Why Jalen McLeod and Auburn football were a perfect match for each other
Jalen McLeod needed a school where he could be himself. Auburn needed a sack-getter. And their partnership is off to a flying start.
JACK Jalen McLeod (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
Jalen McLeod was ranked as the No. 1,640 player in the country for the Class of 2020 by the 247Sports Composite. He wasn’t even considered among the top dozen players in Washington, D.C. during that cycle.
Only two FBS programs, Appalachian State and UMass, offered McLeod a scholarship. Rutgers tried to recruit him late in the process. A lot of schools who looked at him wanted him to move to inside linebacker — in fact, he’s listed on 247 as the No. 68 ILB in 2020.
But McLeod, then listed at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, wasn’t moving. He was an edge rusher, something that he says always came natural to him on the football field.
“When I'm on the field, I'm not thinking that I'm 6-1, (now) 240,” McLeod said Monday. “I'm out there. I'm playing football. Everybody's gotta play football. There are people who might be as talented, but they don't want it like me.”
Appalachian State, a place that had used undersized edge rushers throughout its rise from FCS powerhouse to Sun Belt contender, told McLeod he could stay at his preferred position.
Soon people found out the height and weight weren’t the numbers that mattered with him. Last year, according to Pro Football Focus, McLeod had 37 quarterback pressures on just 201 pass-rushing snaps. Only two other players in the entire FBS had as many pressures as he did on fewer snaps.
He ranked No. 8 nationally among all FBS edge defenders in pass-rushing win percentage and PFF’s pass-rushing productivity formula. He pressured Texas A&M’s quarterback five times in just 17 opportunities during Appalachian State’s upset victory last September — including a pair of sacks.
McLeod had two forced fumbles on the same play, beating 6-foot-8 Texas A&M right tackle Reuben Fatheree III to strip Haynes King and then strip the ball away from Aggies offensive guard Layden Robinson.
“The first series, (Fatheree) tried to bully me,” McLeod said. “I didn't like that. He was a big dude, like 6-8 or something like that. So he thought I wasn't good.
“I got a little mad, and then it just happened — I just saw red.”
A few months later, McLeod went from seeing red to seeing an opportunity in the transfer portal.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial