The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t get a chance to see what Dante Fowler Jr. could do because of injury in 2015, but they may bet the 2016 draft on the fact that they got it right the year before.
The 2015 NFL Draft included a handful of impressive athletic pass rushers in the first round, including Shane Ray, Bud Dupree, Dante Fowler Jr., and Vic Beasley. Here’s how all of the notable pass rushers performed in the 2015 season:
- Dante Fowler Jr., pick 3 : Injured Reserve all season
- Vic Beasley, pick 8: 16 games, four sacks, 26 tackles, two fumbles forced, one interception
- Bud Dupree, pick 22: 16 games, four sacks, 27 tackles
- Shane Ray, pick 23: 14 games, four sacks, 20 tackles
With a four sack average and just 24 tackles in the season among those first round pass rushers that participated, the Jacksonville Jaguars have to be hoping that Dante Fowler is able to be much more impressive in his first season on the field than his peers.
There’s a reason the Jags made Fowler the top pass rusher off the board and the first non-quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft. He’s more athletic, he’s faster, and he plays the game smarter than his peers, or so was commonly thought. Can he actually show it on the field?
The problem with Fowler is that the Jags never got a chance to see him take the field in a game. They never had a chance to weigh him agains this peers’ rather average performances. The Jags don’t have a body of work to factor into their decision to draft another pass rusher or stick it out with Fowler.
The collegiate evidence was compelling enough for Mel Kiper Jr. to declare that Fowler is the reason the Jags will take safety/cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the first round instead of a pass rusher in the 2016 NFL Draft. But for the time being, it’s still only speculation. There won’t be a chance to really prove that Fowler is worth betting on. There is a large amount of uncertainty surrounding him.
Uncertainty can cloud the judgment of even the best personnel evaluators, and while general manager Dave Caldwell has been decent to this point in his tenure with the Jags, it would be tough to argue that he has been among the best. Hitting on two quality first rounders (Blake Bortles and Dante Fowler) in a row is difficult in the NFL, but it is possible. Is Caldwell good enough to do it?
For now, the Jaguars have to trust in Caldwell and trust in the process he has brought to the team. We, the fans, also have to trust in Caldwell and his ability to determine who are the best talents and who can fit appropriately with the defense.
Fowler has all the indicators that he could be a franchise pass rusher that can dominate games. Yet that uncertainty still lingers.
In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Jags will have to choose to either bet on Fowler or hedge their bets and bring in somebody else who can push the others at the position and compete with Fowler to be the consistent pass rushing threat the team needs. If the Jags do the former, they have a chance to bring in top-flight talent at other positions. If they choose the latter, the Jags could possibly have two excellent pass rushers on the roster but still lack in talent on the back end.
Looking at the 2016 NFL Draft from a few months away and in the midst of the NFL Scouting Combine, I think we’ll find Caldwell trusts his process and trusts his abilities enough to focus on bringing in talent at another position. Whether that’s Jalen Ramsey or some other player, Caldwell can’t second guess that Fowler is the disrupting force he thought he could be just a year ago.
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Expect Caldwell and the Jacksonville Jaguars to bet on Dante Fowler in the 2016 NFL Draft and target another position.