Undersized but versatile, 49ers undrafted rookie Marcelino McCrary-Ball has some traits that could earn him consideration for long-term development.
At 6-foot-0 and 214 pounds, and having redshirted two full years at the collegiate level, the 23-year-old McCrary-Ball is certainly undersized for a safety or a linebacker, and it’s important to note the San Francisco 49ers officially list him at the latter position on their offseason roster despite him being a safety with the Hoosiers.
The final part of the above statement isn’t indicative, of course, as there are plenty of linebacker/safety hybrids out there. In many cases, these new-age defenders epitomize how defenses are reacting to the pass-happy nature of today’s NFL.
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That said, McCrary-Ball might not have the thump to cut it as a linebacker, and his coverage abilities are arguably on the weaker side, too.
Probably not the best-case tweener argument heading into his rookie season.
Nevertheless, McCrary-Ball does have some workable traits the Niners may look to develop over a season or two, so let’s break down what’s in store for him in 2022.
How Marcelino McCrary-Ball impresses 49ers in year one
Hybrid defenders are certainly sought-after players, especially if they don’t pose liabilities in one spot of the field over the other. In McCrary-Ball’s case, as pointed out by his NFL Draft Buzz profile, he makes up for whatever concerns regarding his small stature with a tough, physical mentality.
In short, don’t look for him to back down from a challenge in either pass coverage or against the run, and that’ll serve him well if he winds up closer to the line of scrimmage. And with 5.5 sacks over his last three played seasons, McCrary-Ball’s ability to serve as a blitzer also has to be taken into account.
If those traits show up during training camp and in the preseason, his stock will surely rise.
Why Marcelino McCrary-Ball flames out before Week 1
There’s always the concern with the “Jack of all trades, master of none” argument surrounding hybrid-type players, and that could surely be applied here.
McCrary-Ball might be capable of delivering some thump against smaller running backs and wide receivers, but that won’t be so easy at the pro level with the serious ramp-up in competition. Despite a strong frame, it’s still small.
On top of that, his scouting profile still pointed out coverage lapses, and while his 4.51 40-yard time is certainly respectable to suggest he can keep up with NFL-level receivers, it’s still fair enough to worry about him anticipating routes correctly and maintaining discipline.
Chances Marcelino McCrary-Ball makes 49ers’ 53-man roster
As far as the 14 undrafted players San Francisco brought aboard after the 2022 NFL Draft, McCrary-Ball certainly finds himself towards the weakest end of the bubble heading into training camp.
Sure, the 49ers bid farewell to a former hybrid safety/linebacker type in Marcell Harris this offseason, but other players like Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles have far greater a pedigree and trust from the team, and it isn’t as if the road to securing a back-end linebacker spot is going to be easy with the amount of depth the Niners currently have there.
Heck, even Flannigan-Fowles should be considered on the bubble, too.
McCrary-Ball might flash here and there during preseason games, yet it’s likely San Francisco is looking at a practice-squad designation for him in year one, hopefully turning that developmental status into something useful for 2023 and beyond.