2015 NFL Draft Preview: DE Dante Fowler Jr.
The Sports Quotient’s weekly Draft Preview continues with the focus on edge rushers. This week, we look into the stud pass-rusher, Dante Fowler Jr. out of the University of Florida.
Dante Fowler was a late surprise for Gator Nation. He really came into his own over this past season, posting incredible numbers. As a four-star recruit in 2012 and the 71st overall rank of ESPN’s top 150 rankings, Fowler was counted on to take time, learn the system and mature as an overall football player. With his high character and motivating work ethic, his hard work paid off with a chance to crack the starting rotation in 2014. Being in the starting rotation just wasn't good enough, and he wanted more. Fowler posted Von Miller type stats with 8.5 sacks, 61 total tackles and 29 solo tackles.
Against one of the best conferences in college football, Fowler thrived off of SEC-level offensive line. He recorded 1 sack, 11 tackles, and 4 solo tackles versus LSU and 3 sacks in Florida’s bowl game against East Carolina University.
Dante Fowler is one of the purest pass-rushers in this year’s draft. He is an athletic freak, running a 4.6 40-yard dash, a quick get-off at the line of scrimmage along with a high motor. Once he gets his first step on the offensive lineman, he’s extremely quick with his first step. When he makes initial contact on the tackle, Fowler has a quality repertoire of pass moves, confusing the offensive tackle on every down. He uses his hands well during his pass move to get up and under the tackles arms or to flat out bully him backwards, forcing his way through the lineman’s chest. Another advantage to his pass rush ability is that Fowler shows great leverage of his pad level when finishing through his pass move to gain extra force and get past the tackle.The freakish thing about all this insight into his pass rush game is that all of this happens between a half-of-a-second to one second.
Outside of his pass rush ability, Fowler has shown glimpses of his ability to cover the running back coming out of the back field for a check down. His instincts help him cover the back while also knowing what is going on with the quarterback and his defense. Fowler’s coverage ability is an underrated part to his overall game as a football player, primarily because his pass rush ability overshadows his coverage ability enormously.
With a prospect as highly-projected as Fowler is, it’s hard to find flaws to his playmaking ability. However, there are two main things that he can improve on in order to exceed expectations at the next level. To be able to be one of the NFL’s best pass rusher, edge rushers normally need to be in top shape to defend not only in the passing game, but in the running game as well. Fowler needs to add a little more weight to his frame in order to absorb the blows in the running game and counter the tackle’s block, make a move, and pursue the running back for the tackle. With his slightly smaller frame, the second flaw to his game is his run defense against the “ground and pound” teams. When he makes contact during a running play, it’s imperative to his game that he wins the first “initial” contact. If Fowler is countered on the initial contact and can’t maneuver his hands to the side-abdomen of the tackle to make a pass move, he will lose his leverage and be pushed into the ground. If he can bulk up a little more, his ability to stop the run coming his way will turn from a weakness into a strength because of his athleticism.
With his natural athletic ability, motivation, work ethic, and ability to be a team leader, I’m certain that Dante Fowler Jr will be playing on Sunday for a long time. As long as he is determined to work on his run defense game at the next level and add some weight, his weaknesses will become strengths and Fowler will dominate offensive lineman and torture quarterbacks for years in the NFL. I believe he compares to James Harrison, although slightly bigger than him. This should put things into perspective on how I believe Fowler will dominate at the NFL level. Both Fowler and Harrison are natural pass rushing freaks, which is how Harrison dominated in his prime for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fowler will do the same thing as Harrison, however, he can exceed those expectations by staying focused and getting better each week.
Fowler is projected as a top-5 pick by many experts. Those experts do tell the truth when it comes to Fowler. He should be a top-5 pick, however, if he starts to slide in the draft, I will put money on him not making it out of the first 10 picks.
Fowler’s best fit at the next level is playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. However, like I said earlier, he would need to add a little more weight to be able to survive the rushing attack in the NFL. Although I believe he should be a 4-3 end at the next level, Fowler played numerous outside linebacker at Florida in the nickel package. His tape shows that he can play as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and with his natural athletic ability, the tape does not lie.
Possible fits for Fowler would be the Tennessee Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Atlanta Falcons, and the New York Giants. With Dick LeBeau in Tennessee calling the shots on defense, Fowler could be LeBeau’s next James Harrison, pairing him up with recently signed Brian Orakpo. There’s no such thing in the NFL as too many pass rushers on one team. Another great fit for Fowler would be for Coach Gus Bradley, a defensive specialist. Bradley can help develop Fowler’s athleticism into a special 4-3 end, adding to an already young and underrated defense. Atlanta is another place for Fowler as a 3-4 linebacker, primarily because the man that recruited Fowler to Florida is now the head coach, Dan Quinn. Lastly, a team that lacked pass rushing last year with an injured Jason Pierre-Paul, Fowler would fit nicely in their 4-3 system pairing him up with Pierre-Paul, solidifying that defensive line for years. Wherever he goes at the next level, I believe he will have a long and successful career because of his athleticism and high character.