2015 NFL Scouting Combine Watch List: Defensive Line (Part 1)

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Nov 15, 2014; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. (6) rushes past South Carolina Gamecocks tight end Cody Gibson (90) during the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the Florida Gators 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dante Fowler Jr., Florida

Dante Fowler is another highly-rated defensive line prospect who has plenty of press, including a prospect breakdown by our very own Nick Hjeltness. Fowler, who is a hybrid rush-end and “buck” rushing linebacker out of Florida, is one of the two best pure pass-rushers in this draft, along with Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. Unlike Gregory, however, Fowler is more naturally a 4-3 end, though he possesses a strong skill set as a stand-up pass rusher as well. Standing 6’3″, his listed playing weight in 2013 was 277, but he played 2014 at a more svelte 261 in order to accommodate the scheme change that had him standing up. A naturally quick player anyway, he excelled as an edge rusher at the smaller weight, but his impressive natural strength didn’t seem to take much of a hit either.

He can explode into much larger offensive linemen and stand them up before using his good hands and supremely quick feet to make a move and beat them, either in the pass rush or against the run. At his 2014 playing weight – 261 – he is likely not as versatile a prospect as Leonard Williams, however: at 261 he’s either a rushing linebacker or a LEO end like Benson Mayowa and LaMarr Woodley were in the Raiders’ defense last year. He would fill the role that Elvis Dumervil and DeMarcus Ware had for Del Rio in Denver. But if he can get back up toward his 2013 playing weight – even if he can just split the difference at about 270, he becomes a fit for either end of a 4-3 alignment. In a 3-4 alignment, he’s an edge rushing linebacker either way, even at 270, due to his great speed, but he could if needed set up as a 3-4 end. Justin Tuck, who is not nearly as fast as Fowler, lined up in a hybrid 4-3 Stud end/3-4 end alignment for Oakland last season at about 268 pounds.

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Re-signing Dante Fowler ensures Cowboys will have insane DE depth again
Re-signing Dante Fowler ensures Cowboys will have insane DE depth again /

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  • In the very likely scenario that Williams is gone in the top 3 picks, Fowler will likely climb to the top of the Raiders draft board for defensive linemen because of his uncanny physical ability combined with good size and potential to add weight and strength to his frame. While the Raiders already have a dominant pass rusher in Khalil Mack, Fowler would dramatically improve the other edge of the defensive front, and give offenses fits in trying to figure out how to plan protection schemes.

    Fowler also plays strong against the run on the perimeter, and does a great job using leverage to keep contain on his side as well as using strength to collapse the edge and make the tackle on inside runs. The Raiders will want to get a good, hard look at Fowler, who could, if selected, be the Greg Townsend to Khalil Mack’s Howie Long for the Raider defense over the next several years. Fowler, despite his high draft stock, has announced he will perform all position drills at the Combine, including both linebacker and defensive lineman drils. Here’s some events that Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio may want to take note of:

    1. Weigh-in: the weigh-in will tell if Fowler is hanging around at the svelte 261 or has taken advantage of the last few months to bulk back up toward the 270 pound range. It will also confirm if Fowler is actually 6’3″ and tell how long his arms are, among other things. It also gives NFL evaluators an opportunity to get a good look at Fowler and determine his body composition, especially if he does bulk back up.  If he comes in weighing 270 pounds and it’s a ripped 270, it will be a good look for him and a good sign to coaches hoping he can fit various roles in a hybrid defensive front.

    2. 4 Bag Agility Drill: if Fowler does indeed participate in linebacker drills, coaches are going to want to get a good look at him in this drill. While, even as a linebacker, Fowler will still be working off the edge and close to the line of scrimmage, he is still going to be a second-level defender or at least will need to present that he can perform fundamental movements of the position. The most fundamental drill for any linebacker is the 4-bag drill, in which a player must perform a series of quick direction changes, keep his body level low, get his feet and knees up high, and show both lateral movement, quick forward steps, and good backpedals in quick succession. If Fowler does well in this drill, it raises his stock for teams planning on using him as a 3-4 linebacker, and it also shows that he has the quick feet that will come in handy as a defensive lineman as well.

    3. Punch and Hand Shiver Drill: this is a defensive line drill, meant to show both quick lateral movement and low shoulders as well as quick hands and good hand technique. Fowler has shown that he is good with his hands in college, but is more of a speed and movement rusher who gets around tackles or uses his agility to duck around them. Fowler’s hand speed will be examined in this drill, to get an idea of how naturally he moves his hands, how fast, and with how much force. He should grade well, and this will reinforce his draft stock.

    Next: DL Prospect to Watch: Eddie Goldman