Who is This Guy?
McCray excels in press coverage in both man and zone looks. His big frame and nice hand use lets him jam receivers well and he can stay with them down the sideline. You would think that smaller receivers could beat him with quickness, but he shows a great feel for underneath routes in man coverage. He does get beat sometimes by big-bodied players when he plays off-coverage, as he doesn’t have great anticipation for where the receiver is going in off-zone. The defensive scheme plays to his strengths in most occasions, for he is best when covering down the sideline and near the LOS. His worst area of coverage is the deep middle of the field, but the Cover 3 scheme doesn’t ask him to go there too often in zone coverage. McCray is a good tackler (for a corner) but not a great one like Davon House. He often doesn’t wrap up like he should, but he doesn’t miss tackles and usually forces the ball-carrier to the ground with his body. He’s also shown to be a willing tackler, which is more important for corners than perfect form. He doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, but he is superior in coverage to most of the DBs on the team.
The Film Room
I broke down McCray’s three starts this year to try and see what got him moved to the back of the depth chart in 2015.
McCray made his starts against the Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts (in Indy) in weeks 2-4. Here is what I saw.
McCray was an absolute beast in the game against Miami. He primarily faced three players in coverage throughout the game: WR Greg Jennings, WR Devante Parker and TE Jordan Cameron. Parker and Jennings had no chance to beat McCray with the lockdown coverage that he was playing. I loved that the coaching staff let him get up in their faces on several occasions and just play straight man. However, the Dolphins were able to isolate TE Jordan Cameron (who, when healthy, is a beast as a receiver) against McCray and FS Sergio Brown when the Jags switched to Cover 3 looks. Keep in mind now, Cameron is 6’5, 254 lbs., and ran a 4.59 second 40-yard dash at the 2011 NFL Combine. He’s an insane athlete and a huge threat as a receiver. Yet Cameron only beat McCray on one occasion, where he sat down near the bottom of McCray’s zone and McCray played too far off, seeming to think that Brown would pick him up. When Miami tried working Cameron towards the sideline against McCray, he was able to cover well enough to discourage the throw. McCray was not very tenacious in this game as a run defender, but was the best cover corner on the field that day. Also keep in mind that Davon House didn’t play in the second half, yet McCray didn’t miss a beat.
McCray had another good game against the Patriots, but he (along with the entire team) digressed from the week before. He was mostly matched up with WR Aaron Dobson, although he did have to face Rob Gronkowski in the red zone. He also faced WR Julian Edelman and RB Dion Lewis. It seemed like the New England game-plan early on involved Dobson a lot in an attempt to expose the young corner and mediocre safeties on our defense, but McCray was having none of that. Dobson did end up beating McCray near the end zone, where McCray clearly thought Brady was going to throw a corner route to Dobson, but Dobson ran a slant and was open. However, on this play, McCray recognized what was happening quickly enough to come back to the ball, hit Dobson and force an incompletion (credited as a drop by Dobson because he could have caught the ball, but McCray helped force that play). This game also had my favorite play by McCray in the entire film session. Lined up against WR Julian Edelman (one of the league’s best small receivers) on the perimeter, Edelman ran a “zig” route, where he steps in and acts like he’s running a slant, then cuts outside and runs parallel to the goal-line. You may remember Edelman scoring on this exact route in Super Bowl 49. McCray somehow put himself in a perfect position to cover both the slant and the out routes, didn’t bite on the pump fake by Brady, and blanketed Edelman (the Patriots did score a TD on the play, but not because of McCray). McCray looked pretty good in coverage despite the rest of the defense getting carved up by underneath routes and screens (as the Patriots did to most teams this season). He also looked more aggressive as a run defender and a tackler, making a really nice wrap-up as well as setting the edge on some screens. (P.S. If you like highlight tackles, S James Sample made one of the best tackles of the year on Patriots RB James White in this game).
The Indianapolis game was the worst of these three by McCray and culminated in his benching in the third quarter. He faced most of the Colts’ diverse receiving core, including WR Andre Johnson, WR T.Y. Hilton and rookie WR Phillip Dorsett, but played most of his snaps against WR Donte Moncrief. Moncrief is another gifted athlete (6’2, 221 lbs., ran a 4.4 40-yard dash) who really has improved as a route runner, but has always been explosive out of his cuts. McCray was beaten badly twice by Moncrief, one on a dig route and once on a deep inside curl. The game-plan confused me, as I thought it would be smart to play press-man against Matt Hasselback and force him to throw the ball in tight windows. However, we decided to play off-man and press Cover 3 coverages for most of the game. McCray was beaten once in both occasions by Moncrief, as well as being beaten by Hilton in man coverage on an underneath route, where Hilton excels and McCray doesn’t. If Matt Hasselback didn’t have a noodle for an arm at this point in his career, he could have targeted McCray more and probably completed another two or three passes to Moncrief. McCray showed a lot of aggressiveness but not much tackling form in the run game (although he can sniff out a screen from off-coverage and shut it down). He was benched in favor of Dwayne Gratz in this game, who slightly outperformed McCray, although on some plays Gratz just looked dreadful.
Why Wasn’t He on the Field More in 2015?
This is the question I’ve been asking myself since he was benched and replaced by Gratz for the next several games. Gratz performed horribly, as most fans of the team expected, just like Gratz has for his entire career. The Buffalo game was a real lowlight for him, allowing a deep touchdown to . . . Some guy named Marcus Easley? This was also Easley’s first reception of the season, third career catch, first career TD and accounted for 58 of his 71 career receiving yards. Easley (who has as many career interceptions as touchdown receptions, just as a side note) just ran past Gratz and accelerated a comeback that was nearly the most depressing loss in the history of the franchise. This play is a perfect example of what Gratz has been his entire career: a gateway to the end zone more open than the US-Mexico border. He’s infuriating as a player.
Eventually, Gus Bradley realized how absolutely terrible Gratz is and benched him and replaced him with . . . Nick Marshall? This was a move that shocked me to my very core. This guy hadn’t played cornerback since he was kicked out of the University of Georgia as a freshman (and subsequently starred for Auburn at QB) and he is now a starting rookie corner for us? Well, to my surprise, Marshall played very well, although he showed that he still needs to work on his technique. His athleticism is outstanding and he has a natural feel for the position (makes me wonder: how would he be if he had stayed at cornerback throughout college?).
I think the reason that McCray couldn’t get back on the field is because Gus Bradley wanted to force more turnovers, which McCray has been unable to do. While he’s a great cover man, he has never recorded an interception, forced fumble, or sack (they don’t ask him to blitz, so that’s okay) and he recorded his first and only fumble recovery against Indy this year. Dwayne Gratz, despite his ineptitude in coverage, has recorded three career interceptions (including a 55-yard pick-6 in 2014), 2 forced fumbles and 12 pass deflections. Near the end of the season, I think Gus realized that he needed to see what he had in Nick Marshall as a DB and started playing him, eventually realizing that they may have struck gold with his signing.
Demetrius McCray has exceeded anything the team could have expected from him when he was drafted in 2013. He’s refined his technique and become a very good cover man for the team, but he doesn’t have much of a nose for the football. Colvin and House force the turnovers, but McCray is so good in coverage that he needs to be on the field. Luckily, Nick Marshall could be on the move to free safety this offseason, so there could be an open spot that should be filled by either McCray, Gratz (please no!), or whoever we decide to add to the group to bolster it (bolstering the group is a when, not an if). Either way, we should see more of McCray in 2016 (and I’m hoping and praying that we see less of Dwayne Gratz).
What do you think of McCray? Let us know in the comments section below. Follow me on Twitter @twjohns97 and keep reading me on Reddit and on generationjaguar.net! Look out for my full NFL 7-round mock draft on Reddit (coming soon) and the rest of the Underrated Jaguars series right here. Go Jags!