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NFL Scouting Combine: How’d the Spartans do?

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Checking in on how NFL hopefuls Malik McDowell, Riley Bullough and Montae Nicholson performed in Indianapolis

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Three Spartans were in attendance for the NFL’s yearly meat market, more commonly referred to as the NFL Scouting Combine, this past weekend.

The combine is a huge chance for players to improve (or hurt) their draft stock all while running Jim Tomsula directed drills in their underwear. It has to be embarrassing but hey, when there are millions of dollars at the end of that tunnel you don’t ask questions.

This year, it was Malik McDowell, Riley Bullough and Montae Nicholson running around in their skivvies for their chance at a pay day. Let’s see how they measured up.


Malik McDowell

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

McDowell has been considered a top-tier NFL prospect dating all the way back to his high school days thanks to an elite combination of size and explosiveness. Well, those traits certainly checked out over the weekend.

Not only did he weight in at a svelt 295 — after being listed in the 270’s all season per MSU — he had solid scores in the tests that measure explosiveness, including a positional-best broad jump.

Teams view Malik as a versatile d-lineman who could excel in a three-man or four-man front and create a pass rush from anywhere along the line. Typically those type of guys are off the board within the first 10-15 picks and while McDowell could certainly end up in that range, the challenge will be answering off the field questions about his maturity.

If he slips down to the mid-20’s some team is going to get an absolute steal.

Riley Bullough

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps no picture sums up the combine experience better than the one above — seemingly unnecessary pain and embarrassment.

Riley didn’t participate in any of the running or quickness drills, which will be key to his ability to shoot up draft boards with his size (6’2” 226). He did test relatively well in the drills he did give a go, however.

If he can test well during his Pro Day, he could find himself coming off the board somewhere in the 6th-7th rounds, but should he be a little slow he may not hear his name called at all.

Fingers crossed for the former, not the latter.

Montae Nicholson

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Nicholson is part of a loaded safety class and impressed teams by finishing in the top five of every drill he took place in. He possesses the qualities NFL teams value in defensive backs in spades — length, speed and explosion — the only thing missing is the film to back it up.

Montae’s biggest struggle will be finding a position. The same goes for a player MSU fans are very familiar with, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. Don’t get me wrong, Peppers’ tackling, short-area quickness and versatility — y’know the things that make defensive players first rounders — make him far and away the superior prospect, but in terms of how they project to the NFL positionally, the two face similar challenges. Neither has the coverage instincts to be full-time safeties, nor are they big enough to hold up at outside linebacker. So, the question becomes what do you do with them?

It’s an en vogue comparison for players stuck between levels in the back seven, but Nicholson and Peppers would both excel as in-the-box safeties a la Deone Buchanon of the Arizona Cardinals. It’s not a stretch to think Nicholson could emerge as a late round alternative for teams that are interested in Peppers but don’t want to take him in the first round.

As a late-round flier, it doesn’t get much better than a prototype safety with sketchy instincts and poor tackling form. If he gets in the right hands, Montae might just be alright.