He played in all 13 games as a back-up and on special teams, making seven tackles, as a true freshman before getting his chance to shine in 2010. McDonald garnered second-team All-Pac-10 honors while starting 12 games (missing the UCLA game with a shoulder injury) and leading the team with 89 tackles, three for loss, and a sack. He intercepted three passes and broke up four others during the season, while also impacting special teams units by blocking a punt.
Though still young and having room to grow as a player, T.J. shows flashes of similar talent that scouts will covet whenever he decides to follow in his father's NFL footsteps. He has the size, strength, and versatility to make plays deep in cover-two or in the box, which gives teams something to think about when considering their top 40 prospects of either the 2012 or 2013 drafts.
Man Coverage: Lines up over the slot regularly. Does not have the short-area quickness to adjust to routes of pro slot receivers but will wrap them up after the catch and is fast and physical enough to stay with tight ends and bigger wideouts over the middle and down the seam. Solid finding and covering running backs out of the backfield.
Zone Coverage: Covers a lot of ground when playing deep. Reads the quarterback's eyes and reacts quickly to sideline throws. Lights up receivers coming over the middle with a well-timed big shoulder, but also brings strong contact when wrapping them up. Attacks screens and short routes, though his aggressive angles can cost him missed tackles.
Ball Skills: Effective centerfielder with the range and strong hands to take advantage of overthrows, strength and vertical to fight for jump and 50-50 balls with any receiver. High-points passes with nice timing and extension, also capable of grabbing wide throws. Lacks straight-line speed and elusiveness after the catch to be a major threat for pick-sixes in there is any traffic in front of him.
Run Support: Brings physicality to the run game for a free safety. Willing to mix it up in the box, finding his way through trash to the ball. Has strength to stone backs in the hole and keeps legs churning to prevent forward motion. Oncoming linemen can wash him out of plays, but he typically forces runs inside and is quite capable of shedding the block. Gets a bit nosy around the line when smelling the run, forgetting his containment and deep responsibilities.
Tackling: Has potential as both an intimidating hitter and reliable open-field tackler with his size, length and strength. Sideline-to-sideline range mean he can force ballcarriers out of bounds with authority. Will drop his hips, bring his shoulder and wrap up when one-on-one against running backs. Good length and upper-body strength helps him bring down larger ballcarriers one-on-one. Takes aggressive angles and leaves his feet at times in space when trying to make the big hit, allowing ballcarriers to elude him. Does not possess elite change of direction skills, can be shaken off in the open field. Should be a factor on coverage units and on and the punt block team.
Intangibles: Father, Tim, was a 2-time (1985-86) All-American and 4-year (1983-86) letterman safety at USC, where he helped the Trojans to a victory in the 1985 Rose Bowl, and then became an NFL All-Pro during a 13-year career (played for the 49ers' 1994 team that won the Super Bowl). His brother, Tevin, redshirted his first year at safety at UCLA. Had surgery on his ankle prior to 2010 spring practice. Reported to have very good work ethic in the weight room and the film room. Taking on a leadership role in his junior year."
While many free safeties in today's NFL are a touch undersized, with the new breed of high-flying passing games, safeties need to get bigger to take away tight ends and take away the deep ball. McDonald fits in that role at 6'2" and a frame that could still add at least another 10 pounds of mass.
McDonald really plays well in man-to-man coverage whether he's shadowing a tight end or lined up at or near the line against a slot receiver. His fluid hips and long frame will help him break up a great number of pass plays in his area.
McDonald isn't great against the run but plays intelligently with instincts in his assignment. He won't blow up many runners like LaRon Landry or Troy Polamalu, but he is a willing tackler with a knack for being around the ball.
His all-around game should carry him to be in the mix as one of the best safety prospects in this draft class."
McDonald's game compares favorably to Nick Collins of the Green Bay Packers. He'll make the occasional big play playing deep, but is strong and smart enough to play the run near the line.
• Excels covering tight ends because he has the size and change-of-direction ability to play them in man situations.
• Has played the slot covering wide receivers, and does well enough. He'll have trouble with incredibly quick receivers, but he can be dependable enough.
• Shows good instincts to break on slants and disrupt the pass. Will get overzealous at times trying to make an interception.
• Showed good hands in 2010, picking off three passes and coming close on several others.
• Against the run, McDonald shows good instincts to understand where the play is going to develop.
• Closes on the ball carrier showing excellent pursuit. Is a good enough tackler and doesn't simply like to go for the kill shot.
• Looks the part. Has a big frame with a lot of room to grow and get bigger if needed."
Nice athlete with fluid hips, a long stride and an extra gear when the ball is in the air could play corner in a pinch; also has good instincts, range and ball skills; picked off 3 passes in 2010 and broke up 4 others;
Aggressive run defender led team with 89 tackles last fall, but doesn’t get into backfield much; father Tim is former USC All-America safety who went on to a 13-year NFL career; father was also his high school coach."