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Dante Fowler, Jr., the athletic EDGE player for the Florida Gators, enters the 2015 NFL Draft as a player on the rise. He saw an increase in production in 2014, as he finished the season with 8.5 sacks and 15 TFL, up from 3.5 sacks and 10.5 TFL in 2013. At the end of last year, Fowler was named as a First Team All-SEC defender. In 2013, he received Second Team All-SEC recognition. Physically, Fowler is an impressive guy who possesses a scheme-diverse makeup. At the end of 2013, Fowler weighed 277 lbs and looked like the prototype 43DE. This year, he dropped down to 261 and showcased the kind of quick twitch and movement skills needed to play OLB in a 34. His ability to control his weight and move up and down the scale is a (+) for his overall value. Athletically, Fowler is a good movement guy who keeps himself clean in traffic and who displayed the ability to stay on his feet even when his legs were attacked; he has good overall balance and coordination for a guy with his length. That said, he needs to become more explosive off the snap of the ball. His 2014 tape showed improvement in snap recognition and initial quickness, but he is far from ideal in this area. Fowler fares pretty well in space for a guy with his size. He showed the ability to drop into coverage, although at times he looked a bit lost. He’ll get better as he gains more experience. Against the run, Fowler has the ability to disrupt a play in the backfield and frustrate an offense’s game plan. He uses his hands well and is very active when slapping and chopping at the offensive tackle’s arms. He possesses the long stride and coordination needed to get to the running back from the backside and bring him to the ground. At times, however, Fowler can be fooled by misdirection plays and completely loses the play’s aiming point; This is a glaring issue throughout his tape, and his overall understanding/football IQ needs to be examined. Against the pass, Fowler is an enticing prospect. As stated above, he has to do a better job firing off the ball in order to get that critical jump on the quarterback. That said, he displays a lot of power and a relentless approach when rushing the passer. He displayed an enhanced pass rush arsenal in 2014; Fowler flashed a good swim move and was effective as a speed guy to the edge while also winning at times by converting his speed to power. Fowler’s sack numbers could’ve been better if he finished on a more consistent basis. Fowler’s biggest struggle in the passing game is when his first move “loses”; he has a hard time shedding the block. He becomes more active than effective in those situations.
BOTTOM LINE: Dante Fowler took the kind of jump in 2014 that I had hoped for, and his improvement this year is an encouraging sign that he’s still getting better. At only 20-years-old, Fowler still has room to grow into his frame while maintaining a VG level of athletic ability and quickness. Once he gets to the NFL, he’ll need to be coached up in an effort to enhance his play recognition, but he has the ability to be a high-energy edge rusher that is capable of double-digit sacks in the NFL.
GRADE: 7.9 (Late-1st, High-2nd)
-Submitted by Bryan Perez (@FirstRoundGrade)