INDIANAPOLIS -- A deep draft class at defensive end features five players projected by ESPN Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. to be taken in the top 15 picks.
Included in the group is charismatic University of Florida product Dante Fowler, whose positional versatility could intrigue the Chicago Bears as the team attempts to stockpile defensive ends/outside linebackers that better fit the new hybrid 3-4 defense.
Fowler recorded three sacks in the Gators’ 28-20 victory against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on January 3, giving him 14.5 sacks over his three years in Gainesville.
"I really can play anywhere," Fowler said Friday. "[Former Florida] head coach Will Muschamp’s defense was multiple; we played a 3-4 and a 4-3. My first year, my freshman year, I played a lot of defensive end. My sophomore year I did a lot. My junior year we played a lot of 3-4, so I was the Buck (linebacker). I stood up and just roamed up and things like that. I played all over the place."
Kiper Jr. predicts Fowler goes No. 13 overall to the New Orleans Saints in his latest mock draft.
The Bears, No. 7 overall, are expected to use different looks on defense in an effort to confuse opponents. Chicago’s defense became far too predictable the past two years, one of the many reasons the unit ranked near the bottom of the league.
Fowler thinks his scheme versatility is an attractive trait to interested teams during the pre-draft process.
"It can help me a lot just because I play anywhere, I can play some linebacker to D-end to edge rusher, and I can do a lot for a team. I create a lot of problems for the offense and really just stressing out coordinators," Fowler said.
"It’s an advantage. I was able to play both. I was a linebacker growing up. And I went to defensive end my sophomore year and I really liked it. I was versatile and fortunate enough to be able to play both."
Fowler, who scouts measured in Indianapolis at 6-foot-2 1/2 and 261 pounds, flashed arguably the most personality of any prospect ushered into the media room at Lucas Oil Stadium since access began on Wednesday. The versatile pass-rusher commanded the room, effortlessly answering each question with candor, charm, and sometimes humor.
"This is a dream come true," Fowler said. "I’ve wanted to do this ever since I was a little kid when I was four years old. It was like a path in front of me. I’m just happy to be here. I’m a loose person. I want teams to know that I’m a coachable guy, that I’m a team player and a fit for their team. I want to be that kind of guy that can play in this league. That I can turn a team and a defense around at the same time, just try to be that guy who can help out in the community and try be the face of that team one day."
Fowler added: "When it’s time for me to work out, I flip a switch. I just don’t like to be rude. You don’t want to be all kinds of grumpy and rude. You don’t want to be that.
"You get wrinkles from all that stuff. I’m not trying to get that."