As a top-50 high school recruit out of Detroit, McDowell could have gone anywhere. He went against his family's wishes and enrolled in East Lansing, which made head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff quite happy. After playing mostly in a reserve role as a freshman (15 tackles, 1.5 sacks), McDowell lined up two second-team All-Big Ten seasons for the Spartans. Using an explosive first step, he racked up 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a sophomore as the team made the college football playoffs. Both Sparty and McDowell saw things turn south a bit in 2016, including his numbers (seven TFL, 1.5 sacks) and the team's wins (just three). The junior suffered an ankle injury mid-season, which in part caused his lack of production.
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.
Footwork and technique are a mess. Plays with inconsistent base width and overall balance. Struggles to keep feet clean and ends up on the ground. Lines up in narrow, three-point stance from interior and struggles to fight back against down blocks and double teams. Can be washed out of his gap too often. High center of gravity made interior work a challenge at times. Can bend, but lets high pad level get the best of him. Doesn't consistently utilize his length with first hands. Has to become better at controlling the point of attack with his natural attributes. Needs to punch and control rather than leaning on blockers. Production doesn't match up with the traits and the talent. Scouts concerned about work ethic and leadership.
Sources Tell Us
"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
Has similar physical traits and abilities of Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, but may not share their football character. McDowell lacked production along the interior and could benefit from a move to a defensive end spot in a 4-3 or 3-4 front. 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.