While quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota have been receiving most of the attention leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, potential top five pick Dante Fowler Jr from the Florida Gators has been quietly rising to the top of the position rankings for linebackers. Although he came out and declared himself “the No. 1 guy on the board,” Fowler promises to go no later than 3rd overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Fowler had an amazing career with the Gators, earning All-SEC freshman team honors in 2012 as a backup with 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Fowler had no problem earning a starting position in 2013 as a sophomore. His stats were similar to 2012; however, he also added three forced fumbles and a batted pass. Sure, he played against some great college football teams; but 2013 still brought forth a lot of inconsistencies and shortcomings for Fowler.
This past season, Fowler silenced the critics with 60 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks. The Birmingham Bowl was no different—Fowler manhandled the East Carolina University offensive line, sacking Shane Carden three times en route to a Gator victory. Fowler also put up good numbers against big name opponents such as LSU and Alabama, showing a much more consistent play style than he did in 2013.
Fowler also drew attention at the NFL Combine, running a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash. Fowler also had the fastest 10-yard time of any front seven defender with a 1.59—a clear display of his quickness and ability to explode off the line.
Fowler certainly has the potential to be a superstar on Sundays. In the right scheme, Fowler could easily be a double-digit sack specialist in the NFL. With the speed to beat tackles around the edge, the athleticism to spin back inside, and the pure strength to bull rush when needed, Fowler looks a lot like the great James Harrison coming out of college.
Fowler is somewhat bigger than Harrison; however, the two have the same style of play that fits perfectly into a 3-4 defensive scheme. They are both big, physical, passionate players; and they have both shown the ability to be an aggressive leader on defense. Fowler also has the versatility to be able to succeed just as well in a 4-3 defense if need be.
Of course, Fowler is not a perfect player. Florida asked him to do so much in his time there that he never had a chance to really become dominant at any one thing on defense. A bit of a jack of all trade but a master of none. When a team uses a top five draft pick, they want a transcendent star ready to come in and contribute in a big way immediately.
Fowler’s extreme versatility is definitely not a back thing. Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders had the same problem about this time last season, and there were questions about whether or not he would be able to continue his dominance in the NFL. Well, although it’s only been one season, Mack already looks like the best draft pick the Raiders have made in the past five years.
The Jaguars hold the third overall selection in the draft, and much like the Raiders they always seem to pick the wrong guy. For a team that always seems to pick in the top three, the Jags continue to lose year after year. Maybe seeing what Mack was able to do with the Raiders, the Jags will be able to feel a little safer if they decide to pick up Dante Fowler.