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Scouting Report: DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State

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Join us as we examine a polarizing, versatile, and athletically freakish defensive lineman by the name of Malik McDowell.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve followed the draft up until this point, it’s likely that you’ve already heard of Malik McDowell. He’s been raved about as an athletic freak with tremendous physical gifts, with some people even mocking him in the top-10 picks. McDowell has also been knocked for disappearing at times during the season, and for his blatant lack of technique.

Let’s take a closer look at McDowell’s strengths and weaknesses as a prospect.

DL Malik McDowell

Height: 6’6
Weight: 276

Strengths

McDowell has the length and athletic ability that NFL scouts crave. Explosive off the snap with impressive speed and agility for a player his size. Versatile player that lined up across the DL for the Spartans: played 1T, 3T and 5T DE. Length makes him a handful for tackles on the outside, while speed and explosiveness make him tough for guards to corral. Usually high motor player that can play to the whistle on every snap.

Projects as a Michael Bennett-style player in the NFL: DE in base packages, DT in nickel. Can take advantage of mismatches against slower offensive linemen. Strong hands with a knack for bringing down players in the backfield. Despite raw technique, was a factor against both the pass and the run. With improved technique and additional moves, could see a jump in productivity at the NFL level. Should test through the roof at the NFL Combine.

Weaknesses

McDowell is prone to being blocked out of plays, and struggles against double teams. Can be a liability against the run when playing on the interior if his initial rush fails. Looks more like a DE than a DT, and will likely need to add bulk to play the run consistently. His length causes him to play upright and with high pad level, meaning he often loses the leverage battle against more savvy offensive linemen. Needs to develop better awareness in the passing game: rarely gets his hands up to affect the play when effectively blocked.

Technique is raw and completely unrefined. Will need serious development to become a consistent NFL player. Hand usage is almost non-existent, despite good strength. Physical tools make McDowell a tantalizing prospect with a sky-high ceiling, but he'll likely need 1-2 years to develop into a dependable starter. Questions about effort and love of the game after a lackluster second half of the season. Will need to convince NFL teams that his heart is in this and that he's willing to work hard to improve.

Grade: 1.5 (late 1st, early 2nd)

Analysis

McDowell undeniably has the athletic ability and size that scouts crave. His ceiling is incredible. It all comes down to if you believe that you can help him harness his abilities more consistently. As it stands now, you’re getting an extremely raw player that likely will need a year or two to really adjust to the NFL game.

As a prospect, he actually reminds me of Ra’shede Hageman—a physical freak with excellent size, but very raw technique and serious questions about football character. With McDowell you at least saw the high motor at times, but teams will have to figure out how to keep him on track through a long NFL season.

I believe the Falcons would be better off targeting a player like Caleb Brantley with their 31st pick, who I view as more of an immediate contributor with a high floor and consistent production. But it’s easy to see why McDowell is getting such buzz—a skilled defensive staff could mold him into a dominant force on both the interior and the edge. It’ll be up to Quinn and Dimitroff to decide if he’s worth the risk should he fall to the Falcons.

What do you think of McDowell’s fit with Atlanta? Do you view him as an elite, top-15 talent, or do you view him more as a fringe 1st-rounder or later? Give us your hottest takes in the comments below.