In the days leading up to the NFL Draft, BR.com takes a look at some of the successes from the Ravens' scouting department. Beginning with linebacker Jameel McClain, who was an undrafted free agent coming out of Syracuse, BR.com will go round to round before Saturday's first-round draft pick.
Throughout his life, **Jameel McClain** has never faced an easy path.
As a child, the Ravens linebacker once lived out of a Salvation Army shelter, relying on food drives to fill his stomach.
He fought for recognition as a youth football prospect on the gridiron and as a former boxing prodigy off the tough streets of Philadelphia.
Even after he proved himself as an All-Big East defensive end at Syracuse, finishing a stellar four-year career with 170 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, no NFL teams saw fit to spend a draft pick on him.
But after a solid rookie campaign, the Ravens are happy he decided to sign with them as an undrafted free agent.**
"There wasn't any uncertainty at all about what he could do, because everyone at Syracuse told you how much Jameel loved football, and it was easy to see that on tape," said Ravens area scout **Joe Douglas**, who was one of the first within the organization to target McClain. "He was the guy that was running 100 miles per hour and chasing every ball down on the sideline."
Douglas explained that the Ravens had an eye on McClain for a while prior to the draft and were prepared to make a hard run at the versatile playmaker.
Once the late-round picks began to fall, Douglas and the personnel department quickly burned up the phone lines.
"We got a chance to watch him as a junior, when he led the Big East in sacks," Douglas stated. "What really jumped out was that effort and intensity that showed up on every play. He carried that out through the entire year, and he did that for us here in Baltimore."
McClain provided a huge return on the Ravens' investment. Not only is he committed to making an impact in the community, making multiple charitable appearances throughout his first year in the league, McClain proved he could succeed as an NFL linebacker.
According to Douglas, McClain was familiar with the position from playing there in high school, but the vast majority of his collegiate career was spent with one hand on the ground.
"He doesn't have that typical size that you want from a 3-4 defensive end, and there weren't a lot of snaps of him at linebacker," Douglas said of the 6-foot-1, 250-pounder. "We knew he had played that in high school and have maybe 10-15 plays at linebacker in college as a senior, so I'm sure there was some uncertainty about what he could do in the pros."
What McClain did do was impressive.
He was a critical special teams performer, finishing third on the team with 17 special teams stops.
And, he set a franchise record with two safeties, sacking Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell in the end zone in Week 8 and blocking a punt against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 12.
For an unheralded, undrafted free agent, McClain certainly beat the odds.
Then again, he has done it all his life. The Ravens are simply happy to give him an opportunity.
"His story is a great story," said Douglas. "He's really a self-made guy, from top to bottom, and I think he's the perfect example of what a Raven should be."
Stay tuned Monday for a scout's look at safety Haruki Nakamura.