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Labels can often be misleading. Dean Lowry has heard them all so, as he prepared for the NFL draft, he set out to show he was more than what most scouting reports outlined.
The Green Bay Packers, for one, took notice.
“Dean’s kind of… it’s cliché, but he’s a blue-collar guy,” said Eliot Wolf, the Packers’ director of football operations. “Probably an underrated athlete.”
Continuing their theme of adding size to their roster this draft, the Packers added Lowry, a defensive end out of Northwestern, with the second of their compensatory picks in the fourth round (No. 137 overall). Lowry figures to play the five-technique position in the Packers’ base 3-4 scheme on defense but thinks he can do much more.
“I think I’m very versatile,” said Lowry. “I think I can play the three-technique and the five-technique as somebody who plays with high effort and I think I’ll be a great fit for the Packers’ defense.”
As the draft process went along for Lowry, it was pretty clear he was being pegged by NFL teams that run the 3-4. Most of those teams were the ones contacting him and his frame (6-6, 290 pounds) and play style seemed to match.
Only three of the 64 defensive linemen at the Scouting Combine measured in at least 6-6 and 290 pounds – the others being Oregon’s DeForest Buckner (No. 7 overall to the San Francisco 49ers) and Mississippi State’s Chris Jones (No. 37 overall to the Kansas City Chiefs) – so, in that regard, the Packers got an elite player. But there was one other Lowry measureable that may have led some teams to shy away from drafting him.
While Lowry’s 31-inch arms may not be ideal for his position or a man of his size, he has found other ways to overcome the limitation. Effort, as previously discussed, is a part. But Lowry says there is more.
“I think I’m explosive, so it makes up for it with my first step,” he said. “I have great technique, I have great pad level. I played against long Big Ten tackles the last two years, they’re all big guys. I never had a problem in terms of locking out and shedding. I think I have very violent hands and very strong hands, so I can get away with it. I think the other qualities get me around that.”
If there were any questions about Lowry as an athlete, they were blown away at the Combine. Not only did he equal the talented Robert Nkemdiche (No. 29 overall to the Arizona Cardinals) for the best 40 time (4.87) among defensive linemen weighing at least 290 pounds, but he also bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times, which was top 10 among all players in Indianapolis. He also had a 32.5-inch vertical jump.
Combine numbers are cheap, however, without production. Lowry was particularly adept at getting his hands on passes and making plays against the run. He led the entire defensive line draft class with 17.5 stuffs (tackling a ball-carrier for no gain or a loss on a running play) for Northwestern in 2015, including an incredible game at Nebraska when he tallied six tackles for losses.
“That was just a game where I had some good fits for what they were running and I felt like I had that ‘It’ factor that day and I think I dominated,” said Lowry, who also had two sacks that day. “I think that’s where I’m trying to get to be consistently but I think I showed in that game that I’m a very explosive player.”
Unfortunately, that explosion failed to translate in other areas, which he admits he will need to improve upon at the professional level.
“I think my pass rush,” said Lowry, who grew up in Rockford, Ill., as a Chicago Bears fan. “I think production-wise I wasn’t as great as I wanted to be the past couple years, but I think that it’s getting better and I did improve on that the past couple months just preparing for minicamp and training camp to be an effective pass rusher. I think I’ll bring somebody with a lot of skill set to the table.”
The Packers added UCLA’s Kenny Clark to their defensive line during Thursday’s first round. They will start the season with just three other defensive linemen who played significantly during the 2015 season, so there will be opportunity for younger players to step forward. Lowry, who also played some in a two-point stance at Northwestern – where he once dropped into coverage and made an interception – will be among them.
“(He) lined up all over the line - outside, inside. Just a solid player for Northwestern,” said Wolf.
“He can get you on the edge. He can beat you inside with quickness. He’s strong, so we thought he was a versatile guy and good value pick here.”