Updated on Thursday at 11:30 a.m.
Florida Gators junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. announced Tuesday on Twitter that he will forgo his final season of college football and declare for the 2015 NFL Draft.
“I came in with champ. I’m leaving with Him,” Fowler wrote, referring to ousted Florida head coach Will Muschamp. “Simple as that.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Fowler met with the media and said that Muschamp would absolutely have an influence on his decision to leave school, though it appeared he meant that in more of an advisory role after the season.
“I’m going to approach that at the appropriate time. Definitely me and him are going to sit down and [he will] talk with me and my family,” Fowler said.
The Gators’ leader in sacks (4.5), tackles for loss (10.0) and quarterback hurries (15) this season, Fowler is also tied for second in total tackles with 49. He also has a team-high two forced fumbles.
Fowler flashed as a freshman and improved as a sophomore and was expected to have a breakout season in 2014, which came to fruition and led to this decision.
He is widely-considered a sure-fire first-round selection in the upcoming draft, so his declaration comes as no surprise whatsoever, though players usually wait until after their final game of the season to make their intentions known. However, Fowler may have the opportunity to celebrate with the Gators’ fourth-, fifth- and sixth-year players during Senior Day ahead of the Eastern Kentucky game on Saturday.
Muschamp, who will coach Florida’s final two regular-season games, has maintained throughout his tenure with the program that any juniors on the team who receive a first-round grade should declare for the draft.
“We got some juniors that are going to make some tough decisions on their decisions for next year, and I’ll always offer those guys my two cents,” he said during a press conference on Monday. “If you’re going to be a first-round pick, you need to come out; if they’re not, they need to come back here and continue to develop their game.”
Muschamp spoke more extensively about Fowler’s talent on Wednesday.
“He’s a very good player. He’s got a tremendous upside, in my opinion. The number one thing that Dante has going for him – and there’s a lot of things he has going – is how hard he plays. That’s what they want to see. They want to see guys – football is very important to Dante, when he steps on the field, your tape is your resume as a player, and his resume is very good because of the effort that he gives. On top of that, the physical attributes he has as far as his initial quickness, his power,” Muschamp said. “He’s very smart; he can handle multiple stuff as far as the different things you game plan with him, changing week to week and getting him in different spots. He’s got tremendous upside in front of him and someone is going to be very lucky to have him.”
Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin chimed in about Fowler on Wednesday during his weekly meeting with the media.
“I think Dante is a terrific football player, and he’s an unbelievable guy to coach, love coaching him. He’s got a great future ahead of him. If he’s deciding that’s going to be at the next level starting next year, we encourage our guys – if they feel like they’re going to be a first-round draft pick, if that’s what they’re being touted as – they should go do it. If they’re not, we feel like they should come back to school and continue to work and get better. I’m not an NFL expert, but I think Dante is a really good player and will probably be drafted pretty high,” he said.
“He is a very disruptive guy. He’s a guy that’s accounted for every time he lines up by the opposition. They have a plan for him. He’s overcome that and been very disruptive. He’s played great for us. He has played hard; he has played consistently. He’s made a bunch of plays himself in the backfield, and when he wasn’t, he’s creating for someone else a lot of the time. I’ve been very happy with how he’s played, and I think the world of him as a player and as a person.”
Fowler, who was originally committed to Florida State – where his father went to school – before flipping to the UF on National Signing Day three years ago, said at the time that Muschamp was the primary reason he decided to play for the Gators over the Seminoles. He shared similar sentiments on Tuesday.
“It’s hard when the man that basically recruited you to come here – that was my recruiter really and my defensive coach, basically my defensive coordinator – just to see how great of a guy he is and just to see how far he’s come ever since he first stepped foot on campus here, just to see him grow up and mature,” he said. “He’s young, a lot of people don’t realize that, but he’s young and he has a bright future ahead of him. This is really just only the beginning for him. This is something he can say that he did, and I know this is a dream job for him. … He’s got a really bright future ahead of him.”
Fowler may be the first of a number of juniors (all with difficult decisions to make) who ultimately jump. Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard is the most likely candidate to join Fowler in the draft, though running back Matt Jones, linebacker Antonio Morrison and left tackle D.J. Humphries are also contenders to leave school early.
Bullard’s quick jump in production and effectiveness will make him an intriguing candidate, while Jones’s injury history could make a move to the NFL more appealing than remaining in college. Questions about Morrison’s off-field behavior and Humphries’s consistency should keep both at UF for one more season.
Should Fowler be selected in the first round of the upcoming draft, he would be Muschamp’s fourth Gators player selected within the top 32 picks, joining three other defenders including defensive tackles Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam.
Photo Credit: Associated Press