The Chicago Bears will be looking to improve their edge rush in this year's draft. Luckily for the team, this year's class is loaded with talent at the outside linebacker and defensive end positions.
Scout.com NFL Combine Coverage
OLB Dante Fowler, Florida (6-3, 260)
Career: Two-year starter in Gainesville. Recorded 60 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks his junior year in 2014.
-Exceptional athlete with ideal size. Well-proportioned and powerful.
-Athleticism gives him versatility. He lined up in two-point, three-point and four-point stances for the Gators, at OLB, ILB and DE. He played in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses on both ends of the line of scrimmage, and served often as a rover blitzer in the middle of the field.
-Quick, active hands. Fluid athlete, light on his feet.
-Very effective inside rush. Shoot gaps with speed and strength.
-Very good straight-line speed. Ability to chase down plays from the backside.
-Speed makes him very effective on stretch, pitch and sweep plays.
-Relentless in pass rush.
-Ceiling is very high. A lot of untapped potential.
-Poor tackling technique. Left far too many big plays on the field due to his tackling inconsistencies. Doesn't break down well.
-Lacks a consistent pop. More of a drag tackler. Not aggressive in run pursuit.
-Cannot hold the point of attack against downhill runs.
-Struggles to shed blocks once blocker locks on.
-Does not explode off the ball. Lacks a quick-twitch first step.
-Poor vision in traffic.
-Has experience in coverage but looks stiff and unsure.
-Overall, not a highly disciplined player.
-Lacks technique in pass rush. Too much wasted movement.
Very rarely do you come across defensive players with Fowler's versatility. He was used all over the field last year in nearly every role along Florida's front seven. He's the type of player who would provide a lot of flexibility in play call and design, particularly in Bears DC Vic Fangio's scheme.
Fowler is an athletic specimen who moves effortlessly. He covers a lot of ground and his quick feet give him the ability sidestep a lot of blocks. In the Kentucky video below, view the plays at 2:11 and 2:43. On both plays, Fowler crosses over the face of his blocker and is in the backfield immediately. When he goes untouched, he's a monster. Plays like those have NFL teams drooling.
The right coaching staff could create something special from Fowler, whose athleticism and versatility many put on par to Anthony Barr. He's a raw athlete whose best years are ahead of him. If he ever reaches his ceiling, he'll be a Pro Bowler edge rusher at the next level.
Yet Fowler's inability to set the edge against the run is very concerning. View the Alabama film below. Against the power run game of the Crimson Tide, Fowler was just another guy. Alabama rookie left tackle Cam Robinson consistently had his way with Fowler, who absolutely could not shed a block. The LSU film was much of the same.
Fowler looked great in the Kentucky contest, but against the top competition in the SEC, he did not stand out. In fact, he was a borderline liability against the run. He demonstrates occasional power but it does not translate when he tries to hold the point of attack, where he lacks technique and effort.
In space, Fowler has a lot of potential, which is why he projects best as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Fowler in Chicago?
Three years ago, former Bears GM Phil Emery spent his first ever draft pick on Shea McClellin, a 6-3, 260-pound outside linebacker with good quickness but who struggled to defend downhill running plays.
While it may be unfair to compare Fowler to McClellin, it's hard to ignore the similarities.
Will Ryan Pace follow that same path?
There are times on film when Fowler makes you jump out of your chair. He's quick, fluid and physically intimidating. Athletically, he's top-tier, bordering on freakish.
Yet against the good teams, he was consistently "almost there", always in the vicinity but rarely making the play.
Fowler lacks ideal football instincts, which limited his overall production. He cannot consistently disengage from blocks, particularly on plays run right at him, which is a glaring weakness on film.
He's oozing with potential but with so many holes in his game, he may not be worth the risk. At No. 7 overall, the Bears need a player who can be a Pro Bowler this season. Fowler has that potential but he's far from a finished product, one who needs to flip the switch quickly if he's going to have an immediate impact at the next level.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.