Games scouted: Fort Lewis College (2014), Oklahoma Baptist (2014)
What do you do with a power back that gets stood up in the hole? That’s our dilemma of the day with running back Christopher McClendon. McClendon, a prospect out of Division II program Oklahoma Panhandle State University, has the stature (5’ 11”, 220 lb.) to be a solid ball carrier that should grind yards after contact, but he doesn’t. I think I have an answer why.
For starters, McClendon was left alone in a single-back pistol set most of the time in the OPSU offense; that speaks to his coaches’ confidence in his ability to clear lanes for himself. Another strength is that he displays the kind of willingness to hit holes decisively that one needs in order to survive as an inside runner. He has solid vision and patience to work down the line behind his blocks and wait for a hole to open, at which point he makes one cut and accelerates. With such a massive frame – he is actually listed at 232 lb. on his OPSU page – it’s not surprising to see him with a below-average explosiveness on the snap, but his incredible foot frequency helps him build up steam on the way up to the line. The one fault to this is that if his blocking fails and he gets hit in the backfield, he has little “oomph” to recover and plunge forward.
This is where I take my biggest issue with McClendon: he hits the hole decisively with a good low pad level and high-octane foot frequency, yet he far too often gets plugged up right there. The reason is behind his foot frequency, which is one of his best friends in the run-up phase. His lack of tackle-breaking is due to stopping moving his feet once contact hits. He instead tries to lean into the defenders and push through, rather than churning his powerful legs and driving through them. Without incredible top speed or great agility, he will have to utilize his natural strength to drive defenders off their positions. He is willing to do so, but I’d even more love to see him revel in the contact of breaking a defensive lineman’s arm tackle or posting up a linebacker in the A-gap. His top gear, whether inside or in the open field, is average at best; I saw him caught from behind far too many times, and this is with D-II players. In a more talented league he’s not going to have twenty-yard breakaways like he did with the Aggies. Still, I don’t think he needs to be a speedy breakaway threat; his game should be strength-based, between-the-tackles thumping.
His pass protection is a solid component to his game, as he shows a solid anchor and willingness to take on blitzing ends. His frame lends itself well to this task, and he has no trouble getting in the action in that aspect. His pass game contributions are limited to that, however. He drops easy swing passes with regularity, due to a slow turn back to the passer and taking his eyes off the ball before the catch, and he will stop selling a play-action pass and watch.
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Overall, I believe McClendon’s natural fit at the next level would be as a short-yardage and power-run halfback, or a more finesse based fullback. He has to continue to use his lower-body strength and foot frequency as his allies. As of right now, he isn’t standing up linebackers at D-II colleges, so I want to see him dominate in the power game there before I can envision him as more than a short-term situational player in the National Football League.