Florida Football: Where Dante Fowler Landed on First 2015 NFL Draft Big Boards
With a handul of Florida Gators selected in the 2014 NFL draft, it's time to start looking ahead to those prospects eligible for the 2015 draft.
While that might feel like a decade from now, defensive end Dante Fowler has a chance to become the fourth Gator selected in the first round in the last three seasons.
Fowler is easily the top NFL prospect on the Gators roster right now and could be a high selection if he fulfills expectations this season.
It’s never too early to put together 2015 NFL draft big boards, and Fowler is receiving major props despite just two quick seasons at the college level.
Let’s break down Fowler’s draft stock and see how things are looking heading into his junior year.
These lists are going to change thousands of times between now and the 2015 draft.
Nevertheless, here’s a quick sample size of how Dante Fowler stacks up against the top competition:
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller: No. 2 outside linebacker
WalterFootball.com: No. 19 overall
USA Today’s Brent Sobleski: Undrafted in one-round mock draft
Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey: No. 24 overall
NFLDraftScout.com: No. 31 overall (No. 5 defensive end)
ESPN's Jeff Barlis: Projected rounds 1-3
First Couple of Seasons
Dante Fowler saw action in all 13 games as a freshman in 2012 and finished with 30 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Last season, Fowler finished fifth on the team with 50 tackles, first with 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He was also named to the All-SEC second team by the media and team captain for a couple of games.
The big improvement in Fowler's numbers weren't only related to increased playing time his sophomore year, though. In fact, Fowler admitted to ESPN’s Edward Aschoff that he didn’t know the whole playbook as a freshman:
Going into the spring, I was able to play a lot faster. I learned a lot of things -- some good things and some bad things -- as a freshman. That's going to happen when you're a freshman. There are going to be some bumps and some bruises that I was going to have to go through, but I felt playing as a freshman helped me a lot because it helped me mature. Coming into my sophomore year, I'm going to be able to play faster, I know all the plays and this defense that we're running is something like an NFL scheme, so it helps me a lot to understand the game. I'm also going and watching [more] film. I know a lot of people don't watch film, but when you force yourself to do stuff like that, it helps you become a better player.
Last season, Fowler finished 10 games with at least two solo tackles. He was also disruptive in other ways—forcing two fumbles in the big victory over Tennessee, for example.
Fowler was the main guy the coaching staff looked to step up when Dominique Easley missed half of the season with an ACL injury. He did that and them some, but you still get the feeling he hasn't reached his full potential playing in a Florida uniform.
Although Fowler has been widely viewed as Florida’s top 2015 draft prospect since the end of the season, he still knew he needed to improve his consistency.
Knowing he had to take that next step and become a leader his junior season, Fowler decided to give up McDonald's Big Macs, which were a major weakness.
According to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said:
We can all look at last year and say there were games where he played really, really well, was almost a dominant player. And there were games where that wasn’t there. That was our challenge to him going into spring ball and going into next season.
He’s really done that in the spring. He’s playing really determined.
Fowler echoed his coach, per Zach Abolverdi of Gator Sports:
It’s my job to always have a good game. Just consistency, being consistent the whole game, not being hot one game and then cold one game. I just want to be consistent every time, be on my game every time. I don’t want to play bad ball, so I’m working on my craft.
Fowler appeared stronger and in much better shape this offseason. He consistently put pressure on the quarterbacks and showed so much improvement that the coaching staff decided he didn’t need to participate in the spring game.
It's safe to say he's taken the proper steps this spring to have a breakout junior season and become one of the SEC's most dominant pass-rushers.
Likely Draft Position
If Fowler can shake the inconsistency habits and have the dominant season Florida fans are hoping to see, there’s no question he’ll be a first-round pick—assuming he leaves school early.
There’s a reason he plays the hybrid role in the defense, and it’s because he’s a freakish athlete with tremendous speed and has a knack of getting to the quarterback.
NFL teams are always looking for the next great pass-rushers, which is why six combined defensive ends and outside linebackers were selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Of course, Jadeveon Clowney, a defensive end, was taken with the first overall pick due to his unique skill set.
Fowler may not be as gifted as Clowney, but he has all of the tools you look for in an elite pass-rusher. Considering Florida is loaded on the defensive line this season, he will have plenty of opportunities to make plays and solidify his stock as a first-round pick.