anyone would have seen that coming,” the scout said. “For Isaiah, he’s got to come in and learn the system, learn the lifestyle of the NFL, learn the speed of the game. I would think by Year 2, he’s going to hit the ground running and he’s not going to look back. When he’s more comfortable with everything, he could be a productive starter.”
McDuffie started six times as a sophomore in 2018 and finished second on the team in tackles. After missing most of the 2019 season with a torn ACL, he led Boston College and finished fifth in the nation with 107 tackles in 2020. He had 10-plus tackles in seven games, including a career-high 16 vs. Notre Dame.
What stands out like a sore thumb is his lack of impact in the passing game. In 40 career games that included 20 starts, McDuffie had only one interception and just four passes defensed. It’s here where the verdict is split between scouts.
“As far as the pass game, you obviously didn’t see ideal production but I think that will come in time,” the area scout said. “You can always learn that. It’s repetitions and learning what teams like to do schematically. It is a learnable trait as opposed to it being instinctual.”
On the other hand, his lack of impact plays against the pass took him off one team’s list of draftable players.
“If you can’t play pass defense against college quarterbacks and running backs, how are you going to play against NFL quarterbacks and running backs?” that team’s area scout said. “If you can’t play pass defense, you can’t play in today’s NFL, simple as that. Quarterbacks know where the weak links are. Linebacker and running back, those are two positions where you either have big-picture vision or tunnel vision. You can’t play those positions with tunnel vision.”
Even if McDuffie can’t cut it at as a starting linebacker, he should be able to find a niche in the NFL. At 227 pounds and with 4.58 speed in the 40, he should be an asset on Green Bay’s retooled special teams. There’s value in that, especially so late in the draft.
“Maybe he makes it as a special teamer,” a scouting director said. “He’s tough and competitive. We didn’t have him as draftable but, at that point [in the draft], whatever.”
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