The specs on the Seahawks’ top draft pick, Malik McDowell, are off the charts. The 20-year-old defensive lineman is 6 foot 6, weighs nearly 300 pounds, can bench more than 400 pounds and runs sideline-to-sideline like a linebacker. At times with Michigan State, McDowell was dominant.
The key to that equation, however, is the term “at times.” Keeping his motor consistently revved is crucial to McDowell reaching greatness in the NFL, says his former head coach at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio.
“He’s a slippery guy,” Dantonio told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Salk” on Thursday. “You’ll find that when you watch him that he doesn’t stay blocked long, at times. But that’s an effort league (the NFL). I really believe that’s an effort league, and everybody comes with a different persona with them and reputation. So when he tees it up, he can play.”
The Seahawks traded back in the first round and then out of it before taking McDowell with their first pick , which was No. 35 overall, the third selection in the second round.
Dantonio described McDowell, who entered the draft after his junior season, as a highly sought-after recruit who came to East Lansing with a lot of hype and upside. The Spartans coach said McDowell had an “outstanding” sophomore season, where he was periodically “dominant” – pointing to performances against Michigan and Alabama as exceptional efforts. But injuries during his junior season hurt his production.
“Throughout the year he played with an injury that was one of those type of injuries that every time he got hit, it sort of stung him,” Dantonio said. “So he was a little bit in and out of the lineup in that respect. I do think that play-in and play-out, defensive line is the most difficult position to play from a … getting hammered all the time (standpoint) – just a very physical position. You can always ask more of a player, you can always see something when it’s turned out. He has an unlimited amount of ability, so you’re always looking for him to be a dominant player in there. I guess what I can say is, my feeling is he’s gonna be a great pro, he’s gonna be motivated to play.”
McDowell primarily played defensive tackle at Michigan State but also spent time at defensive end. Dantonio said McDowell has good hands and “get-off” as an interior pass rusher, and that his best fit is playing in a 4-3 defense.
“He could play out there in a normal 4-3 at defensive end or he could be inside at one of those defensive tackles, and I really think that it’s really gonna be how he applies his trade as he moves forward in that respective position,” he said. “But he definitely can go inside or outside, at least for partial time. He’s gonna be better at one or the other, but he’s gonna be able to play both.”
“He’s got a good motor, when he turns the motor on, and he’s got to be consistent obviously, especially at that level. But he can run and he can make plays down the sideline,” Dantonio added. “He’s such a big guy, when he gets those hands up, he’s a big target to throw over.”
Dantonio noted that McDowell played extensively as a true freshman but is still young, which could have played a role in his leadership abilities seemingly coming up short.
“As time went on, he was expected to be the leader and he might not have been comfortable with it or whatever the case, because everybody grows at different times,” Dantonio said. “My question would be, as you draft a player, do you have other people around you that can support that player? And obviously, everybody has that in their program and the expectations are high for those individuals as well.”
“From what I’ve seen of Pete Carroll’s teams, they play extremely hard and they play great defense, and very well-coached, great structure, great effort, and that’s gonna rub off on everybody in the program,” Dantonio added. “And so I expect him to be a dominant player at the next level.”