The former 3rd overall pick from the 2015 draft didn't impress in his first year of play. Although some will blame it on his knee, but anyone could tell that he wasn't getting to the quarterback enough in 2016. But was he held back ? Was he an actual “caged animal”? Was it the knee? Here's 3 reasons why Dante Fowler will improve in his 2017 campaign.
1: The defense got better
I'm not saying the defense wasn't good last year because it was. But it still wasn't what we needed out of the pass rush. Though, the second half of the year it was better. Malik Jackson, Yannick Ngakoue, Abry Jones, and Sheldon Day all improved by the second half of the season. The secondary was also proved to be up to snuff. Despite the impressive overall play of the defense the team still struggled to get the QB on the ground
Pass rush. Pass rush. Pass rush.
You look at these Super Bowl teams, what did they have? They had a line that could get to the QB. Broncos, Seahawks, Ravens, even the Patriots pass rush helped the infamous 28-3 comeback. Jags GM Dave Caldwell saw this and spent a total 150 million dollars on two lineman in Calais Campbell who bring with him an impressive resume from Arizona. At 31, Campbell has found the fountain of youth as his numbers grow each year. While Malik Jackson has been the anchor of the defense, he did struggle a little bit to begin the season holding up in a new 4-3 3 technique role. I don't see that happening for Malik, I expect him to pick up right where he left off. The secondary can also help out the pass rush by not letting recievers get space. Yannick Ngakoue should also pick up right where he left off from his terrific rookie season. Dave Caldwell also noticed this and bought the services of AJ Bouye, who had a breakout season and was “the best all around coverage corner” according to Pro Football Focus. To pair him up with star in the making CB Jalen Ramsey is like the corner version of the Allen Bros. Then we looked to one of the top safety free agents Barry Church and lured him from the Cowboys to pair with free safety Tashaun Gipson. Church can be above average for the Jaguars secondary and provide versatility at safety. That line up looks great on paper without me even mentioning linebackers Paul Posluszny, Telvin Smith, and Myles Jack.
What does this have to do with Fowler? It has everything to with him. When the d line is pounding like they should, Fowler will be able to get to the quarterback more easily. When the DBs are not giving recievers any space, Fowler and the rest of the defensive line will have more time to get out of the block and pressure the quarterback. But this doesn't negate the fact that Fowler should get better, he has to get better on his own. I compare this situation to Frank Clark in Seattle. He isn't a great pass rusher but has guys like Cliff Avril, Michael Bennet, Athyba Rubin, and Jarran Reed. He even has the Legion Of Boom covering right behind him. Blitzing and running stunts may also help Fowler get in rhythm as we saw in 2016. Head Coach Doug Marrone had a good D line at his last head coaching stop in Buffalo, they managed to get 111 sacks in 2 years. He now has the experience and talent around him in the trenches. Fowler will have no excuses in 2017.
2 : The Vic Beasley Theory
Like Fowler, Vic Beasley also had trouble in his 1st year. Vic and Fowler both battled injuries, and recorded only 4 sacks in their first season of play, both play a similar type of game as speed rushers off the edge, and both were top 10 picks in 2015. This theory seems popular among Jags fans (of course) that still have hope in Fowler. I believe this can happen. Fowler just has to work on his power moves, add a little bulk, work on fineness moves, swims and spins. His technique of getting of the block needed improvement too. Following Beasley's unimpressive rookie season he worked on his game in camp and improved everything, much like the Jaguars will expect Fowler to do in 2017. Beasley led the league in sacks with 15.5, came up short of being defensive player of the year, and played in a Super Bowl. I don't know if Fowler can top that, but I hope he proves the Vic Beasley theory to be right. And this isn't a comparison between their two skill sets, because they are quite different - This is just a comparison between their two situations. Fowler was a top three pick for a reason and he'll need to show it . . . soon.
3 : An animal that was caged.
Fowler gave us a bit of insight on why he played so poorly (according to him) in 2016 via his Instagram when he claimed he was a “caged animal all year”. If you need any reminders, Fowler was a BEAST in last years training camp. There were at least 5 videos of him putting Jermey Parnell and Chris Reed’s butts on the ground. He looked aggressive and hungry for that sack. But maybe we should have expected a low sack number from an edge rusher when he had Gus Bradley as his coach. The player that had the most sacks coming off the edge with a Gus Bradley coached Jags squad was Chris Clemons with 8 sacks in 2014, then arrived Yannick Ngakoue, but that's for another time. Fowler had 2.5 sacks in 14 games with Gus, and had 1.5 sacks in 2 games with Doug.
Fowler should improve this year. I'm sure the improved defense around him will help him but for now, #56 is competing with impressive UDFAs Hunter Dimick out of Utah, who sacked the PAC 12 QBs and other QBs 14 times in 2016 and pressured qbs 83 times (most in all of college in 2016), and Carroll Phillips out of Illinois who posted 10 sacks along with 40 qb pressures in 2016. Fowler may also see his time decrease with 3rd round pick Dawuane Smoot, but he'll likely serve back and in rotation with Calais Campbell.