NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The 2015 draft class is loaded with pass rushers, three of which could land in the top 10 of the draft. Dante Fowler Jr. is one of those guys. He'll be competing with Randy Gregory and Shane Ray to be the first EDGE player off the board.
Seeing them all work out side-by-side at next week's combine will be telling. Most experts have Fowler behind the other two, but the gap doesn't seem to be insurmountable.
ESPN's Draft Experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper both have Fowler going 13th to the New Orleans Saints.
Bleacher Report's NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller has him going in the top 10 to the Atlanta Falcons at number eight.
Dante Fowler Jr., DE (Florida)**
Fowler spent three seasons at Florida and totaled 8.5 sacks and a team-high 15 tackles for a loss as a junior in 2014. His college career ended with a three-sack performance against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
His postseason honors include second team All-American by Sporting News and Walter Camp Football, as well as a first team All-SEC selection by the league's coaches, ESPN.com and Phil Steele.
Miller: "I think I like everything about Dante Fowler. He's explosive. He's aggressive. He's violent. He does a great job of using his whole toolset to beat guys. He's powerful. He's flexible in his hips and his shoulders. He does a great job of converting his speed to power. He's quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the draft."
Needs to Show:
Miller: "I think he needs to prove he can stand up against the run. He plays with good leverage, but being able to anchor and shut down the edge, not giving up ground is going to be the big thing for him. He's dominant as a pass rusher, but playing the run consistently is probably where he has to get better."
Miller had similar critiques of Ray and Gregory earlier in this series. Whoever can show the ability to be a true three-down OLB/DE will likely see his stock rise the most.
Miller:** "I think it's really rare to see that out of anyone in college because they're not asked to do it. A lot of guys are told to only go after the quarterback and get into the backfield. It's going to be rare to find a guy like Khalil Mack who just walks into the NFL and is good against the run. It's not a huge concern for me to look at an EDGE guy and say, 'Ok he's going to have to get a little better on the outside.'"
Mack was a rookie out of the University of Buffalo in 2014 and was named ESPN's Defensive Rookie of the Year. His ability to play against the run vaulted him into the top five of last year's draft with the Raiders selecting him with the fifth overall pick.
Miller said that Fowler, Gregory and Ray still have the potential to go top-five in 2015, despite their unproven ability against the run.
NFL Comparison: Chandler Jones (Patriots)
Miller: "Fowler's got very long arms. I compare him with Chandler Jones of the Patriots, but Fowler might be more athletic. He might be more of a quick-twitch guy, someone who can stand up on the edge or can put his hand down in the dirt on a four-man front."