The Indianapolis Colts find themselves in a great position to be aggressive on players who have some question-marks heading into this off-season. Relying on the draft and getting younger has been a priority for general manager Chris Ballard and he might soon have an opportunity to take a chance on a young man whose upside is ridiculously high if he can fully recover from an off-field injury.
Just one year ago, Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell was a highly coveted potential first round pick. He spent his career as a disruptive interior defender for the Spartans and projected to be another big piece of the Seahawks defense. Before he could even take a snap, he suffered a serious injury riding an ATV and has not been cleared to participate in Seattle since.
In most situations, it is best to avoid players who are unable to clear medicals. If a player can’t take the football field, his potential doesn’t mean a whole lot. In this case, though, Ballard and the Colts are in a position to potentially snag McDowell and work to get him healthy enough to start participating with the team.
Even if he doesn’t play a single down in 2018, if he is able to return to form physically and gets back on the field in 2019, he will be only 23 years old and could offer first round talent for pennies on the dollar. For a team that is transitioning on defense, getting acclimated to a new coaching staff, and looking for deals that are too good to pass up, this could make a lot of sense.
Here are his strengths from NFL.com’s scouting report last year:
Slippery and long. Combination of arm length and flexible torso allow him to slither into gaps and create disruptions for blockers. Freaky combination of size and athleticism. Can overwhelm blockers with pure strength and explosiveness when his feet are right. Strong enough in lower half to play through contact and cause stress in the pocket. Has tremendous amount of untapped potential waiting to be unlocked. Quick, strong hands in pass rush. Able to attack the edge with club-and-swim pet move. Can crank up a pocket-caving bull rush. Can redirect his weight and maintain pursuit of scrambling mobile quarterbacks. Long frame and play speed can close out perimeter runs and foil them before corner is turned. Elite playmaking radius. Explosive lateral movement and quickness. Can bound from one gap to the next in Sparty’s slanting defensive front. Will be extremely difficult to cross face as he learns the position. Has experience up and down the defensive line.
If that doesn’t sound like it came right out of a press clipping from Frank Reich or Matt Eberflus about what the team is looking for on the defensive line, I don’t know what does. Sure, this would be a gamble but the Colts don’t have much to lose. Members of the front office should already be familiar with the scouting process that went into the Seahawks targeting him in the second round, so there should be considerable familiarity.
Make no mistakes, there must be legitimate concerns about his ability to play football again for Seattle to even consider releasing him. It’s possible that the word has already gotten out and that no team will be interested until he can prove that he has recovered from his accident. It is also possible that he won’t get past the Browns or Giants.
We will have to see.