There might not be a player in the 2017 NFL Draft with a more fluctuating stock than Michigan State DL Malik McDowell. But the Seattle Seahawks took a chance on him.
McDowell was the Spartans best defensive lineman throughout the 2016, and while the stats might not show it, the one time top-rated recruit was a force to be reckoned in his second season as a starter for Michigan State when healthy.
Here’s what you need to know about the Spartans’ top defensive end prospect.
Malik McDowell in the NFL Draft
1. McDowell’s best season at Michigan State came during the 2015 season
If you have doubts about McDowell’s abilities as a defensive end based off of his final stats from the 2016 season, all you need to do is take a gander at the previous season. McDowell had a career-high 4.5 sacks in 2015 to go along with 13 tackles for loss and 41 total tackles in the 2015 season.
That doesn’t include this interception for a touchdown McDowell recorded against Penn State:
In comparison, McDowell only registered 1.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 34 total tackles last season in East Lansing. But, if that pick-six isn’t convincing, then we’re not sure what is.
2. McDowell is projected to get selected late in the first round of the draft
According to CBS Sports, McDowell is rated as the second-best defensive tackle in the 2017 NFL Draft, right behind Alabama’s Jonathan Allen. McDowell and Allen are also the only two defensive tackles that warrant a first-round projection. NFL.com also sees McDowell as a first-round pick, however there are many variations where the Michigan State product could land.
In NFL.com Lance Zierlein’s mock draft from April 18, McDowell is mocked to the Miami Dolphins at No. 22 overall, while CBS Sports projects the Oakland Raiders will select McDowell at No. 24 overall. Later in the draft, however, the Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons are all in need of defensive linemen, which means McDowell could be selected there should he last that long.
“He has a chance to be a dominant player in our league. I mean dominant,” an NFC North area scout said to NFL.com. “It hasn’t turned on for him all the way yet but if it does, he could be like Mario Williams. He’s just a little lazy and I worry about whether he is going to be a self-starter.”
However, that said about McDowell…
3. McDowell’s NFL Draft stock has fluctuated due to “character issues”
There’s no debating Malik McDowell’s skills. However, some are doubting his intangibles.
According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, McDowell’s character has an anonymous AFC executive concerned. Enough so, that the executive went on to say that McDowell would be the second overall pick in the draft had it not been for his intangible issues.
— Land Of 10 (@landof10) April 24, 2017
That anonymous AFC executive wasn’t the only one to bash McDowell for his intangibles, as back in the NFL Combine in March, two NFL scouts said that McDowell also had the worst interview out of all prospects at the combine. It’s become more clear that should McDowell get selected in the first round, it’ll be due to his talents in the defensive trenches.
4. Among all defensive tackles in the NFL Draft, McDowell is the most versatile
Character issues aside, it’s hard to set aside just how talented McDowell is at the defensive tackle position.
According to Pro Football Focus, McDowell is right up there with Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Allen as the most versatile defensive linemen in the NFL Draft in terms of technique. The chart below illustrates the different techniques that McDowell has played at in his two years as a starter at Michigan State.
For teams looking for talented, versatile defensive lineman, Jonathan Allen, Solomon Thomas and Malik McDowell fit the bill. pic.twitter.com/5z7iH1IJnL
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 25, 2017
What this chart is saying is that McDowell can play multiple positions on a defensive line. The 3-technique and 5-technique is where a defensive tackle would be in a 4-3 defense (four down linemen, three linebackers), the 7/9-technique is where a defensive end would play in a 4-3 defense, and the 1-technique and 0-technique is where a defensive tackle would play in a 3-4 defense (three down lineman, four linebackers).
Simply put, most NFL teams could benefit from a player like McDowell, mainly as he can play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 base defense.
5. Should McDowell slide, he could be the next Jordan Howard
All things considered with McDowell, character and skill, there’s no denying some NFL teams can balk at questions over intangibles rather than questions over skill. Although, if McDowell does fall in the NFL Draft, he could be the next top rookie in the NFL come the 2017 NFL season.
Pro Football Focus has McDowell as the 21st-best prospect in the NFL Draft. Coincidentally, last year Pro Football Focus had a Big Ten player, ranked No. 56 overall, who was one of the best rookies in 2016: Former Indiana running back Jordan Howard.
Howard was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and set numerous rookie records as the starting Chicago Bears running back. It just goes to show that McDowell just needs to be selected in the draft, and he could be an instant Rookie of the Year candidate for the right team.