Jan 3, 2015; Birmingham, AL, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler (6) looks to the crowd at the close of the game agains the East Carolina Pirates in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Disruptive. Intimidating. Versatile. Those are just a few words that can be used to describe Florida DE/OLB Dante Fowler. The New Orleans Saints will likely be turning to the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft for a player like Fowler.
In 2013, his sophomore year and first as a starter, Fowler finished the season with 50 tackles (ten for loss), 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, earning Second-Team All-SEC honors by the media.
As a junior in 2014, Fowler’s tackle totals went up, but sack numbers went down (57 and 5.5). However, during Florida’s Birmingham Bowl win against East Carolina, he was able to add three more tackles and three more sacks to his final resume before declaring for the draft.
Throughout his career in Gainesville, the Gators would line him up at defensive end, outside linebacker, defensive tackle and occasionally drop him into coverage, depending on the situation. That kind of position flexibility is ideal for Saints’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Fowler is also best fit for a 3-4 scheme, which is run the majority of the time since Ryan took his talents to the Big Easy in 2013.
Nov 29, 2014; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) runs the ball past Florida Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. (6) and linebacker Antonio Morrison (3) during the game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Fowler’s game relies on his capital versatility, which comes from his explosive lower body. His light feet and transitional movements make him a problematic matchup for most blockers. His energy on the football field is absolutely breathtaking.
Like Vic Bleasley of Clemson, another possible candidate for New Orleans in the first round, Fowler struggles with stopping the run due to play recognition issues and weakness at the point of attack. However, his skill set and room for growth and strength make it a problem that can easily be fixed on the practice field and in the weight room.
Fowler is a fascinating specimen and will be an intriguing option in the draft for Sean Payton and company at No. 13. Unfortunately, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Saints’ most hated rivals in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons, selecting him with the eighth pick. However, Kiper can be a bit off with his predictions at times, and Fowler could fall into the hands Payton and GM Mickey Loomis. He will certainly be somebody to keep an eye at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine in late February.