Takkarist McKinley believes he has the best motor among pass rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft, an opinion that's hard to argue with given how hard he played with some damaged parts under the hood.
"I'm not the type to complain," McKinley said. "I just played through it."
McKinley was talking about a torn labrum and fractured bone socket in his right shoulder, an injury he sustained one month into the 2015 season. The UCLA product finally addressed the issue surgically about a month ago, but not before doing all the drills at the NFL Scouting Combine.
His production with the injury speaks to his ability and his toughness, but it will be interesting to see if McKinley goes later in the draft because of his timetable. Viewed by most as a first-round talent, recovery time is estimated at four to six months, which means he could be ready for training but also means he might not be ready for the start of the season.
"The doctor was pretty much amazed that I played with it. Me, I just told my trainers at UCLA just tape me up, I'm ready to go," McKinley said. "Most teams just want to know what my plan is, like what's the recovery time, where I'm getting treatment, recovery. Once they find that out, it's really not that big of a deal."
Teams do sometimes shy away from drafting a player entering the NFL with rehab in front of him, but what might scare away one team could be viewed as an opportunity for another. In the case of McKinley, the even bigger debate some teams might face is how he fits their defensive system.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay lists McKinley as an outside linebacker – specifically as the draft's top outside linebacker – built for a 3-4 defense. But colleague Mel Kiper, Jr. lists him as a "DE/OLB," while Mike Mayock of NFL.com simply calls him an "edge rusher."
The Panthers run a 4-3 defense, and despite some dissenting opinions on McKinley's fit as a pro, UCLA switched to primarily a 4-3 last season. Some also see McKinley as more of a 3-4 fit because of his somewhat slight frame – he weighed 250 at the combine. But for comparison, Panthers defensive end Mario Addison (team sacks leader in last season) was listed at 252 as an NFL rookie and is now listed at 260.
"Two-fifty is not my playing weight. I'm more 255, 260," McKinley said. "Some teams got me as a 4-3 rush end, some teams got me as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I tell them I can do both. UCLA didn't ask me to drop that much, but I know I've got the athletic ability, the speed and the quickness to be able to drop in a 3-4 system. Wherever a team wants to play me, that's where I'll play."
And wherever he plays, he'll be driven to get to the quarterback, a skill he showcased in 2016 as one of just three Pac 12 players to record double-digit sacks despite his injury.
"The league now is a passing league, and you need young guys to get to the quarterback," McKinley said. "I'm hungry. I've got a lot to improve on, technique-wise, but once I improve on my technique, with my motor and my hunger of the game, I feel I'll be unstoppable."