Brock Huard’s NFL Draft preview: Michigan State DT Malik McDowell
Each day, Brock Huard is profiling a different draft prospect that he considers an early-round possibility for the Seahawks. His draft previews continued with Michigan State’s Malik McDowell. The audio is embedded above.
• Position: DL
• Height/weight: 6-6, 296
• Class: Jr.
• Hometown: Farmington Hills, Mich.
STATS scouting report: A two-year starter, McDowell lined up primarily on the interior defensive line in Michigan State’s four-man base front, but also saw more snaps outside as an edge defender in 2016. That scheme-versatile experience will be a strong selling point to NFL teams. A five-star defensive line recruit out of high school, McDowell was the No. 1 rated prep player in the state of Michigan and considered offers from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and, of course, the top two in-state programs: Michigan and Michigan State. Despite some family disagreements over his choice of schools, McDowell stayed true to his commitment to the Spartans and was the crown jewel of Mark Dantonio’s 2014 recruiting class. He played in a supporting role as a true freshman and posted 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2014, earning Freshman All-American honors. McDowell became a starter in 2015 and had his best season as part of arguably the best defensive line in college football, finishing second on the Spartans with 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two fumbles to earn Second Team All-Big Ten honors. His production declined as a junior in 2016 with seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, missing the final month of the season due to injury and taking home Second Team All-Big Ten honors.
After his breakout sophomore season, he didn’t have the All-American junior year that many had forecast, but he was the lone returning starter on the Spartans’ defensive line and the coaches mixed and matched him at different positions, which contributed to his declined production. For a player with his size dimensions, McDowell displays impressive movement skills and uses his foot quickness, natural flexibility and body control to skirt blockers and find cracks in the protection. His pass rush sequence, pad level and playing temperament are all areas of his game that lack consistency, but at only 20 years old, McDowell has a very high NFL ceiling due to his athletic gifts and raw understanding of what it takes to be disruptive.
STRENGTHS: Tall, limber body type with long arms. Smooth lower body athleticism to sidestep blocks, collect himself in small spaces and redirect to get skinny through gaps. Initial burst to surge off the snap and attack blockers. Bends well for his body type to dip and arc around edge blockers. Natural flexibility also shows on stunts, looping around bodies without losing momentum. Extends his long arms to bully and toss blockers, driving them backwards into the pocket. Aggressive hands to detach himself from blocks and make stops vs. the run in the lane. When the motor is revving, displays an angry energy to routinely chase and make plays outside the hashes. Height/length combo to be productive on special teams units (one blocked kick in his MSU career). Versatile experience playing at multiple positions on the defensive line, both inside and outside. Solid production, tallying 24.5 tackles for loss over 23 career starts.
WEAKNESSES: High hips and taller stature, allowing blockers to get underneath his pads – gets off balance when he tries to get lower than blockers. Very narrow stance with a high butt. Average core power and can be too easily knocked off his path to the ballcarrier. Improved hand use, but still an area that requires development to better shed and convert his initial quickness to power. Relies on the spin move too much and needs to improve his pass rush plan. Allows his motor to get into overdrive, slipping off tackles and not finishing at contact. Can get caught too far inside, giving up the edge to rushers. Only one pass break-up in his three-year career. Allows his emotions to take over at times, going on personal crusades against blockers and taking mistakes with him to the next play. Appeared to shut it down at times in the second half of 2016 when the season started to go south (missed the final three games of his career due to a left ankle sprain).
NFL COMPARISON: Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals – Like when Dunlap entered the league, there are some doubts whether or not McDowell can live up to his high football ceiling, but the natural gifts at that size are worth the risk.