But the Chicago Bears thought enough of the versatile, high-motor pass rusher to make him the 19th overall pick, confident that he had the ability to immediately upgrade their pass rush, which was 29th last season.
McClellin is a bit undersized at 6-3 1/2 and 260 pounds, but he gets high marks for athleticism, and he had 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons and 26 tackles for loss. The Bears chose him over Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who led the nation in 2011 with 16 sacks, and ahead of offensive linemen Riley Reiff of Iowa and David DeCastro of Stanford. Reiff went 23rd to the Lions, DeCastro 24th to the Steelers and Mercilus 26th to the Texans.
"We were looking for a guy who could contribute right away," said Phil Emery, of his first-ever draft pick as the Bears' general manager. "He fills a need as a pass rusher, but he has all-down ability. He finds the ball quickly and gets through blockers.
"We considered almost every position, but we felt he was one of the better pass rushers (in the draft)."
Many draft experts considered McClellin a reach in the first round, although his popularity skyrocketed as Draft Day approached. Pro Football Weekly's Draft Preview projected him as a third- or fourth-round pick, but in the week before the draft he was mentioned more and more frequently as a first-round pick because of his pass-rush ability.
"I think that's why they picked me up," McClellin said. "I think I'll be able to get after the quarterback."
The Bears hope so, considering they finished 29th in sack percentage last season.
The three-year starter at Boise State benched 225 pounds just 19 times at the Combine, but he got positive marks for character, work habits, smarts and a high-revving motor.
Emery praised McClellin for his instincts and leverage and said he has the ability to set the edge as a left end vs. the run.
"He's a small-town guy with great character," Emery said. "He has a relentless motor. He's an excellent pick for us."
To earn the starting job at left end, opposite Pro Bowl right end Julius Peppers, McClellin will have to beat out incumbent Israel Idonije, who at 6-6 and 275 pounds is adept at stopping the run. But Idonije had just 5.0 sacks last season, and McClellin possesses the potential to at least contribute as a situational pass rusher as a rookie. But the Bears feel there's a lot more to his game.
"This is an all-downs football player, including special teams," Emery said. "Our special teams coaches gave him a blue level (highest) grade as a special teams player. We are excited about him for several reasons: He's got really quick feet and hands as a pass rusher, he has natural hips as a pass rusher. In his role, his normal starting role at Boise, was as a (middle) linebacker and he would come down and rush on third down or in sub-package situations so there's a lot of versatility to this player."
Teams that play a 3-4 defense looked at McClellin as a linebacker, but Emery said he will play left end for the Bears, although he has the versatility to play either end spot or linebacker, which he did at Boise State.
"I don't have a preference," McClellin said. "I can be a threat from both (end and linebacker). Wherever the Bears want me to play, I'm happy to do it. I think my versatility definitely helped me out -- being able to play multiple positions and play them well."
The 22-year-old McClellin grew up on a farm in Caldwell, Idaho. At Marsing High School as a baseball player he hit .453, and he averaged 16.7 points and 11.6 rebounds in basketball.
He was asked if chasing chickens on the farm compares to chasing NFL quarterbacks.
"Well, you have to have agility to chase chickens," he said, "so I guess it's similar."
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