The hype second-year Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. had coming into this season was pretty large for an essential rookie coming off of a torn ACL. Stories of him dominating training camp spread throughout Jaguars sites and Twitter, as he had come back better and stronger than ever. While he had impressed the few first weeks of training camp, writers here, especially Alfie, warned us against having our expectations too high.
By the time the preseason began, Fowler's dominance subsided pretty quickly, as he looked overmatched in his first few games. At this same time, Yannick Ngakoue was already making his presence felt, having the feel of a more pure pass rusher.
Ngakoue has no doubt caught all of our attention, as his 6 sacks as a rookie through 12 games, and the moves he is able to put on offensive lineman are impressive for any rookie, let alone one drafted in the third round.
Fowler hasn't had the high praise Ngakoue has, as he has struggled to find his niche in this defense. Combine that with dumb personal foul calls the first 8 weeks of the season, and we saw a guy struggling to find his role and control his emotions.
With 2.5 sacks through the season, Fowler hasn't produced the way many would have liked him too. Although the average sack total for edge defenders picked in the first round their first season is about 6, there is something especially disappointing about Fowlers first 12 games.
While he hasn't produced much rushing the passer, he has improved in the run game, as evident by his maybe best performance against the run this past Sunday against the Broncos.
Hays Carlyon, of the Jacksonville Times was able to ask Fowler about the big hit he put on Devonte Booker, which became a huge Vine all across the internet as soon as it happened.
"I was starting to get in a rhythm when I made that hit," Fowler said. "Once I’m able to be out there for a good amount of time and get a rhythm, good things like that will happen. If you play fast, you’ll find the ball."
Carlyon also caught up with Malik Jackson, who had some encouraging things to say about the young defensive end.
"Dante’s killing it in the run game," Jackson said. "It’s hard because we’re playing from behind, so he’s not getting as many pass-rush chances, but he’s doing a great job being stout."
Fowler has improved and that side of the ball, but he does know in his heart of hearts he won't be defined on how he plays the run.
"The 22-year-old Fowler knows his draft status won’t be justified unless he becomes a dominant edge rusher, but he’s encouraged by how his all-around game is progressing.
"I know my job is to rush the quarterback – sacks, sacks, sacks," Fowler said. "But, I can do it all. I can play the run and I can pass rush. I’m a hard-nosed football player, so I like to showcase my physicality and toughness. I feel the run game has always been good for me and being strong at the point of attack. I just need to get there a smidge faster in the pass game."
There is no doubt that Fowler needs to improve his pass rush skills in order to be a real contributor on this team. Too many times does he just get dominated by a tackle, or doesn't have a counter move to get by. Some of that can be taught with coaching, and some of it is just plain natural.
While Fowler was considered a high end prospect, he was never someone who put up huge sack numbers while at The University of Florida. Even though his 8.5 sacks his Junior year were impressive, many of those came on plays where he lined up inside, or stunted inside from the end spot.
With Fowler, any team was banking on athletic upside. He had not shown he could be absolutely dominate in the pass rushing phase of the game, but all the athletic tools were there. It became the age old question. Do you go with the more raw athletic guy with higher upside? Or the guy who has produced more? The NFL is all about projecting what a player can do at the next level, and many projected Fowler would be able to translate.
The fact is that no matter what we think, it is too soon to determine what Fowler will and won't be In his career. Pass rushers tend to take longer to develop, and there are too many examples of guys struggling for a year or two the breaking out. Dee Ford, Vic Beasley, Brandon Graham, Everson Griffin, Cameron Jordan, Melvin Ingram, and Jerry Hughes are some of many recent of examples of this.
I also am a believer that it doesn't take four years or so to know if a guy is good or not. Most likely than not, we will know by the end of next year whether Fowler is just simply average, or a piece actually worth keeping.
As of right now, Fowler isn't good enough to stop the Jaguars from taking guys like Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen if they happen to fall to them in the draft. Heck, even looking for a more consistent pass rusher on the free agent market.
Fowler was drafted to be the pass rusher of the future. To fill a need the Jaguars have been searching for since the day of Tony Brackens. While it looks a little bit dim, I still think Fowler has a chance to be really good.
Maybe he needs more chances to line up inside on pass rushing situations like he did at Florida. Maybe he needs a new coaching staff to coach him up better. Maybe he just needs a full season under his belt.
Whatever it is, Fowler hasn't been the difference maker many expected him to be this year. In fact, he has been closer to a zero then he has an impact player.
I still hold out a good amount of hope for Fowler. I understand many already have their mind made up on him, and some of that can come from pre draft notions from 2015. Fowler has a chance to prove many wrong, especially in the next 20 games of his career.
Just out of fairness, I think we need to give him a chance. The last 4 games this season, and 16 games next season will tell us all we need. If he blows out, I'll be the first to call it out. However, I still have a feeling Fowler can still produce, even if it goes against what a lot of people see at the moment. Either way, Fowler's development will huge to the future of their team and defense. It will be fun to follow and see how it goes.
So what do you think? Are you still on board with Fowler? Or are you already turned off by him? How much time do we really need to access him?