In his short tenure as general manager of the Miami Dolphins, Chris Grier has shown the ability to add quality players in unique ways. Trading for linebacker Benardrick Mckinney is another bullet point on his impressive and growing resume.
These are the kind of moves that help to build a championship roster. Shaq Lawson is a good player, but McKinney, 28, fills a more urgent need and plays a position –off-ball linebacker– that is razor-thin in free agency. Let’s take a minute to breakdown why this trade makes so much sense for Miami.
What makes McKinney a good linebacker?
To put it simply, everything. There are a few things that any good three-down, off-ball linebacker has to do well in today’s NFL: defend the run, diagnose offensive plays, drop into coverage and be a plus athlete.
First among those is defend the run, and McKinney does that extremely well. He will instantly be one of the Dolphins’ best run defenders and doesn’t shy away from taking on blocks or ball-carriers at the line of scrimmage.
This is one of the most important aspects of playing the linebacker position. It’s why we see so many rookie linebackers struggle in their first couple seasons. NFL offenses are complicated and it takes years of experience to be able to read and react instantly.
Pro Football Focus grades McKinney (86.3) as a higher run defender than Jerome Baker (49.6), Miami’s top linebacker last season.
Pass coverage is what separates two down and three-down linebackers. It’s why Raekwon McMillian was traded and why Baker has stuck around. NFL offenses in 2021 pass more than they run, and if a linebacker can’t competently drop into coverage — whether that be man or zone — theywon’t play third downs and probably won’t stick on many rosters.
|Height||Weight||Arms||40 yd dash||3-cone||shuttle||Vert||Broad|
|Benardrick McKinney||6’4||245 lbs||33||4.66||7.21||4.27||40.5||121|
To a lot of people these are just a collection of numbers, but they tell a story. I’ll highlight a few that make McKinney a unique player and athlete.
McKinney is built like an old-school linebacker and has pretty long arms for his position. Arm length matters for linebackers because it’s how they can keep guards, tackles and tight ends from getting ahold of their pads. If they’re rocking t-rex arms, good luck keeping opposing linemen away. Wing span also helps in pass coverage.
McKinney’s 40-yard dash, 3-cone, and shuttle won’t blow anyone away. They’re slightly above average for his position, but are impressive when taken in conjunction with the fact that he’s a bigger linebacker.
He’s crazy explosive. McKinney had a 40.5-inch vertical jump, which is the same as DK Metcalf. Why does explosive strength matter? He needs to be able to generate a ton of force in a short period of time when taking on blocks and ball carriers in the hole.
Why McKinney over Lawson?
It’s confusing when McKinney and Lawson are both referred to as linebackers, but they play completely different roles. Lawson plays an outside linebacker/edge position. He almost never drops into pass coverage and is typically either rushing the passer or defending the run. McKinney will be an inside/off-ball linebacker in Miami.
Which players primarily played the second off-ball linebacker role next to Baker last year? Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Kamu Gurgier-Hill. now that they’re all gone, there’s a need for that position group.
Lavonte David was one of the few high-level three-down linebackers available in this free-agent class. When Tampa Bay resigned him, that didn’t leave much else to sign. Miami could’ve drafted one — Zaven Collins or Micah Parsons– but rookie linebackers have a steep learning curve in the NFL. The addition of McKinney gives the Dolphins an experienced, high-level linebacker to pair with Baker from day one. It also gives them some flexibility when it comes time to re-sign Baker next year.
The availability of edge defenders
This year’s free-agent edge class is extremely deep. Trey Hendrickson, Carl Lawson, Leonard Floyd, Bud Dupree and Melvin Ingram amongst others are available and are as good or better than Lawson. Essentially, Miami could be trading out Lawson and Van Noy for Benardrick McKinney and Trey Hendrickson or Carl Lawson– for comparable money.
The bottom line
This is another intelligent move by Chris Grier. The Dolphins acknowledged that the off-ball linebacker was a weakness in 2020 and they’re addressing it. McKinney will be due $7.1 million this year, which is a steal. They’ll have him under contract through 2023 and he’s going to be one of the best linebackers Miami has had in a long time.
McKinney cones off a shortened season due to injury, it’s a shoulder injury, which is way less concerning than lower-body ones. Miami’s defense just took a major step forward.