Daily Focus: Malik McDowell's NFL draft prospects
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest college football news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Malik McDowell’s high expectations: In “college-football-player-said-something” news, Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell claimed that unless he’ll be a top-three pick in the draft, he’s returning to East Lansing for his senior year. We’re high on McDowell’s prospects, ranking him at No. 23 in the PFF College 101 while slotting him at No. 7 in our first 2017 PFF Mock Draft back in May.
But even with as high as we are on McDowell, if he’s true to his word, he may be back with Michigan State next year after all. as getting into the top three picks is a challenge for an interior defensive lineman. In the most recent draft, we had eventual seventh-overall pick DeForest Buckner ranked as our No. 2 overall prospect, and while McDowell has a similar look and similar game as Buckner, he still has a ways to go to put up a monster season like Buckner’s in 2015. PFF Big Ten analyst Josh Liskiewitz profiled McDowell and made the comparison earlier this offseason, so perhaps a Buckner-like jump is in the cards and we’ll be looking at McDowell as a top-five caliber pick next April — or higher.
LSU loses starting defensive end for the season: With LSU’s pending switch to a 3-4 scheme, Christian LaCouture was slated to start on one side at defensive end but a torn ACL will end the senior’s season. He posted the top grade against the run among LSU’s defensive tackles in 2014 before taking a step back last season though he did play 492 snaps, fourth-highest along the defensive line. LaCouture has provided little pass rush the last two years, notching only four sacks, one QB hits, and 10 hurries on his 577 rushes, but a return to his 2014 run-stopping ways would have been big for LSU’s transition defensively. A pair of juniors – Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron – are next in line to replace LaCouture and both players showed well in their limited time a year ago.
LSU also brought in the No. 5 and No. 8 defensive tackle recruits (per 247 Sports) in Rashard Lawrence and Edwin Alexander, so the door is open for both players to see even more playing time than anticipated. One other story to keep an eye on for LSU’s defensive front is the status of DT Travonte Valentine, a junior college recruit who is waiting to hear if he’s eligible to play for the Tigers this season. There are currently conflicting reports about his status, but adding another big body to the mix would help ease the loss of LaCouture.
One other note in the LSU front-7, sophomore outside linebacker Isaiah Washington was also lost for the season. He was slated to be a backup at the new outside linebacker position in LSU’s scheme (formerly defensive end), and he saw the field for only seven snaps last year as a true freshman.
Florida State guard retires: Florida State is returning a plethora of experience on offense, but they lost a little depth when guard Chad Mavety called it quits due to health concerns. He played the fourth-most snaps on the FSU offensive line last year (353 at guard, 204 at right tackle), posting an solid run blocking grade to go with a slightly below-average grade as a pass blocker (one sack, five QB hits, six hurries on 291 attempts). The Seminoles had nine different offensive linemen play at least 227 snaps last season, so losing Mavety will not put much of a dent in their returning experience and they can still boast that 11 starters are returning on offense. As for Mavety, we wish him the best as he moves on to the next phase of his life.
Notre Dame defensive end suspended, transfers to Oklahoma: After playing only 145 snaps in two years at Notre Dame, defensive end Grant Blankenship was first suspended by head coach Brian Kelly before transferring and walking on at Oklahoma. He’ll sit out this season with hopes of cracking the defensive line rotation for the Sooners in 2017. Notre Dame’s depth takes a slight hit with the loss of Blankenship, but with Andrew Trumbetti and Isaac Rochell the likely starters, he was battling for backup snaps after seeing the field only 20 times last season. Blankenship finished with a sack and two QB hits on 74 rushes during his Notre Dame career.