The NFL has been eyeing Dante Fowler Jr. ever since he danced on Florida defensive line with current NFL players Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd.
Fowler's passion isn't just evident in his exquisite violence as a pass rusher; it's in how big his smile is when he's playing the game he loves. He was the poster boy for Will Muschamp's defense this past year, and he'll be the poster boy for one NFL team's upcoming draft class. But whose?
Fowler's been raved as a first round pick for the last year, but as the end of the season and the rest of the draft process played out, it seems as though he's stepped into the top 10 to stay. What makes Fowler worth of that lofty positioning? Let's take a look.
STRENGTHS: Well-built, athletic frame with very long arms. Has transformed body since coming in, losing 25 pounds while adding substantial explosiveness in space. Versatile -- was moved around field for Gators. Can rush from two- or three-point stance. Good first-step quickness. Uses improving spin move to counter when rush stalls high-side. Can dip and turn corner against upright tackles. Slants inside with devastating quickness. Well-timed arm over to whip lungers. Rangy in pursuit. Has hips and feet to change direction seamlessly. Can chase play-side running back to sideline and terminate with very little angle. Length to stifle cut blocks. Strong hands and arm extension to set edge and maintain
WEAKNESSES: Bounced all over the field. Raw pass rusher. Still learning nuances of the position. Needs more coordination between hands and feet. Pass-rush approach lacks efficiency and includes too much wasted motion. Expected "speed-to-power" conversion inconsistent on tape. Tackles with length can lock him out and run him over the top. Average lower-body strength with limited window to fend off power. Limited recovery talent when beaten early in snap. Inconsistency against downhill running game is a concern.
SOURCES TELL US: "He's had to play at different weights and different spots on the field, and I think he's finally understanding how to use his athleticism to dominate a game. He will be way better in the pros than what he is now." -- AFC East college director of scouting
BOTTOM LINE: Strong-side 3-4 outside linebacker with the physical traits and above-average potential to set the edge or spill runs wide to an early demise. Fowler is a competitive pass rusher getting by on athleticism and inside moves right now, but has a Pro Bowl ceiling with double-digit sack potential if he takes coaching and addresses his rush technique.
My biggest takeaway from that scouting sheet isn't what he does well or what he needs to work on: It's the fact that the bottom line calls him an outside linebacker.
Look, if you want to say he's a LEO or BUCK outside linebacker, say that. But I don't want Fowler dropping back into coverage. Not because he's not athletic enough, but just because... why would you? He's an edge player. Let him eat.
Two notes in the strength tab touch on his "rangy pursuit" and his "explosiveness in space. Let's see how his Mockdraftable chart represents what we've seen on tape.
The only puzzling component of Fowler's spider graph is how he's not able to translate explosiveness on the line to explosiveness in his jumps. Jumps are more than just tests of range; they're great tools to measure lower body power in all directions. Fortunately, Fowler chose the right drill to succeed on (the one that has him moving horizontally).
You can also pick up little hints on how developmental and raw Fowler is with his body frame. His current body is great progress from when he stepped on campus two years ago, but with that low of a bench press number (even with long arms), and the low 3-cone drill, you can tell it's just not something he's tapped in to.
With Fowler being a Top 10 lock for such a long time, there aren't many teams who could realistically see themselves taking him. You'll see a pattern in the ones who's shown special interest.
- Combine Meeting: Atlanta
- Pro Day Meeting/Workout: None
- Private Workout: None
- Private Visit: Atlanta, Chicago, Jacksonville, New York Jets, Tampa, Tennessee, Washington
So we have the teams selecting No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 5, No. 6, No. 7, and No. 8 all giving Fowler private personal visits. The only team not in the top eight on that list is Oakland. So that makes Fowler's Player Mock easier than others, but only one can have him. Who are the most likely three?
Round 1, Pick 8, Atlanta
Though Atlanta is the lowest team on that list, picking at No. 8, I think they're actually the second favorite to land Fowler. The Falcons are in desperate need for a consistent edge presence. With Jake Matthews as their first selection last year, there's no doubt they'll take a pass rusher. I think Fowler's their top guy, and if they can move up to get him, they will.
Round 1, Pick 5, Washington
Washington is coming off losing Brian Orakpo to free agency, and even though the spent the money getting Terrance Knighton in the middle, I'm thinking they'd like to have both Kerrigan and Fowler playing off the edge, instead of playing Stephen Pea as more of a run stopping edge player, which is what the depth chart shows at the moment. Fowler would fit into more of that 3-4 defensive end role here, but I'm OK with that because Kerrigan would play more of the linebacker spot leaving Fowler to rush the passer full time.
Round 1, Pick 3, Jacksonville
Last, but certainly not least, my favorite to snatch up Fowler's talents is the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags finished the year tied for the sixth in sacks in the league, so it's not a season-changing need, but with young all across the depth chart and no clear-cut top offensive line talent to chose, Fowler and Leonard Williams are probably No. 1 and No. 2 on Gus Bradley's board. The reason I believe the Jags take Fowler over Williams (which is a decision that's becoming more and more realistic) is because there's already a good amount of size to rotate around at the defensive tackle and 46 packages (goal line). Though Williams and Fowler can play almost any position on the line, Williams' is primarily an inside DT and Fowler is more of a edge rusher. I think Fowler's No. 1 on their board, and I think this is where he ends up.