When former Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan arrived in Columbus for spring practice in 2014, he was in line to earn significant playing time as a true freshman the coming fall.
He did just that, and became a reliable force in the middle of OSU’s national championship-winning defense.
Now after two more years — both as a starter and one as a team captain — McMillan feels somewhat overlooked as he makes the turn toward becoming an NFL draft pick.
“I kind of went into the draft process as an underdog,” McMillan said. “And it is what it is. I came here to show everybody what I had to do. Me personally, I don’t feel that there’s a guy that’s better than me in this (class).”
McMillan was one of the most consistent and productive linebackers since OSU coach Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus in 2012. The former five-star recruit from Hinesville, Georgia, had 275 total tackles with the Buckeyes, including two seasons when he led the team with 119 and 102. He filled a gap at middle linebacker in 2014 with then-senior linebacker Curtis Grant, and then immediately assumed the role of defensive field general as soon as Grant exited the program.
Much of the criticism McMillan has received is in respect to his athleticism and speed. At times, pass coverage has been an issue, as well as getting off blocks and stopping the run. His last two games as a Buckeye — combining for 31 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1 sack — made lasting impressions on NFL teams in search of a linebacker.
Couple that with his performance in the NFL combine and OSU’s pro day last week, and McMillan believes he’s done enough to discredit the critics.
“Everybody saying I can’t move, saying I’m not an athlete,” he said. “I went out to the combine and ran a 4.61. I was trying to crack 4.5, but didn’t do it. Came out here, moved, vertical jump 33 (inches), 10 (foot) 1 (inch) broad jump — what else do you want from me?”
McMillan said he has met with several teams and will continue to travel to “anybody who needs a linebacker” in the coming month before the NFL draft on April 27. Before the pro day last Thursday, McMillan spoke to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton. After the de-facto tryout, McMillan sat down with the head coaches and the general managers of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans.
The linebacker said he was a little intimidated by future Hall of Famer Belichick at first, having never met him and only talking to position staff initially.
“You’re scared because he’s quizzing you,” McMillan said. “It’s like a little test. After we get done with the test or quiz of drawing up the defense, they’re real down-to-earth people and really cool.”
McMillan was close with former OSU linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell. Now that Fickell is the head coach at the University of Cincinnati, Greg Schiano has taken over the sole defensive coordinator duties for the time being and is responsible for making redshirt senior linebacker Chris Worley the next great middle linebacker at OSU.
“We lost what I think is a man’s man in Raekwon McMillan,” Schiano said on the second day of spring practice. “Just a really fine football player and a smart football player. We needed to make sure that we could try and replace him with a guy that has that kind of presence about him.”
It’s not uncommon for a player so productive and well-respected to fall to the middle rounds of the NFL draft. But it’s a predicament that McMillan isn’t accustomed to.
“I’m a first-two-days guy,” he said. “Anything past that, I’ll be disappointed in myself because I didn’t do it as much as I could to help myself on draft day.”