Defensive tackle Malik McDowell, the most disappointing draft pick the Seahawks have made during the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era, soon will be released.
While draft busts are common – a 10 Worst list could be compiled for every team in every pro sport – McDowell leaves Seattle with a particularly troubling legacy. He never played in a regular-season game. He never played in a preseason game.
The 35th overall selection of 2017, McDowell was touted as a pass-rushing force because of his size (6-feet-6, 300 pounds) and reputation for creating havoc when the mood struck him at Michigan State. Scouting reports were mixed – no questions about his talent, lots of questions about his motor – but Carroll and Schneider never have backed away from that kind of gamble.
The dynamic duo saw the task of transforming McDowell from ho-hum participant to gung-ho ferocity as a challenge. Liberated from the “student-athlete” college experience, he’d report to Hawks training camp and adjust to the culture of football as a full-time job.
McDowell suffered a major head injury, 11 months ago, in what was reported to be an ATV accident. The precise cause of the accident remains a mystery. The person most familiar with the details surrounding the curious case of Malik McDowell is Malik McDowell, and he has yet to speak about it.
McDowell’s absence last season created a debilitating domino effect for the Hawks, who temporarily replaced him at a high cost. They sent wide receiver Jermaine Kearse and a second-round 2018 draft pick to the New York Jets for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who recently renounced Seattle’s contract extension offer for a more lucrative free-agent offer from Minnesota.
The second-round pick surrendered late last summer is looking precious – precious enough that the Seahawks are considering trading six-time Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas to get it back.
McDowell’s saga poses a question: Worst draft pick the Seahawks have ever made?
The field is crowded among such first-round flops as quarterback Dan McGwire, defensive ends Lamar King and Lawrence Jackson, and linebacker Aaron Curry. Mixing in the failures of tight end Jerramy Stevens and wide receiver Koren Robinson to realize star potential corrupted by issues off the field, McDowell is just another swing-and-miss.
But McGwire, King, Jackson, Curry, Stevens and Robinson share membership in a fraternity that McDowell never will join: Each took the field as Seahawks. For better or worse – mostly worse – each either threw a pass, or caught a pass, or made a tackle.
McDowell did nothing. Case closed.
So let’s expand the question: Was he the worst draft pick in Seattle pro-sports history? Talking Mariners and Sonics here, and again, the field is crowded.
The Mariners’ many whiffs include the first-round 1997 selection of starting pitcher Ryan Anderson, whose power arm and physique – he was a 6-10 lefty – drew obvious comparisons to Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson.
Because Anderson never got promoted to the big leagues, it’s tempting to recall him as a bust. I recall him as the teenager who briefly overwhelmed veteran hitters in the Pacific Coast League. His talent was off the charts, and then he was off the charts, victim of the arm ailments associated with a peculiar craft.
Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 baseball draft, was similarly bedeviled. Regarded as a can’t-miss prospect after his stellar college career at the University of Virginia – scouts raved about the lefty’s ability to control the four pitches in his repertoire – Hultzen was on the brink of a big-league call up when his shoulder blew out.
Surgery put him out of action for more than a year, and when Hultzen finally recovered, he found lost velocity on a once-dominant fastball. The thrill was gone.
Hultzen gave his all. Smart, passionate and possessed with a a drive to succeed in every phase of the game – at Virginia, opponents feared his bat as much as his arm – he distinguished himself as the polar opposite of Robert Swift, the Sonics first-round draft choice in 2004.
Swift, an agile 7-1 center, torched high-school foes in California, and after his inevitably difficult rookie NBA season, he showed glimpses of a low-post hoss, averaging 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Projected to be a decade-long starter, Swift suffered a knee injury, and then things seriously unraveled in his personal life.
If there is an Exhibit A of the folly of signing a high-school player to a lucky-for-life NBA contract, it is Robert Swift.
But hey, he played. He wore a Seattle uniform in games, and at the end of those games, the uniform was drenched with sweat.
He never played for the Seahawks, never even broke a sweat for the Seahawks in training camp.
The ultimate bust.