I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.)
Dante Fowler, DE, Florida - 6'3, 260 - Age 20
It is important to understand that everything is relative in the NFL Draft. Some years, there are only 20 1st round players, other years there are 40. Yet, there are only 32 1st round picks every single year. Some years, there are top quarterbacks in the draft, other years there are none - yet, someone will get elevated to the #1 QB chosen as he is the best of the choices. Some years, guys get pushed up because they might be special soon - but are not the finished product now.
I say that to say that Dante Fowler is one of the most talked about edge rushers in this draft - and he has some very interesting and unique talents, yet for me, I don't understand the superlative reviews I have heard around the water cooler from others that put him at the very top of the 1st round. I would enjoy having him on my team, but I think this is a spot where you can overpay and over invest and while the ceiling is high, I am worried about that floor. I watched the Florida State, LSU, Alabama, and Kentucky games to get a feel for what he is all about.
What I liked: There are moments where he looks like he has a rocket strapped on his back as he explodes through the line and into the backfield. He is exceptional at shooting gaps and causing panic from guards and tackles who are trying to hold him off. He also has a backside chase down the line of scrimmage on runs away from him that are the best I have seen from the players we have looked at. He can run with any RB to the edge and you are going to have a real hard time turning the corner on him. He packs a punch when he wants to get into that backfield and was a clear leader and centerpiece of that Florida defense as he was given the ability to play all over the place: RDE, LDE, Inside LB on 3rd Downs, and was moved to find the appropriate matchup that they were looking for. He plays very hard and certainly feeds off all of the responsibility he has been given by the coaching staff.
What I did not like: It did not seem that he was terribly consistent in his performance. There would be plays where he looked great, and others where he would not play the technique properly and get caught inside on a run to his edge. He would seem to freelance and leave holes in his spot. He would also be attacked with direct blocks in the run game and was not holding his spot, even against some Tight Ends, which was quite disappointing. He should have more power, which he may grow into, but for now that is a glaring weakness. The LSU TE, in particular, had quite an evening knocking Fowler out of the way. His pass rush is all based on burst as his moves are nothing great. He insists on a spin move that is very telegraphed and ineffective. Overall, for this ability and flash, I was hoping for more production relative to those other edge rushers in this mix at the top of the draft.
Summary: He is an amazing specimen where any coach worth his salt will see the traits that they always covet. And he won't turn 21 years old until training camp, so he is very raw and young. With Rod Marinelli as a top developmental coach, I would be fine with handing this project over, but there is a lot of refinement necessary in this player's game which is why I fear he can be over-drafted. He is what I might call "Sportscenter Great", meaning his Top 10 moments of the year are off the charts. But, to properly know a player, you can't just look at his best. You have to look at his ability to show you 60 solid plays in a game, not 2 exceptional and 5 where you don't know what he is trying to accomplish. Don't get me wrong, I would like to have him, but I don't think he is ready to be a beast in the NFL. I do, however, expect that he will take over the combine with his physical traits and be a big name this spring. And, to be fair, by age 23 with the proper coaching? He might be something very special.