Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers signed L.J. McCray as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Catawba College. My early impression of McCray was that he was destined for a spot on the practice squad as he got up to gear on NFL-caliber speed. He was talented at Division II, but it is a huge step up to the NFL.
Turns out I was wrong (shocker!). McCray made the roster out of training camp as a special teams contributor. Week 1 he got 16 special teams snaps, and he was off and running. He ended up with seven defensive snaps (1 in Week 3 at Arizona, 6 in Week 7 at Denver).
Pro Football Focus rated him out negatively, with three games in the red big negative, and one in the green big positive. His ratings (see below), finished near the bottom of the pack. Among 1,202 players who took part in special teams action, PFF ranked McCray tied for No. 1,184. For comparison, the 49ers ranked him No. 4 in their internal points system, although their system does not provide much in the way of context.
Why he might improve:
He has a year under his belt, and has a better handle on the game. We don't really know what new special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughery, Jr. brings to the table in terms of any potential changes. It's always hard to assess what a special teams coach means to the group. But for special teams purposes, a year under his belt is a reason to think he might improve in year two.
This also applies to his safety work. He got time in the preseason, but otherwise did not spend much time on the field at safety. My guess is the 49ers view him very much as a special teams guy, but maybe another offseason can change that impression.
Why he might regress:
I could see him ending up like Colin Jones. The 49ers drafted Jones in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. They got a solid year out of him on special teams before trading him to the Carolina Panthers for a seventh round pick. I don't know that McCray would really regress in year two, so much as get beat out for special teams work by Jaquiski Tartt, or others. I'm open to other suggestions about why he might regress.
Odds of making the roster:
He has a year under his belt and is on a cheap UDFA rookie deal, so that's something for him. Also of note is Jim Tomsula was a guy who got to know him having also gone to Catawba, and briefly coached there to start his career. I don't think a friendship with the head coach guarantees him anything, but it's certainly a positive in case there is some kind of tie among roster spots.
If McCray shows he can do some work at safety, that's a big boost, but as a strictly special teams player with a new special teams coach coming in, he faces some hurdles. I did not include him on my post-draft 53-man roster projection, and I think he's looking at 50/50 type odds.