When the Jacksonville Jaguars selected University of Florida linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. with the third pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, it was certainly met with a bit a scrutiny around the pick. Although most people expected the Jags to pick Fowler, there are many questions he has to answer before the pick can be deemed a success.
At 6’3” and 260 pounds, Fowler is a power edge-rusher who can play both standing up and with his hand on the ground effectively. This set of skills fits perfectly into Jags coach Gus Bradley’s defensive scheme. Considering Jacksonville’s clear need for an upgrade at the defensive end/pass-rushing linebacker position, it was a no-brainer that they picked Fowler. They expected him to play Week One and become an immediate impact player on their defense for years to come.
Then came Friday’s devastating injury.
On Friday, less than an hour into the first day of rookie minicamp, Fowler tore his ACL. After playing in every game in three years at the University of Florida, he will miss the entire 2015 season.
The injury happened during an 11-on-11 drill that was deemed a ‘no contact’ drill. On the play, Fowler went to turn the corner around offensive tackle Watts Dantzler and his knee buckled in the process. He immediately dropped to the ground and began rolling from side to side in clear agony. He was carted to the locker room where the ominous news was discovered.
The big question now becomes what happens to Fowler and the Jags?
First off, for Fowler the big challenge becomes recovery. Thankfully he signed an injury protection waiver before the camp, which ensures that Jacksonville will negotiate in good faith as if the player were not injured. So he can rest easy knowing he will still get a handsome payday.
The question that will loom over Fowler for the next year is if he can regain the explosiveness he showed before the injury while in college. We have seen several players recover from a torn ACL to go onto extremely successful NFL careers (Von Miller, Darrelle Revis and Adrian Peterson just to name a few), but we have also seen several players whose careers were devastated by the injury. Fowler’s resiliency will certainly be tested.
Now for the bigger question, what happens to the Jacksonville Jaguars?
For the Jags, this has to be a nightmare coming true. They expected Fowler to team up with coach and defensive guru Gus Bradley and create one of the most feared defenses in the entire league. Instead they will be stuck waiting the entire year wondering if they just wasted a top-3 pick in the draft.
It has to be an uneasy feeling for a Jacksonville franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007. Top-3 draft picks do not come around often and a team needs to add value to their team when they come across one of these coveted picks. Fowler being out all season certainly does not add value to the Jags this year.
So is it devastation for Jacksonville?
No. Fowler is a strong young man with a great attitude. There is no doubt he will rebound and eventually contribute to the Jacksonville defense. It will just take time and patience from the Jags’ fan base. Patience that has definitely worn thin after seven straight seasons without a playoff berth.
Sometimes you just can’t catch a break. Better luck next year Jacksonville!