Name: Chris McCain
NFL games played: 20
Games played for the Chargers: 0
Fun fact: McCain co-owns a music label with Keenan Allen. (We'll touch on that more later).
Chris McCain's journey to the NFL begins with Keenan Allen.
The two played together in Elementary School back in North Carolina, and the good friends would also link up with Allen's half-brother Zach Maynard, their cousin Maurice Harris, and good friend Gabe King. Dubbed 'The Greensboro Five,' the quintet wanted to be given a chance to all play college football together. Maynard was already in college playing QB for Buffalo, but when his Head Coach moved to Kansas, Maynard decided to transfer.
Keenan Allen had already orally committed to Alabama, but wanted to play with Maynard, and would follow him wherever he ended up. McCain (who was a four-star recruit as an LB) had orally committed to Oregon but wanted to stick with Allen and Maynard. When Maynard opted for Cal, Allen joined him. McCain already had Cal in his top 3, and so was happy to commit there as well. Gabe King was already planning to go to Cal, and Harris, who was a year younger, would join them a year later.
That's how five kids from Greensboro - a town with 285,000 people - all decided to go and play for Cal, more than 2,000 miles away. They were family and best friends, getting the opportunity to play college football together.
McCain would Redshirt his true freshman year and made a decent impact in the 2011 season (his Redshirt Freshman year), playing ten games, starting six and recording 29 tackles (six for loss) and 1.5 sacks. He'd build on that in his Sophomore year, racking up 50 tackles, with 8.5 coming for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
He'd played mostly OLB during this time, but was transitioning to DE for his Junior Year, which would be his first under new HC Sonny Dykes. Things got off to a bad start between the two of them when Dykes had told some of McCain's close friends on the team that it might be best if they transferred away because he intended to recruit his own players, according to the Miami Herald.
Their relationship would only go downhill, and according to the Herald, things came to a head when McCain was irritated by Dykes' nonchalant attitude to losing by 39 points to Oregon - the place McCain was originally intending to play his football at. So McCain - who'll be the first to admit he's opinionated - spoke up. Dykes kicked him off the team a day later, citing 'conduct detrimental to the team.'
Just like that, McCain's NFL dream had been sent spiraling onto a knife-edge. Being kicked off a team is one of the most damaging things that can happen to a prospect, with teams tending to stay away from perceived problem players, or at least push them down the draft board. McCain went undrafted.
Luckily, teams will always be intrigued by somebody who's 6'5, runs a 4.67 40 yard dash, has a 10'01" broad jump, and can run a 7.04 three-cone drill. The Miami Dolphins picked him up, and McCain impressed enough to earn a spot as a backup OLB/DE. He appeared in 10 games in his rookie year and got one sack (on Tom Brady, of all people). He would play in 8 more for Miami in his second season, but they couldn't find a spot for him any longer and sent him off to New Orleans for a conditional seventh-round pick. The Saints would cut him less than a week later.
McCain bounced around the Cowboys and Saints Practice Squads (and saw sporadic playing time in two games with the Saints) before being picked up by the Chargers PS in November 2016. He stayed there for the rest of the season and was signed to a futures contract after the season, giving the 25-year-old a chance to make the roster in September.
Will he be able to crack the 53? I'm really not sure. I'm not certain that McCain really fits in anywhere on a 4-3 defense because I think his best role is as a 3-4 OLB (think Jerry Attaochu before he disappeared). McCain is a 'tweener' who hasn't been able to settle at either DE or LB in his NFL career so far. Jamie Hoyle did an excellent job of breaking down the SAM role earlier on BFTB, and that's not a role McCain fits. He might be tall, but he's slight, at just 236 lbs, and isn't strong enough against the run to be a reliable SAM.
He's not a MIKE LB, either. (That's the Middle LB in a 4-3 defense - Mike for Middle.) To play MIKE in the NFL, you need to be exceptionally talented, as it's often played by the leader of the defense, and someone that needs to be a real force against the run as well as capable in coverage - think somebody like Luke Kuechly. No offense to Chris McCain, but he's not Luke Kuechly.
That leaves the WILL LB (Weakside LB), but that doesn't really fit McCain, either. I'll let the other Jamie explain what exactly being a WILL entails, but he's essentially not strong enough in coverage to reliably do that job.
So, that leaves DE, and it sounds like McCain is going to be fighting for the backup LEO job behind Joey Bosa. On paper, that sounds like a role that suits him, as his biggest strength is undoubtedly his pass rushing, but I'm skeptical that 236 lbs is big enough to play anywhere on the DL. He might be 6'5, but that's awfully light to be fighting against the behemoths on the OL every play.
In an interview with Chargers.com, McCain had this to say:
“As the speed end, I can play a little more freely on the open side,” he said. “I can show a little more of what I can do with my speed. The LEO is a good fit for me with my body type and what I’m good at. I think it helps me show what I bring to the table for the coaches. (That’s) a lot of aggression. I hustle every play. No matter how tired I get. I play aggressively full speed and all out. I love to get after it, and I can do that at the LEO. I played with a guy he coached in Jacksonville in Andre Branch, and he is my body size. He did really (well) at the LEO position."
That sounds optimistic, and his speed will undoubtedly come in handy, but Andre Branch has roughly 25 pounds on him. There's going to be a fair amount of competition at DE this year (if Jerry Attaochu can come back strongly this year, he'd make an excellent backup LEO, but there's also Chris Landrum as a LEO candidate, with Isaac Rochell and Darius Philon on the other side). McCain definitely has a chance to grab a roster spot, but he's going to need to show that he's strong enough to hold his own on the DL. He's a guy with a lot of upside, though, and I'm very excited to see him in preseason competing against somebody like Chris Landrum. I think that'll be a fun, underrated battle to watch.
McCain's come a long way since being kicked off Cal's team, but that doesn't mean he's willing to forget the past. During his rookie season, McCain used Twitter to demand that Cal stopped using his image on their website. “I don’t want to have any type of affiliation with Cal,” McCain said. “There’s just some dirty stuff going on.”
In early 2016, Cal acknowledged that their negligence resulted in the tragic death of Ted Agu in 2014, a walk-on Cal football player who tragically died at the age of 21 after a strenuous team workout. Agu suffered from sickle cell disease, which makes over-exertion extremely dangerous. (I have a whole host of thoughts on the way college football players train and are worked, and none of them are positive, but that's a topic for another time).
McCain lashed out at Cal on Twitter after Cal's admission. He tweeted that the trainers should be investigated, and blamed Associate Head Coach Garret Chachere "telling lies" about him for getting him kicked off the team. He also said that Dykes and Chachere "don’t deserve to coach. Your [sic] selfish and clearly you will do anything to cover your tail.”
“I hope Cal loses a serious amount of money covering up the truth of a death by a teammate. Hope Cal gets put on probation."
Dykes would get fired at the end of the season, although that was down to his horrendous coaching record at Cal, rather than any fallout relating to the death of Agu. The university would later pay the Agu family $4.75 million.
McCain has also been known to speak out about lighter-hearted topics:
Pretty sure the deflatriots thought about deflating the footballs after that week one @$$ whooping. Super Bowl should be stripped— Chris McCain (@LolosDad1026) May 9, 2015
McCain tweeted those while under contract with the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots fierce rivals, and the Week 1 result he was referring to was when the Dolphins opened up the 2014 season by beating the Patriots 33-20 - McCain's first ever NFL game and one in which he had a sack and a blocked punt.
McCain might not have thought after that phenomenal debut that he'd be passed around the league with four teams in four years, and eventually end up with the Chargers, but that's the way his career's panned out. Not that McCain will be complaining about being with the Chargers - after all, it means he links up with lifelong friend and teammate Keenan Allen once more. In 2016, the duo became more than friends, as they (along with old friend Gabe King and Chris Bullock) started 'Black Kings Entertainment,’ their very own record label. The biggest name they currently have signed is Chris Landry.
McCain now has a young daughter, and between spending time with his family, working out, practicing, and managing a record label (and throwing shade at Cal on Twitter,) I have no idea how he has enough time in the day. I'm wondering if he doesn't find a place on the Chargers (and if no other team likes him enough to pick him up) whether he'll move into a more permanent role with Black Kings Entertainment, or if he'll find employment elsewhere. Hopefully, that's a question McCain won't need to consider for a long time.
For now, his eyes are set firmly on winning a place on this 53 man roster, and once again playing football with Keenan Allen. For two kids to play together in elementary school, college, and then the NFL - even when their college careers ended so differently - would be a pretty cool story. Let's hope it pans out that way.