Only three Hilltoppers have been drafted on Day 2 since 2000. Can Western Kentucky OLB DeAngelo Malone use his scouting report to enter the early rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft? Malone has the production and the talent, but how does it all come together?
DeAngelo Malone NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Outside Linebacker
- School: Western Kentucky
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’3 2/8″
- Weight: 234 pounds
- Wingspan: 79 4/8″
- Length: 33″
- Hand: 10 1/8″
DeAngelo Malone Scouting Report
Athleticism isn’t exclusive to the most prestigious programs. Yes, there is a definite correlation. The most athletic players are generally more successful early on, and those players garner more attention nationwide. But at the same time, some players don’t get the same recognition — and it’s varying factors. Players can fall through the cracks, and smaller schools benefit.
For the past few years, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have enjoyed reaping the benefits of Malone’s talents. Malone himself wasn’t ranked highly coming out of high school, but NFL scouts likely won’t make the same mistake. Malone is a draft-worthy prospect, but just how high of a selection does his scouting report demand?
Malone’s athletic profile
Standing at 6’3″, 234 pounds, Malone’s size immediately stands out. He has an extremely long, lean frame that offers plenty of reach. His natural length serves as an exceptional conduit for artificial power generation, and his thin, compact frame makes him incredibly slippery as a rusher.
Malone possesses good mobility in addition to his length. He shows solid explosiveness off the line, and his long strides can cover ground with impressive quickness. His pursuit speed, when playing at maximum pace, is stellar. He has impressive range as well. He can chase down quarterbacks with ease, and he’s also a threat to bat down passes.
Going further, Malone flashes suddenness and twitch when moving laterally. He has some natural cornering ability, and he can change directions well for his size. There are some flashes of uncanny fluidity when changing directions in space, and Malone also has the lateral mobility to manipulate rushing leverage with inside-outside moves.
Moreover, Malone’s athleticism and length can provide value in coverage, just as they provide value closer to the line. The Western Kentucky OLB has some ingrained versatility, and that only makes his projection more exciting.
Execution beyond the physical traits
Malone’s physical foundation is the most important part of his profile, but the Western Kentucky OLB supplements that foundation with other traits.
Most importantly, Malone frequently shows off the capacity to bend. The Hilltoppers standout can reduce his surface area and accelerate around the edge. His ankle flexion and torso flexibility can be dangerous in pass-rushing situations. Malone’s flexibility also shows up in run defense. Amidst resistance, he can contort and maintain his anchor.
Additionally, Malone’s awareness is fairly promising. The Western Kentucky OLB has flashed impressive attentiveness at times. He’s aggressive when combating blocks to disengage, and he’s often aware of the ball carrier’s position. This allows him to disengage promptly and earn valuable stops for the defense. His awareness is also apparent on option plays, where he has the wherewithal to cover the pitch man, taking away the QB’s safety valve. It no doubt derives from experience, as Malone has a great wealth of that.
Among other things, Malone flashes quick, targeted hand usage. His length naturally provides a good amount of potential energy, and he’s shown he can convert on that energy.
Areas for improvement
Malone’s NFL Draft scouting report is unique. His athletic skill set alone gives reason for optimism. However, even at his experience level, there is further refinement to undergo. Additionally, some physical limitations must be noted.
Malone’s size is a negative, just as it is a positive. The Western Kentucky OLB’s light frame allows blockers to absorb his mass relatively easily. To this end, blockers can knock him off-center and control his positioning. Malone lacks overwhelming natural power or play strength, and his lacking strength can impact his ability to disengage at times.
Beyond his size, Malone can strive for more overall consistency, even after several years as a starter. The Western Kentucky OLB doesn’t always play at full speed in pursuit. He can be tentative in congested spaces, and he doesn’t consistently stack counters to free himself up. By the same virtue, his hand placement and precision can be more consistent as well.
More broadly, Malone’s efficiency of motion can improve. He can better control his movements, and he can also more consistently multitask. He doesn’t always use his length in conjunction with his athleticism, thereby wasting a great deal of potential energy.
Malone’s NFL Draft scouting report overview
Malone comes with many of the strengths and weaknesses you’d expect with his lean, athletic frame. He’s fairly explosive and bendy, and he has some disruption potential. At the same time, he sometimes plays at too high a pad level, and he lacks the physical fortitude to overpower opponents.
Malone profiles as a decent speed rusher. His natural traits provide plenty of upside there, and his awareness also gives him a solid floor. Furthermore, his length and torso flexibility provide him with some utility in run defense, even if he isn’t the strongest player.
The questions stem more from Malone’s ceiling. Can he add more power to his frame and complete his game? Or will he remain a finesse rusher whose three-down ability falls short? He weighed in lighter than expected at the Senior Bowl, perhaps compounding these concerns.
Whatever the case, Malone’s athletic profile is worthy of mid-round consideration, especially for teams with 3-4 alignments. He’s proven that he can produce with his natural traits. He could be a spark-plug early as a stand-up edge rusher, and he also could be experimented with as an off-ball SAM linebacker. As it stands, however, his lacking power is a big sticking point and a limiting factor for his stock.
DeAngelo Malone’s Player Profile
Playing for Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Georgia, Malone saw a great deal of team success. He was part of a squad that won a Class 3A state championship. His team racked up a 13-2 record during one year. But Malone himself, a lanky 6’3″, 215-pound outside linebacker, didn’t get the expected individual recognition.
Malone was unranked on ESPN’s board and a mere two-star recruit on 247 Sports. His only two FBS scholarship offers both came from out of state. One came from Buffalo, while the other came from Western Kentucky. Choosing proximity, Malone ultimately enrolled with the Hilltoppers.
DeAngelo Malone’s career at Western Kentucky
Despite his lower billing as a recruit, Malone played in at least 11 games every season at Western Kentucky. And for four of his five seasons, he was one of the team’s best defensive players.
Malone’s career started in 2017, accruing 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman. The Western Kentucky OLB returned for his sophomore campaign in 2018 and effectively burst onto the scene, racking up 60 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, an interception, a pass deflection, and 2 forced fumbles.
2018 was Malone’s breakout, but 2019 made it seem modest. Malone reached an even higher gear in 2019, amassing 99 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Malone was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year for his performance and carried an unprecedented hype into 2020.
In a COVID-impacted year, Malone still managed to put up numbers. In 11 games, the Western Kentucky OLB logged 71 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, a pass deflection, and 2 forced fumbles. He came back in 2021, and put up 94 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 4 pass deflections, and 4 forced fumbles.
Malone’s NFL Draft ascension
Malone was in a tough spot after the 2020 season. He ultimately chose to return to school in an effort to improve his NFL Draft stock. But even with a strong year, his stock was largely stagnant. It’s worth wondering what more Malone can do. Ideally, he’d be able to add power to his frame and show off a more complete skill set. That said, it’s unclear if his frame can carry the extra weight without diluting his athleticism.
At the very least, Malone’s projected versatility and experience could earn him some love in the middle rounds. And if he can keep adding to his tool chest and build up his frame, Malone could cement his status as a legitimate NFL Draft prospect, and a potential contributor at the next level.