INDIANAPOLIS—If you’re looking for a safety with a pedigree, T.J. McDonald is your guy.
McDonald is the son of Tim McDonald, a long-time star safety with the San Francisco 49ers during their glory years. Father and son played at USC, where the tradition of star safeties runs deep.
A USC safety tradition that includes Ronnie Lott and Troy Polamalu is sending into this year’s NFL draft a legacy player who is thought to be a perfect fit for a team whose defense is in need of some muscle.
“I’m a physical, relentless safety who’s smart, watches film and loves football,” T.J. McDonald said of himself. “I feel like I want it more than anybody.”
McDonald has his father’s measurables, which is to say he’s big, strong and fast. The draftniks are somewhat critical of McDonald’s coverage ability, but they all agree he’s exactly what you want for that eighth man in the box.
“Being a physical guy, I like to have my nose close to the ball,” McDonald said on Sunday at the scouting combine.
He’s a strong-safety prospect in a class that’s deep at the safety position. McDonald is projected to be a second- or third-round draft pick. The Packers, of course, recently released Charles Woodson and most would judge the Packers to have need at safety.
“The game has changed, but I watch film of him and see how physical he was,” McDonald said of his father, who coached his son through high school and has groomed his son for professional football. “He’s told me there are two kinds of football players, those that have been beat and those that are going to be beat.
“I thanked him for being hard on me the way he was. He put me in a great situation. He taught me how to watch film.”
McDonald will work out with the defensive backs on Tuesday. He expects to run the 40 in the mid-4.4 to low-4.5 range. His 40 time and performance in agility drills will go a long way in determining where he’s selected, as safeties are being asked to be more parts cornerback than linebacker in today’s pass-first league.
Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy, however, talked on Friday about an offseason emphasis on defensing the read-option offense with which the 49ers gained 579 yards against the Packers in the playoffs. An in-the-box safety such as McDonald would help in that pursuit.
“Whoever drafts me, I’m going to say that’s my favorite team. I just love this game,” McDonald said.
He was a tackle machine at USC, with 275 in his career. He started 36 games in the last three years, which includes eight interceptions.
“I’m going to be relentless to the ball at all times,” McDonald said. “He’s been grooming me for this day for a long time. The relationship I have with (my father) has guided me to where I am now.” Additional coverage - Sunday at the combine