If Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell is being projected as a top-10 draft pick when the 2016 season winds down, it won't be enough for him to apply for early eligibility to enter the 2017 NFL Draft, the All-Big Ten junior said on Monday.
No, for McDowell, an early exit would require a projection as one of the draft's top three picks.
"Top 10 ain't good enough for me," McDowell told the Detroit Free Press. "I ain't leaving if I'm (only) top 10. If I'm not top three, I don't leave. Really. I'm just trying to live day by day. It's one through three, that's the only way I'm going. I'm happy, I like it here, I ain't really in a rush to leave."
NFL underclassmen like McDowell have until a mid-January deadline to apply for early draft eligibility. McDowell (6-foot-6, 276 pounds) recorded 4.5 sacks for the Spartans last season among 13 tackles for loss. NFL Media's Lance Zierlein ranked him the No. 2 interior defensive lineman to watch in the nation.
McDowell's line in the sand isn't something he or any other draft prospect can be sure of. First, the NFL Draft Advisory Board doesn't provide official feedback with that much specificity. NFLDAB feedback gives underclassmen one of three draft grades: a first-round projection, a second-round projection, or a recommendation to return to college. As such, if McDowell were to get a first-round grade from the NFLDAB, he'd need more extensive feedback to get even an inkling of where in the first round he might be selected.
And even then, there are no certainties.
Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil was the presumptive No. 1 overall pick of the 2016 draft long after he left his college eligibility on the table and entered this year's draft. But when the Tennessee Titans traded the top pick to the Los Angeles Rams, Tunsil's status as the top pick suddenly tumbled. It tumbled even further on draft night, but it was the Titans trade that blurred Tunsil's draft projection first.
Truth is, nobody -- not MSU coach Mark Dantonio, not an NFL personnel executive, and certainly not an agent or family member -- can tell McDowell with any real certainty whether he would be one of the draft's first three choices. Too much can happen between January and April.
And of course, McDowell can always change his mind about the threshold for his decision.