The Jacksonville Jaguars had enough cap space to monopolize the free agency market this year. They sucked up the majority of top tier talent available. Coupled with a superb draft, and a return from injury of the man they drafted third overall in 2015, the Jags are poised for a big year. The national media may have seemingly forgotten about Dante Fowler Jr. but some Jags fans and personnel have been shouting “don’t forget about Fowler!” He is the secret weapon who is flying under the radar due to the attention given to 2016’s newcomers.
Don’t Forget About Dante Fowler Jr.
What happened to Dante Fowler Jr. last year during training camp was basically beyond his control. It was as unlucky and unavoidable an ACL tear as they come. It was a clean tear with a standard rehab time, but nonetheless, it sidelined him for the year. This left the Jaguars handcuffed in their pass rush. Without pressure, they were unable to get off the field in third and long situations for most of the season.
Fowler looks to change all of that this year.
Slimmed down, the second year player who will be a rookie in playing time is primed to become a pivotal member of the Jaguars defense. On paper, that defense has undergone an overhaul of personnel. The resulting is an increase in a talent that seemed unimaginable just a few months ago.
Fowler heads into the season looking to take over the “Leo” spot. This is a position at which other players left much to be desired for Jacksonville. Nationally, this isn’t the headline story for the Jaguars.
Talk seems centred on the additions of Jalen Ramsey out of Florida State, and Myles Jack out of UCLA. Attention is also focused on $90 million man Malik Jackson, who won a Super Bowl in February. There is also hype for Tashaun Gipson, who had more interceptions as a player than the Jags had as a team last season.
For all the hopes that those player produce the way they did for their previous teams, most individuals close to the team know that the most optimism surrounds the pass rushing abilities of Fowler.
A Plethora of Top End Talent
The Jaguars didn’t get two top five draft picks in the 2016 draft; they got three. Fowler, Ramsey and Jack were all top five talents, and will all start the first game for the Jags. Just getting one look at Fowler at mini camp, it’s obvious that he has slimmed down during his knee rehab.
This is nothing but good news, seeing as the Leo position is a pass rushing specialist. Slimming down helps Fowler on a defensive front that is now packed with three techniques and interior defensive linemen. The Jaguars have loaded up at that spot so much; there was no room for Fowler to gain any weight with the expectation of sliding inside.
They didn’t draft him with that expectation, either. Their idea was to see him chasing around Andrew Luck twice a year, and harassing anyone else under center that stood on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.
Perhaps it’s good that not all the national hype surrounds the former Florida Gator. Knowing that his supporting cast is primed for a breakout first season can only give the young player confidence, but he must know what lies ahead.
A Primetime Start
The Jaguars will line up against Aaron Rodgers in their first game this year. How’s that for your first NFL game, Mr. Fowler?
But these are the types of players he was drafted to hit, and had everything gone as planned, he would’ve lined up against Cam Newton in his first NFL game last season, an even more daunting task than Rodgers due to his mobility.
But opposing quarterbacks don’t change what’s still expected of a big-time former SEC pass rusher. He’s expected to get 10-12 sacks this year, and that’s not considered a lofty expectation for him around northeast Florida.
Facing The Pressure
That’s why the pressure starts now, just a month out from the season, and once the national hype picks up for Fowler, those teal heart beats will be racing even faster when he trots out and sees no. 12 from Green Bay hollering out audibles across the line in September.
CHICAGO, IL – APRIL 30: Dante Fowler Jr. of the Florida Gators holds up a jersey after being chosen #3 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 30, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)