CHICAGO (MCT) — On a 20-acre farm off Chicken Dinner Road in Marsing, Idaho, Shea McClellin developed the work ethic that made him into a first-round NFL draft pick.
McClellin helped the grandparents who raised him care for animals that roamed their land: goats, chickens, sheep, donkeys, wild geese and ducks. On a typical summer day as a kid, McClellin might feed the livestock in the morning and paint a fence in the afternoon; whatever his family needed.
It reflected the type of can-do spirit often found in small towns like Marsing — population 1,031. The community wrapped itself around McClellin so much growing up as a standout athlete that the sign over Main Street read, “Home of Boise State’s Shea McClellin.”
Home was where McClellin’s heart was Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York when the Bears drafted the Boise State defensive end with the 19th pick.
“Growing up on a farm raising wild animals teaches you discipline, responsibility, hard work,” McClellin said.
Nobody can consider how far McClellin has come, figuratively and literally, without smiling at the unlikelihood of his journey.
But I loved Dan Bazuin’s personal story too.
Bazuin was another small-town kid the Bears thought had big-time potential taken in the second round of 2007. You can find his name at the top of a list of worst draft picks by former general manager Jerry Angelo. Bazuin’s transition from dominant college pass rusher on Saturdays to NFL sack man on Sundays never happened.
That doesn’t mean it can’t happen with McClellin or that he can’t make the immediate impact general manager Phil Emery expects him to make. It might be patently unfair to compare McClellin’s Boise State career to Bazuin’s at Central Michigan. But, sorry, I recommend healthy skepticism when evaluating Emery’s first draft pick as Bears GM.
You can’t hate it yet. But it’s very hard to wholeheartedly endorse — especially considering the pool of potential Bears available.
Didn’t 2003 first-round bust defensive end Michael Haynes like animals too?
Blame the residue of Angelo’s drafts for instinctive doubt in Emery’s decision. In fairness, until now Emery has done little to warrant cynicism, yet a football city has become conditioned to questioning draft picks whose names we cannot spell without Google. If McClellin follows the same path from relative obscurity to NFL stardom Brian Urlacher followed — trying to stay open-minded here — then I will acknowledge being overly cynical.
The selection surprised me because Emery picked McClellin over pass rushers considered safer picks from larger programs such as Whitney Mercilus of Illinois and Chandler Jones of Syracuse. Additionally, Emery chose a pass rusher to complement Julius Peppers instead of an offensive lineman to bolster a group that lacks a Pro Bowl player, ignoring Iowa’s Riley Reiff and Stanford’s David DeCastro.
I asked Emery if selecting McClellin meant the Bears considered defensive end a bigger need than the offensive line — my interpretation.
“No, it just says that player was the highest-rated player among the seven (players the Bears targeted),” Emery said.
McClellin will wear No. 99 — no pressure there — and initially line up at left defensive end opposite Peppers. Emery gushed over McClellin’s instincts and leverage, and no draft night would be complete without a football guy complimenting a draft pick’s hips.
The Bears believe the smallish 6-foot-3, 260-pounder with 4.6 speed can be as productive as he was at Boise State, where he amassed 201/2 career sacks. As perennially strong as the Boise State program has become, I still wonder how many future NFL offensive tackles McClellin faced weekly. Is a Boise State pass rusher more prepared to sack NFL quarterbacks as one who plays a Big Ten or Big East schedule?
“Watch him perform against Georgia and watch him perform against Virginia Tech and I think you’ll see a very good football player,” Emery said.
For what it’s worth, less doubt exists whether McClellin will be a very good person in Chicago. Exhibiting as much humor as humility, McClellin played along when asked to compare chasing animals with chasing quarterbacks.
“You’ve got to have ability to chase chickens, so it’s similar,” McClellin said. “I came from a small town, but I consider myself a big-city guy. I don’t think it’s much of a hard transition really.”
I suspect it might be harder than he and the Bears think.
Not that anybody at Halas Hall felt anything but giddy. Outside the draft room, a pleased Emery passed defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli shortly after the selection.
“I said, ‘Rod you’ve got a Monster of the Midway, let’s get to work,’ “ Emery said.
At least that’s one thing everybody agrees McClellin can do.