A year out of jail, former Michigan State star Malik McDowell makes Cleveland Browns roster Nate Atkins Lansing State Journal

By Nate Atkins via Lansing State Journal

Malik McDowell was a productive but disappointing player at Michigan State before off-the-field issues wrecked his NFL career. But now he's back on an NFL roster with the Cleveland Browns.

Malik McDowell was once a five-star recruit, a dominant force along the Michigan State defensive line and a second-round pick in the NFL draft. Lasting until the second round was considered a fall for a player who overpowered guards and blew up backfields at 6 feet, 6 inches and nearly 300 pounds.

Then came the real issues: An ATV accident. A release from the Seattle Seahawks. A string of arrests, two of them with video going viral on social media, and one of them landing him in a jail for close to a year.

But now, he's back in the NFL.

McDowell has made the Cleveland Browns' 53-man roster ahead of the season opener. NFL teams had to trim rosters for the final time Tuesday, and McDowell made the cut with the one team that took a chance on him this preseason.

"While I was in jail, it gave me a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do in life and where my life was headed. That really gave me the motivation to push to try to fight to get back what I lost," McDowell said in a news conference.

Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Malik McDowell is fighting for a roster spot.

The Browns surprised many when they chose to sign McDowell after the draft this spring. They claimed then that they had been keeping tabs on McDowell since his release from jail the previous year. They believed he had moved past the substance-abuse issues that had been at the forefront of his arrests, including the brawl with a police officer inside a gas station that landed him the 11-month sentence.

They gave McDowell the chance to show what he could do in the preseason, and the former five-star recruit out of Southfield did not disappoint.

"I showed (the Browns) that I had that hunger," McDowell said. "I told them how much I wanted it and how much I wouldn't let them down. With this being my last chance, them giving me this opportunity, I won't make them look bad."

His new coaches have backed up that idea.

"He's made sure to make the most of this opportunity," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said.

At Michigan State, McDowell flashed on the 2014-2015 teams that went a combined 23-4 and reached the College Football Playoff.

But by 2016, with many of the team leaders graduated, McDowell clashed with coaches and produced a number of head-scratching plays in Michigan State's 3-9 season. He finished as a two-time All-Big Ten Conference selection, but he knows now that his potential was far greater.

"Oh, I'm better than I was at Michigan State. I didn't use my hands at Michigan State," he said with a smile.

"I'm in the best place I can be right now. That's really my driving force."