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Matt Calkins: Malik McDowell embarrassment shouldn’t stop Seahawks from taking gambles in the NFL draft

UPDATED: Wed., July 3, 2019, 8:40 p.m.

Former Michigan State defensive end Malik Mcdowell is seen before a drill at the 2017 NFL football scouting combine Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Indianapolis. (Gregory Payan / Associated Press)
Former Michigan State defensive end Malik Mcdowell is seen before a drill at the 2017 NFL football scouting combine Sunday, March 5, 2017, in Indianapolis. (Gregory Payan / Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – You never want the word “additionally” to begin a sentence discussing your arraignment for a charge of receiving and concealing a stolen $74,000 pickup truck. But that’s how The Detroit News started the third paragraph of an article about former Seahawks top pick Malik McDowell on Thursday. The ex-Michigan State defensive tackle is also in legal trouble for allegedly assaulting a police officer after driving drunk on a suspended license.

Every time a story such as this pops up, it ups the already favorable odds that McDowell will go down as the worst NFL draft pick Seahawks general manager John Schneider ever made.

After being selected 35th overall two years ago, McDowell suffered a career-ending injury while riding an ATV, and has since been hit with a lawsuit by the Seahawks for failing to pay back some of his bonus money.

I’d say it’s hard to imagine things getting worse, but they repeatedly do. So what’s the lesson in all this?

Nothing, really. These are simply the perils of drafting.

I’ve heard discussion that McDowell’s “red flags” should have dissuaded the Seahawks from considering him in the first place. Scouting reports warned of his intermittent lack of effort and tendency to wilt when things weren’t going well.

Schneider had previous discussions with McDowell about making sure he kept his “motor” going, and upon drafting him, said “don’t forget our conversation.” But to think any of that indicated he might wreck his career on an ATV before going on a crime spree is ludicrous.

The truth is, the Seahawks have taken guys who prospered despite having brighter red flags than McDowell.

With the 15th overall pick in 2012, they selected defensive end Bruce Irvin, who had been arrested (but never prosecuted) for burglary, carrying a concealed weapon and destruction of property before turning pro. He ended up tallying 22 sacks in his four years with the Super Bowl-winning Seahawks before signing a $37 million deal with Oakland.

With the 63rd overall pick in 2015, they selected defensive end Frank Clark, who had been arrested (but never charged) for a domestic-violence count that got him dismissed from the Michigan football team. He ended up tallying 35 sacks – including 13 last year – in his four seasons in Seattle before signing a $105.5 million deal with the Chiefs.

Last September, they signed linebacker Mychal Kendricks a week after he pleaded guilty to insider trading. The NFL suspended him for eight games due to the conviction, but he was productive in the four games he played before breaking his tibia.

This is not a suggestion that criminal history should be listed as one of the “pros” on a scouting report. Character is important, as bad actors have torn apart many a locker room.

But McDowell’s tailspin shouldn’t mean the Seahawks should stop gambling on players with any kind of character concerns. Besides, was this really an Alp-sized whiff?

By most accounts, McDowell was a top-10 talent with near peerless upside. And yet, the Seahawks took him 35th overall. It wasn’t like he was going to drop to 100th if Seattle passed. At some point, you have to take a calculated risk.

Plus, some may have forgotten about the three extra picks the Seahawks nabbed by trading down for McDowell. Two of those were used on defensive back Tedric Thompson (fourth round) and running back Chris Carson (seventh round.)

If you had the 26th overall pick going into the draft, and were told “you’re going to miss big on your top pick, but will come out with a starting safety and a 1,150-yard rusher,” would you be mad? Most people wouldn’t.

Malik McDowell’s story is somber more so than anything else. A stupid decision cost him his career and sparked a descent that will haunt him for years. It’s perfectly fair to criticize the Seahawks for drafting him, but let’s not pretend something like this was easy to predict.

It’s hard to know who people really are. You think anybody could have foreseen the now imprisoned Brandon Browner’s plunge four years after his stint in Seattle? No way.

It’s critical that NFL front offices vet potential personnel meticulously to minimize risk. But that’s all they can do – minimize it.

In this game, if you haven’t missed badly, you probably haven’t played.

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