Florida NFL Draft Preview: Defense

Dante Fowler always showed the potential to be a first-round pick during his time at Florida.

On Thursday night, his childhood dream will become a reality.

It should happen early, too. Everyone knew that Dante Fowler would be a first-round pick when he announced that he would leave Florida after his junior season. Since the year ended and NFL teams were able to watch his season film, his stock has risen to where he could go as high as No. 3 on Thursday. Scout’s Jamie Newberg has Fowler coming off the board at No. 3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in his final mock draft.

If it’s not Jacksonville, Fowler should come off the board somewhere in the top 10. He was fourth on the team with 60 tackles and led Florida with 15 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries.

Fowler especially turned heads with his performance in the Birmingham Bowl. The Gators were completing a second-straight disappointing season, and Fowler had already announced he would be leaving early and knew he’d be a first-round pick. His head coach, Will Muschamp, had also been fired and wasn’t with the team. No one would’ve blamed Fowler for playing at half speed to make sure he was healthy. Instead, he had one of the best games in his career, totaling three sacks and creating havoc for an East Carolina offense that put up big numbers against most teams during the 2014 season.

Soon after that game, Fowler’s stock started to take off.

The Gators should have more offensive players drafted than defensive players, but there are others that could hear their name called in the late rounds. Fowler is the only defensive player that feels like a lock to be drafted, though.

Neiron Ball could be an intriguing piece for NFL teams. In a league that is dominated by the pass, teams are always searching for pass rushers and Ball was able to do that at Florida. If he can stay healthy, Ball is a guy that could stick on an NFL roster in the future.

Leon Orr’s size could be appealing. He measured in at 6-5, 323 pounds and can fill a gap. For him to get drafted, a team would have to be comfortable with Orr’s exit from the Florida team after he quit when he found out he wouldn’t be starting at Vanderbilt.

Defensive tackle Darious Cummings, safety Jabari Gorman and linebacker Michael Taylor all seem likely to be undrafted free agents.

The only specialist with a shot at getting drafted is Florida punter Kyle Christy. After losing the starting job in 2013, he bounced back as a senior and averaged 44.3 yards per punt. He likely makes more sense as an undrafted free agent that will get a chance somewhere.


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