2017 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Malik McDowell
By Charlie Campbell
Summary: The Spartans have featured a tough defense in recent years with a lot of NFL talent. Most of the attention has been paid to the defensive backs who have comprised a tremendous secondary. First-round picks Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes were stars for Michigan State from that defensive backfield. In 2015 though, the front seven was superb and McDowell enjoyed a breakout season. At times, he was the Spartans' most disruptive defensive lineman, even over Shilique Calhoun. McDowell totaled 41 tackles with 13 for a loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pick-six on the year. McDowell finished 2015 in excellent fashion, helping loft the Spartans into the college football playoff.
McDowell totaled 34 tackles with seven for a loss and 1.5 sacks in 2016. The junior started out the year well before missing multiple games late in the season with an ankle injury. McDowell's final games weren't as impressive, and he seemed to take his foot off the pedal in terms of effort and motor. He also seemed to be protecting himself.
McDowell is tough in run defense. He can use his his quickness to get upfield or his strength to get off a block and tackle running backs close to the line of scrimmage. With his speed, he can fire his gap and get penetration into the backfield. After getting by guards, McDowell has a nice ability to close.
In the pass rush, McDowell has a quick get-off with speed to close. He is faster than expected, and often, his speed catches offensive linemen by surprise. McDowell can use his speed to dart by guards or fly around the corner to beat offensive tackles. McDowell has shocking speed for such a big defensive lineman. Even more shocking, is his ability to bend and dip around the corner. Most tall defensive linemen aren't as agile as him.
McDowell beats offensive linemen with speed to fly by them and can bull rush his way to the quarterback. He needs to learn more technique with his hand usage and build up a repertoire of pass-rushing moves. McDowell has a ton of natural talent, but really hasn't been taught pass-rushing moves. He needs a lot of development for the NFL, but he has a ton of athletic upside and could develop into a tough pro with good coaching.
In speaking with teammates of McDowell's, they say he is generally a good guy and worker. McDowell is tough to block in practice and is a smart defender; however, some players didn't like him because he tried to embarrass them in practice. Sources say McDowell didn't interview well at the combine.
For the NFL, McDowell brings versatility. He has ideal length and strength to be a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. In a 4-3 defense, he could be a base left defensive end who moves inside for passing situations, or he could play defensive tackle all of the time. McDowell also has the speed and athleticism to be a three-technique speedy defensive tackle.
Sources have said that McDowell has a high first-round skill set, but concerns about his motor and work ethic could cause him to slide in the 2017 NFL Draft. Team sources believe that McDowell is a perfect fit as a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL. They think he has more athletic upside than DeForest Buckner or Arik Armstead, top-16 picks by the 49ers in 2015 and 2016, but the football character concerns are hurting McDowell significantly, so he could skid in the 2017 NFL Draft. He could easily go in the second round, might sneak into the back half of the first round, and shouldn't fall any lower than the third round.
Player Comparison: Fletcher Cox. When McDowell was playing well, he reminded me somewhat of Cox. Both have a unique combination of size, speed and athleticism. However, McDowell wasn't as consistent in college as Cox was at Mississippi State. Whoever drafts McDowell should not expect him to be as good as Cox is for the Eagles, but McDowell has that kind of athletic upside.
NFL Matches: Oakland, New York Giants, Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, Cincinnati, Arizona, Seattle, Indianapolis and Denver
There are a lot of potential fits for McDowell on the first two days of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Raiders could use more defensive line help and an interior disruptor. McDowell could play on the outside and inside for Oakland's four-man defensive line.
The Giants could lose Johnathan Hankins this offseason. McDowell could help New York on the inside.
Dallas needs defensive end help, especially with the suspension issues of Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys also lost Terrell McClain in free agency. McDowell could help them at tackle.
McDowell could be a possibility for the NFC Champions. He could help replace aging veteran Jonathan Babineaux on the inside of the line and also could play some defensive end for the Falcons. At No. 31, Atlanta makes sense if the team is comfortable with McDowell's makeup.
The Lions could use defensive tackle help. McDowell could give them an interior defender to pressure the quarterback with A'Shawn Robinson serving as a nose tackle. McDowell could be dangerous lining up next to Ziggy Ansah.
In the second round, Cincinnati could be a fit for McDowell. Margus Hunt left in free agency, while Michael Johnson is a limited player. McDowell could play end or tackle on run downs and rush inside with Geno Atkins in passing situations while Will Clarke comes into the game to play end.
McDowell could also be in play for the Cardinals in Round 2 as Calais Campbell wasn't re-signed. Seattle could use an interior disruptor as well. The Seahawks have had problems with a lack of interior pass rush once injuries have hit their defense. McDowell could form a nice young tandem with Jarran Reed.
The Redskins want to get younger and more athletic up front. McDowell would be a perfect fit to play five-technique defensive end in a 3-4.
The Colts need to improve the talent on their defensive line, and McDowell would give them an upgraded five-technique. He would make a lot of sense for Indianapolis in the second round.
Last offseason, Denver locked up Derek Wolfe, but lost Malik Jackson. McDowell could be a fit for the Broncos on Day 2 if they want to beef up the defensive line.
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