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Vikings Draft Prospect: Malik McDowell

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

One draft prospect the Vikings have shown some interest in, and could hope is there for them in the second round is defensive lineman Malik McDowell from Michigan State. Many scouts say that McDowell has superstar, All-Pro potential, but despite his immense talent, he needs good coaching to realize his potential and develop his technique. He also played all over the defensive line at Michigan State- literally from nose tackle to stand-up edge rusher- which hurt his development at any one particular position.

"He has a chance to be a dominant player in our league. I mean dominant. 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." -- NFC North area scout

McDowell played a lot as a defensive tackle, but at 6’6”, 295lbs, is not the typical build for an interior defensive lineman. And yet despite a taller frame, he has a strong anchor and when he keeps his pad level down- which is key given his height- he is very difficult to move. He also has great lateral movement, is strong and athletic, long (34.75”) arms, explosive first-step and elite play-making radius.

But there is some question about what position he is best able to play in the NFL, and about some laziness/fatigue on the field at times, which raise some questions.

Most scouts say he projects best as an edge rusher, where he can use his length and athleticism most effectively. He could work best as a defensive end in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. But I beg to differ.

Look at Calais Campbell. He is 6’8” 300lbs, with many of the same traits as McDowell. He too was thought best as a defensive end, and that’s where he played his first several years in the NFL. But the past few years he played the 3-technique for Arizona- and with perhaps even greater success.

Another reason McDowell’s best fit may be the 3-technique rather than defensive end in a Mike Zimmer 4-3 defense is because defensive ends are sometimes called into pass coverage- something McDowell has not done at Michigan State and at 295lbs and a 4.85” 40, isn’t likely to be his strong suit.

Playing the 3-technique, rather than the 1-technique or nose tackle- as he often did at Michigan State- also allows McDowell to play 1-on-1 against the opposing guard with little likelihood of a double team, which would be more difficult for McDowell at the NFL level. Beyond that, McDowell has the explosiveness and athleticism preferred at the 3-technique, and more arm length than any guard he’ll face.

VIDEO SCOUTING REPORT

Below is a good scouting report on McDowell, looking at both good and bad aspects of McDowell’s game, and his prospects as a pro.

There are positives and negatives about McDowell’s career at Michigan State. On the one hand, he was clearly a dominant player and he played all over the defensive line, which is both positive and negative - it shows his versatility and multiple skill set, but it also shows he has not mastered any one particular position and needs development whether playing inside or outside.

The upshot of this scouting report is that McDowell needs good coaching to reach his potential in the NFL. The Vikings have one of the best defensive line coaches in Andre Patterson, and a very good defense and defensive line for McDowell to work in, not to mention one of the best defensive minds in head coach Mike Zimmer. Given all that, both McDowell and the Vikings could really benefit if he is available for the Vikings to draft in the second round.

COULD McDOWELL DROP TO #48?

Of course the key question is whether McDowell will drop out of the first round and be available for the Vikings with their pick at #48. There are some signs that could happen, despite his ranking as perhaps the 20th best prospect on most media draft boards. Some say McDowell’s ceiling is as high as Myles Garrett, who will go #1 this year, but his floor is a lot lower too, and some say he is one of the draft’s higher profile boom-or-bust prospects. and that he could go either way.

That concern alone- high risk, but high potential return - is enough to take him out of at least the top half of the first round. Those draft picks are focused on “sure thing” prospects, at least when it comes to defensive linemen.

McDowell is raw, but when he flashes, it can be blinding. McDowell is an explosive, ascending prospect with All-Pro potential if he grows into his body and takes the necessary coaching. -Lance Zierlein

The other thing about McDowell is that he is raw, needing to develop his footwork, more pass rush techniques, among other things. That suggests that McDowell may not be ready to take on a starting position his rookie year - which is what teams want and expect from a defensive linemen drafted in the first round.

And so for those two reasons- some boom or bust potential and question marks over his ability to start as a rookie- McDowell could easily slip out of the first round.

Another reason I suspect McDowell could drop into the 2nd round is that not many teams have shown interest in him. At this point, McDowell has only met with three teams- the Vikings, Lions, and Dolphins. That’s not a lot for a first-round prospect. Only the Vikings and Dolphins have worked him out. You would think that for a prospect like McDowell, teams that may use a first- or even a second-round pick on him would want to work him out, interview him, and really take a closer look. But so far not many teams have done so.

The Dolphins and Lions have first round picks in the 20s, which is potentially where McDowell could be drafted, but they also have other needs and other highly rated- and perhaps safer- prospects that will be there to fill them at that point in the first round. Most of the latest mock drafts don’t have McDowell going in the first round.

The other thing that’s interesting about McDowell is that he was listed around 280 lbs. in college, at the Combine he was 295 lbs. That weight increase is significant, in part because it may be his attempt to influence what position he plays or is considered for- or perhaps even which team drafts him. 280 is probably the high-end weight for a traditional 4-3 defensive end. 295 is interior lineman - 3-technique or 3-4 defensive end weight. And that takes him out of consideration as an edge rusher, which is typically a more premium draft pick than an interior lineman. In any case, the added weight at the Combine was not by accident.

I’m not sure how important this is, but McDowell was the top college football prospect in the state of Michigan when he finished high school. He had offers from all the top programs- Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, and of course both Michigan and Michigan State. He stayed close to home. Given that Detroit has some interest in McDowell, perhaps that is a significant. But Detroit has other needs on defense and another local prospect in Taco Charlton they could choose to use their first-round pick on.

Be that as it may, assuming McDowell slips out of the first-round, are there teams picking ahead of the Vikings that may draft him? Here is a list:

CLE: having drafted Myles Garrett #1 and more pressing needs elsewhere, not likely to pick McDowell.

SF: have Armstead and Buckner, and bigger needs elsewhere- no way.

JAX: signed Calais Campbell. Still have Dante Fowler. No way.

CHI: Not too likely. Eddie Goldman and Will Sutton, bigger needs elsewhere.

LAR: Aaron Donald, Easley - no way.

LAC: Have bigger needs elsewhere- not at all likely.

NYJ: Not likely. Bigger needs elsewhere.

CAR: Not likely with Short at DT, EDGE signings.

CIN: Geno Atkins, other needs. Not likely.

NO: No, just re-signed Fairley, have Jordan, other needs.

PHI: Traded for Jernigan, other priorities- not likely.

BUF: Possibly, but not likely. Higher priorities with this pick.

ARI: Again possible, but not likely- multiple other priorities.

IND: Maybe, but OL a bigger priority.

BAL: Maybe, but OL a bigger priority, but could also draft DE in 1st round.

Given the needs of the teams picking ahead of the Vikings in the 2nd round, along with the fact that none of them have shown any interest in McDowell to date, makes it possible McDowell is available for the Vikings at #48. Of course there could be a team willing to trade up for him- Detroit or Miami possibly- but the move up would cost Detroit their 4th and both 6th round picks in current pick currency at a minimum, and for Miami 4 of their remaining 6 picks. I doubt either team would be willing to part with that much to make a move up for McDowell.

Bottom line, it’s certainly possible McDowell could be there for the Vikings at #48, and the Vikings must also believe it’s possible or they wouldn’t have met with him - they haven’t met with other generally regarded as first-round prospects, except Forrest Lamp.

OVERALL

McDowell certainly has a high ceiling, but needs good coaching to reach it. The Vikings have a very good defensive line coach in Andre Patterson and I can’t think of a better place from McDowell’s perspective to land than Minnesota.

Drafting McDowell brings to mind drafting Danielle Hunter in the 3rd round two years ago. Hunter was raw but talented, and Patterson has helped him develop into one of the best young DEs in the league, with the potential to be All-Pro caliber very soon.

McDowell fits into that same category.