McGinn on NFL draft: DL | Character crapshoot on line

Bob McGinn
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Defensive linemen Malik McDowell (left) of Michigan State and Tim Williams (right) of Alabama will be considered carefully by NFL teams in the draft.

Fifth in position-by-position series previewing the 2017 NFL draft.

GREEN BAY - “The type of player who could make your draft or break your heart. Could be the best defensive lineman in the draft if he stays focused and works hard.”

The late Joel Buchsbaum, the first and perhaps still the best of the draftniks, wrote that about Albert Haynesworth 15 years ago when the defensive tackle was coming out of the University of Tennessee.

Certainly those words would apply this year to Malik McDowell, the versatile defensive lineman from Michigan State, and edge rusher Tim Williams of Alabama.

“Taking character out of the equation, McDowell should be the second pick in the draft,” an executive in personnel for an AFC team said. “If anybody tells you differently, they’re playing possum.

“If Williams was a great kid he could get in the first round. He’s in the top five as a pass rusher in this draft.”

McDowell isn’t expected to be a strong consideration for teams until the middle of the first round because of his stunning laziness last season, both in games and practice.

Williams ranks as a total wild card in the draft because of his admitted failed drug tests, overall attitude and poor training habits.

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Defensive line has always been a crapshoot. McDowell and Williams join so many others through the years as quintessential boom or bust prospects.

Of 16 personnel people asked by the Journal Sentinel to identify the leading defensive lineman with the best chance to fail, McDowell drew half the votes (eight) and Williams was second with four.

Caleb Brantley was named by a pair of scouts while two players projected as linebackers by 3-4 teams, Derek Barnett and Takk McKinley, each had one mention.

Before visiting East Lansing last season, one evaluator studied McDowell off 2015 tape and was excited to watch live what he thought he would be the top defensive lineman in the draft.

What he saw was McDowell disappearing in games by early October and showing up late and then lollygagging at practice. He still isn’t quite sure why McDowell never showed a lack of effort in 2015 and then quit playing hard in 2016.

A once-promising season for the Spartans turned into a 3-9 debacle. The talented player in the No. 4 jersey declared a year early after contributing merely 34 tackles and 1 ½ sacks in his season shortened to nine games by an ankle injury.

“Worst interview in our room at the combine,” one NFL personnel man said. “Completely sucked the life out of the room. He’s everything that’s wrong with the modern athlete.

“Been entitled his whole life. Not a worker. Doesn’t practice. Asks to be taken out of games all the time. Rolls his ankle and you’d think he had three compound fractures the way that he reacts. It’s hard enough with guys that aren’t (expletive).”

As poorly as McDowell played and handled himself at the combine, he might slide to the second round.

“This guy is an undisciplined and indifferent kind of a player,” said an evaluator from an NFC team. “He’s so gifted but he’s kind of his own man. You’d have to have a coach that could relate to him, that he trusted. If you did the guy could be as good as these other guys.”

Defensive end Myles Garrett, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen and versatile Solomon Thomas are the mainstays in a solid class of defensive linemen. They’re where McDowell could have been if he had tried harder in 2016.

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In the Journal Sentinel’s positional polls, evaluators were asked to rank their top five players, with five points assigned to a first-place vote and so forth. No restrictions were placed on the players scouts could choose from other than players couldn’t also be voted for in the linebacker polls.

Nine scouts represented teams with 4-3 base defenses and six represented 3-4 teams.

Here were the results:

Defensive end in a 3-4: Jonathan Allen, 27 points (four firsts); Solomon Thomas, 20 (one); Chris Wormley, 18; Malik McDowell, nine (one); Taco Charlton, seven; Tanoh Kpassagnon, four; Montravious Adams and Eddie Vanderdoes, two, and Nazair Jones, one.

Nose tackle in a 3-4: Dalvin Tomlinson, 25 (five firsts); Larry Ogunjobi, 10; Nazair Jones and Elijah Qualls, seven; Davon Godchaux, Jaleel Johnson and D.J. Jones, six; Caleb Brantley and Treyvon Hester, five; McDowell and Vincent Taylor, four; Ryan Glasgow and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, two, and Vanderdoes, one.

Defensive end in a 4-3: Myles Garrett, 44 (eight firsts); Charles Harris, 22; Derek Barnett, 15; Thomas, 13 (one); Charlton, 11; Takk McKinley, 10½; Jordan Willis, 8½; McDowell, four; Tarell Basham, three; Kpassagnon, two, and Carl Lawson and Tim Williams, one.

Defensive tackle in a 4-3: Allen, 40 (four firsts); Thomas, 29 (five); McDowell, 16; Brantley, 13; Tomlinson and Wormley, seven; Adams and Vanderdoes, five; Johnson, four; Ogunjobi and DeMarcus Walker, three; Nazair Jones, two, and Qualls, one.

At the combine, a reporter asked Alabama’s Williams if had failed any drug tests.

“Oh, yeah, I have failed some,” replied Williams. “I’m a young player. I made decisions that I grew from. It’s all about being a man, owning up to your situations, owning up to your mistakes.

“I’m obviously behind the 8-ball. So I’m here to prove not only to myself but to every organization that if they take me, they’re going to get the best player here.”

Problem for Williams is that some executives say they simply don’t trust him and fear he’s headed for suspension related to the league’s substance-abuse policy.

“He’s not going to quit smoking,” said one evaluator. “There’s no remorse. He’s going to get caught.”

Williams has often been compared to Bruce Irvin, the 15th pick in the 2012 draft by Seattle who also was undersized and entered the draft with merely six career starts (Williams had two).

In other draft-room conversations, veteran evaluators have even brought up Lawrence Taylor, the Hall of Fame linebacker with similar physical dimensions and a well-documented drug problem.

“He’s got really good burst, quickness and bend,” one scout said. “Can contort his body. You don’t want him being a down-in, down-out starter, but somebody will say the production and the talent is too good and roll the dice.”

One scout watched Williams but didn’t even bother writing a report because his organization has removed him from consideration.

“He’s a red flag,” the evaluator said. “It’d be like writing on toilet paper. It doesn’t matter, and he’s probably a better pass rusher than Myles (Garrett).”

When the Journal Sentinel asked 16 executives to name the best pass rusher in the draft regardless of position, 12 tabbed Garrett but Williams drew two votes, as did Thomas.

“He’s probably the most dangerous guy in the draft in terms of not being able to trust him,” said one scout of Williams. “He’s exactly what we need, too.”

COMING NEXT: Linebackers

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