2016 Stats: 20 solo tackles, 14 assisted tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks
After being a key contributor to Michigan State’s defense for three years, Malik McDowell decided he would try his luck in the NFL and forgo his senior season. The junior was named first-team All-Big Ten by the Associated Press as well as second-team All-American by both CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated, despite missing 3.5 games (three due to injury, half due to suspension from a targeting call in prior game).
Before the season began, McDowell faced large expectations from both the MSU community and NFL scouts. A wide array of obstacles prevented him from reaching his ceiling, and in the end, hurt his overall draft stock. The injury late in the season was one of the major factors, but with a struggling Spartan defense, McDowell had to play multiple positions, which in turn prevented him from consistency.
About a month away from the draft, McDowell is still expected to go in the first round. Rated 20th overall and the second best defensive tackle by CBS Sports, experts have him slated to go anywhere between the 14th pick and the 23rd pick.
2016 Stats: 39 solo tackles, 47 assisted Tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovered
Another junior leaving early for the draft is Montae Nicholson. He started in 10 games, played eleven, missing one due to injury and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten selection. Nicholson had a total of 86 tackles, which was good enough to be ranked second in the Big Ten amongst defensive backs in total tackles, and 13th in the conference. One of Nicholson’s strengths was put to use his sophomore season, where he not only played on the football team, but also competed on the track and field team. He finished sixth in the long jump at the Big Ten Championships.
Nicholson hasn’t received as much attention from the NFL despite a good season. Part of that is because the Spartans had a terrible season, winning just three games. He went to the NFL combine, and was a top performer in both the 40-yard dash (4.42 seconds) and the broad jump (125.0 inches).
Nicholson is currently ranked 295th overall and is the 14th best strong safety in the draft according to CBS Sports. Draft analyst Chad Reuter’s latest projections have Nicholson selected in the fourth round, 134th overall by Dallas, but could be picked anywhere between the third and fifth round.
2016 Stats: 14 solo tackles, 44 assisted tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss
Riley is the latest of the Bullough family to come out of Michigan State and enter the draft. Unfortunately for him, he is also the smallest of them weighing just 227 pounds as an inside linebacker. Despite his size, Bullough had an outstanding career at MSU, finishing with 214 tackles. His senior season didn’t meet what he did his junior season, partly because he missed three games to injury, but still received All-Big Ten honors and named third-team All-Big Ten.
Bullough attended the combine as well, but didn’t have a great showing in the three events he competed in (bench press, vertical jump and broad jump). Where scouts do like him is his quick instincts and ability to read the offenses plays. His ability to predict where a running back or quarterback is going to go is his main strength, but with his smaller size, many teams may treat him as a special teams player.
Although ranked as the 13th best inside linebacker in the draft according to CBS Sports, his overall ranking is 327, and isn’t expected to be picked until the third day (rounds 4-7) if at all. A free agent signing may end up being Bulloughs road to the NFL.