Verone McKinley was a four-star cornerback prospect coming out of Hebron High School in Texas and committed to Oregon during the early signing period in December 2017. He redshirted his freshman year and wound up playing in three games while making three solo tackles. In 2019, he was tied for the Pac-12 and team lead for four interceptions on the season. McKinley made six starts and played in all seven games while finishing third on the team with 41 total tackles in 2020. Against UCLA, he had a career performance with his fifth career interception, a fumble recovery, and a then-career-high seven tackles. He would later break his personal record by recording nine tackles against Oregon State.
2021 was a big breakout season for McKinley, as the cornerback turned safety was a consensus All-American as he had five first-team All-America honors and two second-team honors. He was tied for the FBS lead with six interceptions, a top-three finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, and an AP All-Pac-12 first-team honoree. In the Ducks’ big win over Ohio State in Week 2, McKinley was named the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week after recording six total tackles, a forced fumble, and his first interception of the season which sealed the game.
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Name: Verone McKinley
Jersey: No. 23
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Weight: 194 lbs
Games Watched: UCLA (2020), Fresno State (2021), Utah (2021 x2)
Major Injury History: None
McKinley reads plays very well and is opportunistic in making a play on the ball and ball carrier. He is a very smooth player that rarely seems out of place on the field. His instincts were shown off the most in the Ohio State game. He reads the quarterback’s eyes and goes to make a play on the football. McKinley’s high football IQ really helps him to be a very instinctive athlete. There are times he will be leaning the wrong way, but that is very rare.
Range/Closing Speed (10/15)
McKinley isn’t the fastest guy and doesn’t have the best range on the back end. He does make up for this with his instincts to get in position. But he is more suited for two-deep looks rather than being a single-high player. He can close rather quickly on certain plays and make big tackles or pass breakups. That is especially evident when the ball is in the air, as he uses his instincts to get in place.
Man Coverage (5/10)
This is McKinley’s worst trait, as he is much better suited with his eyes on the quarterback. He can man up with tight ends well as he is consistent in keeping the route vertically. But he will lose his assignment at times and isn’t going to be as reliable with his ball skills here.
Zone Coverage (8/10)
Playing zone defense is one of McKinley’s biggest strengths as he understands and reads routes well. With his high IQ, he knows where to be while reading the eyes of the quarterback and making a play. He picks up on receivers’ movements and crashes their routes.
Ball Skills (9.75/10)
As evidenced by Quandre Diggs of the Dallas Cowboys, interceptions aren’t everything. They’re a flashy statistic as they pop out on the stat sheet. McKinley had big interception numbers, especially in 2021, during his Oregon career. But outside of that, he is just an all-around ball hawk. When he doesn’t force a turnover, he will get a hand on the ball and force quarterbacks to think twice about throwing in his direction. He will punch at the ball to strip the ball carrier as well.
Change of Direction (7/10)
When running downhill, McKinley can lose his footing and not get back into the play. He also needs to get better at his backpedaling and he doesn’t have the most fluid hips. But overall his change of direction is adequate as he is a smooth runner and usually maintains his balance.
Tackling/Run Support (7/10)
McKinley isn’t going to be much of a threat as an in-the-box safety, but he does have a solid tackling ability. He does a great job wrapping up and laying down the hammer on hits. There were only a couple of times on film that he missed a tackle, and he almost always shows good form. He comes downhill quickly to stop running backs as soon as he reads the play.
Since he played corner in high school, he obviously has the ability to play there as well. McKinley can be asked to line up in man or underneath or deep zone. He doesn’t have tremendous speed but can do well enough to play anywhere. On occasion, he will line up as the 8th man in the box on run sets or in press.
McKinley lacks true physicality as he relies more on his ball skills at the catch point. He won’t be seen playing man-to-man too often as he won’t be able to get physical at the stem of the route. Receivers will too easily knock him off the route and he doesn’t tackle as strongly against bigger running backs. His small frame has a lot to do with that and lacks elite speed.
Overall, McKinley has solid traits to make an immediate impact in the NFL. With his sensational football IQ, ball skills, and zone coverage abilities, he can make plays all over the field. He makes up for his lack of true speed with his elite awareness and solid closing ability. There is a well-rounded safety with McKinley even with some of his weaknesses. There is a pretty high ceiling here that could be reached with more development with the weaker parts of his game.
Rookie Projections: Depth Safety in two-high scheme
Third Year Projections: Starting Free Safety
Final Grade (74.25/100): Fourth-Round Pick
Player Comp: Devin McCourty
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