CFF Player Profile: Dante Fowler, ED
Our first few CFF Player Profiles have focused on players expected to be Top 10 draft picks. This one is no different. Edge defender Dante Fowler was one of the most productive pass rushers in college football in 2014. You can debate which of the draft prospects will have the best NFL career, but at this point it is clear Fowler’s successful college career will lead to his name getting called early on draft day.
When only looking at games that matched schools from the Power 5 conferences, Fowler graded out among the top five draft-eligible edge defenders. He is also one of just six edge defenders in those games with a rating above +1.0 in each of pass rush, run defense and coverage for 2014.
Like any top prospect there were some games where the player was dominant. For Fowler this included his games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. While some top prospects have periods of time where they aren’t playing as well, Fowler only had a few sporadic games throughout the season where his play was subpar. Among his 12 games there were only two where he graded negatively as a pass rusher and both of those came early in the season. Fowler did have three negatively-graded games as a run defender, however.
He saved one of his most impressive statistical performances for last. In the Birmingham Bowl he notched three sacks, three hits and two hurries against the Shane Carden-led East Carolina Pirates.
Overview & Stats
When you talk about an edge defender, the most important factor is his pass rushing. Unlike the recently reviewed Vic Beasley and most edge defenders, Fowler had more pressures by going inside of the man blocking him than outside. Thanks to his swim move, among other tricks, 16 of his pressures came to the inside of the blocker compared to 13 to the outside. The rest came on bull rushes, unblocked pressure or cleanup pressures. Less than 30% of NFL edge defenders get more pressure inside than out. Aldon Smith, Jared Allen and Pernell McPhee are among some of the more well-known rushers who had noticeably more pressure inside than out in 2014.
We’ve already shown you that Fowler stacks up well against other pass rushers in this class, but he looks even better in the situations that matter the most. Here is where he ranks among the edge defenders in this draft class from the Power 5 conferences in 3rd-and-6+ as well as fourth quarter situations.
One question for edge defenders heading into the draft is always what schemes they can fit into since some have only ever played in a 4-3 and rarely if ever have gone back into coverage. Fowler lined up as a linebacker on 172 of his pass rushes and a defensive end on 140, so he is capable of playing in a 3-4 or 4-3.
While he is suited to play on any team, he would be better off in a 3-4 because he has been more successful rushing from a linebacker position. When the opposing quarterback had a five-step drop, Fowler had a Pass Rushing Productivity of 16.8 when rushing as a linebacker, and 7.9 as a defensive end. When the quarterback went on a seven-step drop, he had a PRP of 41.3 from a linebacker position on 23 rushes compared to 15.9 from his 33 snaps as a defensive end.
At least part of the difference is Fowler had more successful stunts coming from the linebacker position so he could get the best of guards and centers rather than tackles and tight ends. He also found some success simply lining up inside as a linebacker, where he only once all year lined up as an interior pass rusher in a three-point stance. It is also worth noting that on his 59 coverage snaps, he allowed just two catches for 2 yards.
He is a very aggressive defender in the run game. His Run Stop Percentage of 7.6% is among the top 20% of edge defenders. What adds to his value in the run game is his ability to disrupt the run, either by forcing the back to make a cut, or by attacking a lead or pull blocker to free up a teammate to make the play.
This aggressive style also leads to times where he guesses wrong, takes himself out of the play and opens up a hole for the running back. He ended the year with eight missed tackles which is more than you would like to see from that position.
Most of the defensive prospects expected to get picked in the Top 10 are excellent at run defense or pass rushing but not as good in the other. Fowler is more of a complete player in that he was Top 10 in both pass rushing and run defense for draft-eligible edge defenders. Like all draft prospects there are things to work on like beating tackles to the outside in his pass rushing and not missing tackles, but he is worthy of being among the top few picks in the draft and should be able to contribute as a rookie.
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