Name: Adrian McDonald
NFL games played: 0
Games played for the Chargers: 0
Fun fact: Adrian McDonald and Kenneth Farrow both went to the University of Houston. Both left in 2016, and both were signed as UDFAs by the Chargers. Both wore #27 at the same time (jersey numbering rules are more lax in preseason), both made the team in some form (McDonald the practice squad), and both majored in Kinesiology. That's pretty spooky.
You know how some players heading into college have their position defined as just 'athlete'? Adrian McDonald is probably the reason why. McDonald was a QB in High School but was just as dangerous as a runner, picking up close to 2,000 rushing yards in just two seasons. He stood at just 5'9, which was too small for a lot of teams to see him as a future QB, but instead as a potential WR, CB or S. Ranked as a 3* Athlete and the 34th best player in the state of Oklahoma, McDonald chose to commit to Houston, who saw him as a playmaker, but probably one best served as a safety.
McDonald saw time in 9 games as a true freshman and instantly showed the 'playmaker' tag to be an accurate one, intercepting two passes and forcing another two fumbles. He was given the starting SS job in all 13 games as a Sophomore and showed why he deserved it, with a Conference-Leading six interceptions to go with 99 tackles. McDonald continued to make plays, intercepting five more passes as a Junior and forcing three more fumbles, before intercepting four as a Senior.
When all was said and done, McDonald had racked up 17 interceptions over his four years at Houston - the most in team history. He'd also recovered seven fumbles (placing him third all time) and forced another seven (fifth all time). To put it simply, McDonald was following the old defensive mantra. See ball, get ball.
McDonald was shortlisted for a whole host of awards, and was an AAC First-Team selection after his Junior Year in 2014. Clearly, being involved in so many turnovers was getting McDonald noticed. It just wasn't getting him noticed enough. He might have been a playmaker, but he was also still just 5'9 and 190 lbs, and had only been able to run a 4.65 40 yard dash. That's not a prototypical NFL build, and all the turnovers in the world wouldn't change that.
McDonald waited during the 2016 NFL Draft. And waited. And waited. 20 safeties were taken in the seven rounds of the draft. McDonald wasn't one of them.
That would have some benefits - it meant McDonald could pick his team, and the Chargers seemed like a good spot, looking for safety help after letting Eric Weddle walk in Free Agency. Besides, being overlooked wasn't exactly a new feeling for him. In an interview with New Era Scouting, McDonald had this to say:
"I embrace the underdog role. I have been an underdog since high school. I came out of high school as this little 3 star recruit and felt overlooked, but it has helped me in many ways. I know I have to prove people wrong and I work harder knowing that. I felt like not a lot of teams wanted to take a chance on me because of my size. When I got to Houston it drove me to work harder. I am a big competitor and I wasn’t going to let those things stop me from being the player I wanted to be."
McDonald didn't let his size hold him back in college, and he sure as hell wasn't going to let it start in the NFL. McDonald turned heads in Training Camp from Day 1, constantly being around the football and even managing to snag two interceptions in one day. He carried that form into preseason, forcing a fumble in his first ever game before closing out preseason with an interception of Jeff Driskel.
He didn't do quite enough to crack the 53 man roster (much to the chagrin of some fans, including myself), but was signed to the Practice Squad as soon as he cleared waivers, where he spent the entirety of the season.
Having now had a full year of practice to adjust to the NFL, I'm optimistic about McDonald's chances and he's one of the players I'm most excited to watch in preseason. There's definitely a spot to be won at safety, and McDonald just makes plays - and unlike Adrian Phillips, he can make them in games and not just practice.
McDonald is smart both on the field (he attributes his early days as a High School QB with helping him read the eyes and mind of opposing QBs, which he excels at) and off it (he was an honor roll student in 2012-2013), and he's also a leader, having been named a Team Captain as a Senior.
That leadership mentality was likely instilled in him from a young age. According to this excellent article from The Daily Cougar, McDonald moved into his his grandmother's house shortly after he was born. Sandra Ramirez made sure that McDonald inherited her generosity, and together the pair would frequently volunteer at the Salvation Army, as well as taking in soldiers for Thanksgiving and Christmas that were stationed away from their families, giving them food and providing them company.
Unfortunately, Ramirez had suffered from multiple strokes, starting from the time McDonald was in Eighth Grade, and she passed away during his Senior Year of High School.
“She basically raised me. It was (a hard time for me), but you still got to live. You can’t just hold your head on something. You have to still go on.”
McDonald did go on, but he made cosmetic changes to remember the woman who'd been such a key part of his life. Ramirez loved lighthouses, so McDonald decided to get one tattooed on his right arm. As far as I can tell, that's the only (visible) tattoo he has.
The job of someone in a lighthouse is to watch over people and keep them safe - just like Ramirez did with McDonald when he was growing up. Even though she's no longer alive, she's still there. She's watching him from her own personal lighthouse, but the roles have reversed. She no longer needs to keep McDonald safe.
He's keeping the memory of her safe with the lighthouse on his arm.
In a lighthouse in the heavens, a light flicks on. Ramirez is looking down at McDonald, proud of the man he's become. The NFL player he's become.
She approves. Her job is done.
Adrian McDonald has safely arrived at his destination.