April 2012 only saw one player from K-State find a home through the NFL draft – and even that was a stretch, as Bryce Brown saw little playing time and quit the team his first year after transferring to Manhattan before conference play started. 2013 should be a much more profitable year for departing Wildcat players. Over the next two weeks, Jug of Snyder will be assessing the players entering 2012 with draft hopes and how they finished their careers with K-State. For our fourth installment we go to to the two-time semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, Nigel Malone.
In a league designed to pick on defensive backs, JUCO transfer Nigel Malone hit the ground running in the Big 12 and picked off quarterbacks all year long, recording seven interceptions his junior year. This total led the conference, although Malone developed a reputation as a big risk/reward player by allowing several big catches in addition to his interceptions. He also finished 2011 with 58 tackles and 10 pass break-ups.
Malone continued to be an interception machine his senior year, hauling in another five. He also posted nine passes defended and 51 tackles. His play earned an invitation in to the East-West Shrine Bowl, the second Wildcat invited alongside QB Collin Klein. He was awarded with his second straight All-Big 12 First Team selection this year.
Malone’s tangible skills are not overly imposing, as he measures in at 5’10” and 185 lbs. However, Malone has never shied from contact due to his like of size and willingly engages running backs in the open field. He also lacks a good 40 time, which has been clocked at 4.54 seconds. However, he plays with an awareness that allows him to come down with big plays – in only two years of play he worked his way to second on K-State’s all-time interception list with 12, placing him ahead of Pro Bowler Terrance Newman who spent four years in the system (although only two as a starter). Yet this success is tempered by the number of passing yards the Wildcats allowed against subpar offenses. Worst examples: the team allowed 323 passing yards against lower division Missouri State, while North Texas’s Derek Thompson went 25 of 28 for 208 yards and no interceptions. Games like this only enhanced Malone’s reputation as a high risk/high reward player.
In a talented secondary class, Malone may be on the outside looking on the third day of the draft – although a team may give him a look. Yet whether Malone is signed through the draft or as a rookie free agent, expect at least one team to give K-State’s most exciting defensive back a strong look. As more offenses adopt quicker, versatile passing attacks, a greater premium is being placed on smaller defenders that can rapidly react to plays with the capability of tackling in the open field. And as more defensive backs are being kept on scout teams in response, Malone is expected to have a place in the NFL for at least the next two years.