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Spartans’ Malik McDowell passed over in first round

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's Malik McDowell arrives for the first round of the 2017 NFL draft on Thursday.

The first round of the NFL Draft was completed on Thursday night and Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell never made it out of the green room.

The 6-foot-6, 276-pounder, who left Michigan State after his junior season, fell out of the first round and will have to wait until Friday when the second and third rounds are conducted to see where he will begin his NFL career.

It is the second straight year a Michigan State player with a chance to go in the first round plummeted. In 2016, quarterback Connor Cook, who some thought could go late in the opening round, fell all the way to the fourth round.

Whether McDowell suffers the same sort of fate remains to be seen, but he is one of the more polarizing players in the draft.

Seen by most as one of the more talented players available, McDowell has seen his stock drop steadily since the end of the season as analysts have dissected his tape and team officials got the chance to interview the former freshman All-American during the NFL Combine in March.

Neither resulted in anything positive for the Detroit native. One team official, according to Yahoo sports, said McDowell’s interview at the Combine was the “worst” he’d ever conducted while analysts praised McDowell’s ability while crushing him for his perceived lack of effort.

“I think you’re trying to guess on which Malik McDowell you’re gonna get,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “Are you gonna get the guy that I watched against Notre Dame that was explosive, was making plays all over the field, playing hard, showing active hands? … Then you see some other games and it’s like he didn’t want to be out on the field.

“Malik McDowell drove me nuts because there are so many plays he doesn’t make his way into the picture frame at the end of the play. Just no effort.”

McDowell was a freshman All-American in 2014 and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015. A big season was expected in 2016 but it never materialized, no doubt affected by the Spartans’ dismal 3-9 season and lack of playmakers on the defensive line.

He finished with 34 tackles, including seven for loss in nine games. But McDowell did not play the final three games because of an ankle injury, a stretch that stood out to naysayers.

“Malik is a different cat,” ESPN Draft analyst Todd McShay said. “Forget my speculation, this is what the tape shows. The game he had against Notre Dame I would have taken him in the top 10 if had to evaluate him off of one game. Coming into the year I thought he was one of the 10 best prospects and I think he’s the most naturally talented interior defensive lineman rushing the quarterback in this class.

“But then they go on a seven-game losing streak and as the losses started to pile up the effort started to go in the tank. … I can understand how teams are gonna pass on him because of the risk of using a first-round pick on a player you think could potentially quit on you.”

McDowell was the only Michigan State player with a chance to go in the first round. Junior safety Montae Nicholson also has a good chance to be selected, though that might come on Saturday when rounds 4-7 take place.

Other players hoping to hear their name before the end of the draft include linebacker Riley Bullough, tight end Josiah Price, wide receiver R.J. Shelton, fullback Prescott Line and quarterback Tyler O’Connor.