Can Dante Fowler Jr. break out in 2016?


Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. will finally have a chance to be the dominant force the team envisioned he would be when selecting him third overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.

The third “first round pick” for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016, Dante Fowler Jr. will finally get a chance to see the field in his second season with the team.

Fowler’s rookie season never got started, going down with a knee injury in his first rookie on-field work (sparking a change to the rookie orientation for 2016) and he failed to even see the field for the entire year. It’s the kind of injury that used to completely set back a player’s career. Now, players rebound from torn ACL’s all the time and it’s widely expected that Fowler can come back and become the dominant player the team envisioned.

His “rookie” season essentially begins in 2016 and he has an uphill battle to prove he can belong in just his first season at NFL speed against NFL players. He’s sat and watched and learned, but now he has to put it all together on the field.

The Jags are betting on Fowler being something special. They expect him to come in and completely own the “leo” pass rushing position on the team. He’ll lead a young group of players – including 2016 third round pick Yannick Ngakoue – at the position and must deliver results.

That’s a lot of pressure for a first year player and there are certainly questions lingering around him. But that doesn’t stop Cameron DaSilva of Fox Sports from putting Fowler on his list of sophomores ready to break out in 2016. DaSilva writes:

"Fowler was expected to be a stud pass rusher for the Jaguars last season but a torn ACL cost him all 16 games. Now, he’ll join newcomer Malik Jackson on the defensive line, which is sure to be a strength. He may not make the Pro Bowl, as that’s an extremely tall task for young pass rushers, but Fowler should rack up double-digit sacks."

2016’s defensive line, especially with the Jackson addition and a healthy Sen’Derrick Marks, will be much better and can support Fowler. He has the ability to be successful with the talent along the line, allowing him to focus more on getting after the passer.

However, double digit sacks may be a tall task, even for a player as highly regarded as Fowler coming out of college. As Adam Stites of SB Nation highlighted in March, rookie pass rushers are not particularly productive with the best recent top pick being Ezekiel Ansah and his eight sacks as a rookie. If Fowler can get near that number it’ll be a success and, in my opinion, a breakout.

There are high expectations for Fowler and the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. He’ll need to be something special or the defense could struggle. Fortunately, it looks like he’ll be that kind of guy.

Next: Bjoern Werner joins the Jags

Now he needs to put it together. And if that does turn into double digit sacks in his first season the field you won’t see me complaining.