Given the Redskins’ struggles in the secondary and the team’s dire salary cap situation, one of Mike Shanahan’s priorities in April’s draft figures to be selecting a safety who’s capable of contributing immediately.
Fortunately for Shanahan, most talent evaluators believe there will be several – such as USC’s T.J. McDonald – who will be available after the first round.
McDonald is the son of former 49ers’ star safety Tim McDonald and said he had a formal interview with the Redskins on Sunday in Indianapolis.
He had been pegged by some scouts as a middle-round pick entering this week’s scouting combine but he left as a potential second rounder after posting strong results. He was a top performer among safeties in bench press (19 reps), vertical jump (40 inches), broad jump (131 inches) and ran a respectable 40-yard dash (4.59 seconds).
After Tuesday's workouts, a seemingly satisfied McDonald tweeted: “Preparation met opportunity.”
But what could make McDonald a starter as a rookie are his bloodlines and upbringing. He was coached in high school by his father and has spent countless hours dissecting the position Tim Sr., a former Pro Bowler at the position.
“He’s been preparing me for this for a long time,” McDonald said. “He wasn’t preparing me to be a high school player or a college player, he was trying to teach me how to be a pro from a young age. The relationship I have with him has pushed me to the point where I am now. I know I have a responsibility to him, to myself, to my family to be able to go for it all, not to just step my foot in this league but to be able to go for a career.”
Asked what lessons he’s learned from his father, the younger McDonald said: “Just to be relentless at all times. You want to be relentless and don’t let people stop you from getting to the ball. He always tells you there are only two kinds of football players: those who have been beaten and those who are going to get beat. It’s not about if you’re going to get beat or not, it’s how you’re going to respond.”
As a senior, McDonald led the Trojans with 112 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. He also accumulated two interceptions and defended five passes.
Scouts praise his size (6 foot 3, 219 pounds), his physicality against the run and instincts in coverage. He says it’s his intangibles that set him apart.
“I would say I’m a physical safety who is smart, watches a lot of film, is a leader, he loves the game of football,” he said. “That’s one thing: I love this game. I was born into this game. You can interview all the guys at the combine, but nobody wants it more than I do.”