The Curious Case Of Malik McDowell and the 2017 NFL Draft

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) gestures to the sidelines during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) gestures to the sidelines during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports /

Malik McDowell may be one of the most fascinating stories in the 2017 NFL Draft class.  There seems to be two sides to the Michigan State Spartan defensive end. On one side he is a highly talented and physically gifted football player whom scouts say has a very high ceiling. On the other he is an underachieving malcontent who is difficult to motivate.

McDowell and his apparent lack of motivation are a mystery to NFL pundits and scouts but signs of his inconsistency, buried in a mountain of media reports, first surfaced during his college recruiting, .

Troubled Recruiting

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McDowell was ranked nationally #32 overall after his senior season at Southfield High School. Consequently he was highly recruited. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State were just some of the power-five conference schools that were actively recruiting McDowell. But his heart was with the Spartans of Michigan State.  A fact that was problematic for his parents.

Michigan State may have been Malik McDowell’s first choice but it was not the choice his parents wanted him to make. Indecision about which school a highly touted recruit will sign with is normal, but not when the family disagreement gets played out in the media. Radio interviews featuring McDowell’s mother and father circulated as national signing day approached. They described the internal family struggle about which program was best suited for McDowell’s unique skill set. Fans and Alumni all had opinions that blazed across talk radio airways and added fuel to the already white hot fire surrounding Malik McDowell.

“They Done Blew Up His Head”

That is the comment made about the Michigan State staff by McDowell’s mother. According to a 2014 story in MLive, McDowell’s high school coach lent some insight into why his Mother felt that way.

"“They are looking at Florida State and Ohio State, they’ve been quoted,” Conley said. “Those schools have a lot more depth on the field, and you’re going to have to work harder to get on the field. They (McDowell’s parents) say, ‘We want you working harder right away. Michigan State, he’ll be an impact player right away.’“The truth of the matter is, he’ll go up there and it will be tough and he’ll have to compete.” – Tim Conley via MLive and Mike Griffth"

Malik McDowell’s Mother, Joya Crowe, is concerned that her son would not learn how to compete at Michigan State considering they already had his name listed at the top of the depth chart.

"“For some reason he thinks, everybody telling him he has this natural ability to play football, so he figures he’s going to go out there and be the man, an all-star,” Crowe said during her recent radio interview. “They done blew his head up.”"

Mother Knows Best

It seems Malik’s Mother may have been on to something. McDowell had a great first year and then saw a steady decline after that.  McDowell was still considered an early first round NFL prospect despite a pattern of decline.

Then came the NFL Combine.  Once again his physical skills were on display but when it came to the interviews and questions about his work ethic, things went south for the former Spartan.  Yahoo! Sports reported on the NFL Combine’s list of winners and losers.  McDowell was one of the losers after his interviews with NFL teams validated the criticism about his ethic and caused his draft stock to fall.

"Allow us to explain how a 6-foot-6, 295-pound prime athlete with long arms and big hands who runs a 4.85 40 is on the “losers” list. Said one team: “Worst interview we did.” Added another: “Awful interview. Awful.” What concerns scouts most is that for all his tremendous upside — watch him destroy Michigan, for instance — McDowell’s production and tape don’t always match up. Scouts feel like he takes plays off too often. And when they asked him about that, he got defensive. They also asked him about his attitude and work ethic, which were concerns. Many of those questions remain unanswered."

A Mystery Wrapped In An Enigma

In a January 20th article, NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper talked about the two sides of McDowell.

"He’s an enigma,” Kiper said in a teleconference Thursday. “He’s got all this talent and he showed it two years ago and then, this year, it was underwhelming. His grade kept dropping — he’s now 20 on (my) big board. I got him going to Oakland at 24. He should be in the top five, based on talent. He should be a top-five pick, but the production wasn’t there, the consistency wasn’t there.” – via"

Whichever coach can figure out how to push the right buttons on this young talent may end up with the steal of the draft.  There is no question about McDowell’s ability but how to get the most out of the ability will keep some teams coaching staff up at night.

The Past Can Often Hold Clues to the Future

When McDowell decided to enter the NFL Draft a year early, he touted himself as a top five pick. In McDowell’s case, dropping in the first round may serve as motivation for a player historically difficult to reach.  McDowell clearly needs some extra mentoring to reach his potential.  A contending NFL team drafting last in the first round could supply such motivation and get the most out of this unique talent.

The question for Lions fans? Is Jim Caldwell the coach that can get motivate Malik McDowell? Stay tuned!

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