Prospecting for upside is a precarious task in draft evaluation. Some prospects have the necessary traits but don’t hone them often enough. Others appear explosive and fast, but instead, mask lacking athleticism with high urgency and motor. Especially with later-round picks, deciphering where their upside comes from helps teams to identify where they might be used best at the next level. That’s the question that needs answering for many in the 2021 NFL Draft, including Buffalo outside linebacker Malcolm Koonce.
Malcolm Koonce NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Linebacker
- School: Buffalo
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 250 pounds
Tony Pauline’s Malcolm Koonce Scouting Report
Positives: Two-year starter who was an effective pass rusher for Buffalo. Forceful up the field, gets a lot of momentum going, and rushes the edge with speed. Can bend off the edge, plays with balance as well as body control, and has a nasty attitude. Fluid, quickly locates the ball, and works to finish off opponents. Smooth pursuing the play laterally, uses his hands to protect himself, and is rarely off his feet.
Takes on double-team blocks and shows the ability to hold his ground and occupy gaps. Slides off opponents, shows a variety of moves, and plays through the whistle. Relatively effective dropping off the line and playing in space.
Negatives: Possesses more of a short burst of speed. Ineffective pursuing the action from the backside. Out-positioned from plays by larger offensive linemen. Does not possess an elite closing burst.
Analysis: Koonce is a bit of a hidden gem as an edge rusher, as he plays bigger than his listed size and faster than his timed speed. He can be used standing over tackles or occasionally out of a three-point stance. Koonce will make an NFL roster if used properly.
Malcolm Koonce Player Profile
Relying on upside is something Malcolm Koonce had to do to make the leap to college football as well. He wasn’t a highly-sought after recruit. On some boards, the product of Archbishop Stepinac High School was unranked, and on 247 Sports’ board, he was a mere two-star recruit.
Koonce’s lone Division 1-A offer came from the Buffalo Bulls. Koonce would accept the offer to play in the Mid-American Conference. In 2017, he made the trip from southeast New York to northwest New York and began his career with Buffalo. As it turns out, it would be a more productive career than most expected.
Malcolm Koonce’s career as a Buffalo outside linebacker
Koonce only had a rotational role with the Bulls when he first arrived on campus. Nevertheless, Koonce’s size allowed him to log playing time as a true freshman. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end put up 16 total tackles, a tackle for loss, and a sack in eight games.
In 2018, Koonce again maintained his role as a reserve on the defensive line. However, his production started to increase, and so too did his playing time. This time around, Koonce went for 30 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks. By this point, he’d shown enough to earn a greater piece of the pie in his true junior season.
Malcolm Koonce’s breakout campaign in 2019
In 2019, Koonce was a legitimate contender for MAC Defensive Player of the Year. The former two-star recruit exploded onto the scene with 33 total tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, and three forced fumbles in 11 contests. For his production, Koonce was named a first-team All-MAC selection.
2020 was a continuation of Koonce’s steady statistical output. The Buffalo outside linebacker played in six games this past season and produced at his highest rate yet. In 2020, Koonce accumulated 30 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, and two pass deflections. His senior season was highlighted by a two-sack performance against Bowling Green.
Koonce’s 17.0 career sacks rank seventh all-time for the Buffalo Bulls college football program, and his play was enough to earn him lasting respect. But will it earn him a chance at the NFL level?
Analyzing Malcolm Koonce’s 2021 NFL Draft profile
Standing at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Buffalo outside linebacker Malcolm Koonce is a bit undersized. However, he has very good proportional length for his size, and he uses that length as one of his foundational weapons. Koonce can use his length to create separation and boost his leverage as a pass rusher. Additionally, he can use it to establish strong anchors in run defense, and he has the awareness to situationally shift out into pass coverage and clog lanes with his wingspan.
Koonce also has a measured degree of athletic traits. His burst isn’t elite, but he shows flashes of very good explosiveness off the line, and he also has very good hustle in pursuit. What stands out the most, pertaining to Koonce’s athletic profile, is his bend. He corners the edge well, and when he has a window to dip under the blocking lineman, he has the balance to follow through without losing speed.
Furthermore, when Koonce has space to react to incoming blockers, he has the lateral agility to disrupt their blocking angles. On more than one occasion, he’s displayed an urgent spin move, which he can use to evade punches and find space. Koonce’s pass rushing potential is evident in his production. The Buffalo outside linebacker had 13.0 total sacks and 17.5 total tackles for loss in his last 17 games. Although he can be more consistent, as we’ll get to shortly, his high moments display intriguing upside.
What are the issues with Koonce’s game?
Although Malcolm Koonce has moments where he appears fast and explosive, these are few and far between. More often than not, he plays with middling athleticism, and in some instances, he can even be sluggish out of the gates. I don’t think it’s a hustle issue. In fact, many of Koonce’s sacks are effort sacks because he doesn’t consistently get quick disruption. But if Koonce truly has the upper-echelon athleticism necessary to be an explosive pass rusher, he needs to hone it and show it more often.
Additionally, Koonce is relatively raw with his arms. He has the length necessary to be a threat on the edge, and he has some moves in his arsenal, such as the long arm and a stab-rip-dip combo which he used against Ohio in 2019 (Stab lineman’s inside shoulder, rip down outside arm, dip under off-balance opponent). But he can have more contingency plans in his arsenal for when linemen get the jump on him because, at the NFL level, where linemen are bigger and faster, it’s going to happen.
Among other things, Koonce can also give up too much surface area at times. Also, in run defense, there are times when he’s the unblocked defender on the read-option. He’s not consistent reading this play, and he can be late to trigger his pursuit. Overall, Koonce needs to polish his technique and play recognition, but if he tests exceptionally well at the NFL Combine, he could better advertise his untapped pass-rushing potential.
Malcolm Koonce’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Koonce’s tape is fairly inconsistent, and it leaves some ambiguity regarding his athletic potential. But the flashes are fairly bright, and they seem legitimate. If Koonce has the explosive potential necessary to compliment his bend and length, he can be an exciting draft prospect. Koonce accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl back in November, so that could be an opportunity to show off his traits against higher-quality linemen in drills. Additionally, the NFL Combine will be huge for quantifying his athleticism.
At the moment, Koonce looks like a Day 3 player to me. Depending on his NFL Combine performance, he could either be a mid Day 3 selection or a late Day 3 selection. Either way, he’s going to have to sell to scouts and prove he has enough upside to bank on as a pass rusher. The Buffalo outside linebacker has the length, and he has the bend. But is he explosive enough to get disruption efficiently? That’ll be the difference in determining his career arc and whether teams will invest in him as a potential contributor on defense.
Teams Koonce fits, both with his range and schematic preference
Either way, Koonce has some measured upside, and his length is still a valuable functional trait. For teams in need of edge depth and long-term potential, Koonce has appeal in Round 6 or Round 7. Teams like the Broncos, Packers, and Titans are schematic fits for Koonce, but he has enough experience from a three-point stance to draw interest from 4-3 alignments as well.
“Upside” can be a subjective term sometimes. I like to make athletic profiles the basis of upside in my evaluations because that’s something that can’t be taught. The athletic foundation always comes before the refinement, and other traits build off of that.
Thus, it’s important to ask athletically-oriented questions when watching tape. Is there a degree of athleticism that a player seems to possess but isn’t using? Is there a degree of athleticism that a player can use more efficiently or more often? These are questions that remain with Koonce. For now, his flashes of high-level burst are too rare to commit to any undiscovered trait. But even with his production, length, torso flexibility, and modest closing speed, he’ll get a chance somewhere, whether in the draft or at camp.