Last season, the entire football world marveled at the talent of Jadeveon Clowney. Few had ever seen anybody as big, strong and fast as the former South Carolina defensive end. He was like the LeBron James of college football—an insanely gifted athlete who had the best of everything rolled into one.
Some believe it’ll be another 10 years before anybody comes close to that skill set.
But Dante Fowler Jr., who is likely playing his last year at Florida, is a pretty good defensive end. He doesn’t have a play that was shown on SportsCenter every 42 seconds. He isn’t being covered the way Clowney was entering his junior season. And no, he certainly isn’t on any Heisman lists.
However, Fowler has the potential to be this year’s Clowney—an athletic freak who takes over college football and rapidly climbs to the top of NFL draft boards.
Let’s take a quick glance at the measurements for the sake of argument:
|Fowler vs. Clowney|
|Player||Height||Weight||40 Low||Overall 40 Time|
There's no question that Clowney is bigger and faster than Fowler. After all, we’re talking about possibly a once-in-a-generation talent with Clowney. That doesn’t mean Fowler can’t have the same impact on his team, though. Here are last year’s numbers, just to keep the argument going:
|Fowler vs. Clowney Last Season|
Sure, Clowney faced a ton of double-teams last season, and some people say he took plays off to save himself from injury for the next level. But at the end of the day, the numbers are what they are, and there’s no denying that Fowler had a similar impact, if not more of an impact, on his team last season.
But it’s going to take more than numbers to do the job. After all, 29 players in the SEC finished with more sacks than Clowney last season.
That’s where we can look at the overall skill set of Fowler. We know he isn’t as fast or big as Clowney, but some of the top players in the world were considered too small and ended up proving critics wrong (Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Barry Sanders, etc.).
Fowler makes up for his smaller frame with a nonstop motor and old-school effort. He flies off the football, is very aggressive and uses his hands extremely well to break free.
Remind you of anybody?
While the two players share common traits, Fowler is actually much more versatile, as he can play defensive end or linebacker. South Carolina played Clowney at linebacker in certain packages, but Fowler is truly comfortable wherever you put him, while Clowney appears to be more of a traditional defensive end.
That makes Fowler even more effective, as offenses never quite know where he’s going to line up.
Fowler had a field day against Antonio Richardson in the video above. Keep in mind that Richardson is 6’6” and 336 pounds and was high on NFL draft boards at one point. The Florida defensive specialist dominated the big boy throughout the game and proved just how overwhelming he can be.
Imagine that effort and consistency for an entire season. Unfortunately for SEC quarterbacks, that's exactly what's expected.
Fowler cut back on the fast food and feels like he's in the best shape of his life, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel. Of course, better shape equates to better play, which usually results in better numbers. Better numbers result in more coverage, and that usually builds a player's draft stock.
Oh, speaking of draft status, that doesn't seem to be a problem at the moment for Fowler.
ESPN Insider Todd McShay (subscription required) listed Fowler as a top-five pick in his first 2015 mock draft: "Fowler plays with an edge and a high-revving motor, and he has maintained his speed to this point in his career even while adding bulk. He has good explosiveness and closing burst, as well as violent hands. The Gators have played him all along the defensive line and at outside linebacker."
Now, imagine if he plays with a little more consistency and has a season anywhere close to the year Clowney had as a sophomore (13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss.) We could be talking about the first overall pick in next year’s draft.
Clowney set the bar extremely high in three short seasons—a bar Fowler may never actually reach. But don’t be surprised if he’s the most talked-about defensive player in college football this season and if he racks up off-the-wall stats and makes a case for the top pick in the NFL draft.
That’s close enough to be Clowney-like.