INDIANAPOLIS—Most combine press conferences are an exercise in monotony. Straight-faced and fatigued draft prospects often give boilerplate answers to the same sequence of questions. "What do you weigh? What position are you most comfortable at? How would you feel about playing for [team x]?"
And then there was Dante Fowler's media session.
The Florida product arrived at the podium smiling. He laughed. He cracked jokes. Did someone forget to tell him that he was supposed to be completely miserable?
"I don’t like to be rude," Fowler said. "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."
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Fowler could be just as giddy come April 30. On paper and before teams can address needs in free agency, an argument can be made that every team slated to pick in the top nine needs pass-rush help. The 6'2", 261-pound defensive end was impressive in that regard last season, notching 8.5 sacks for the Gators.
Better yet, he filled myriad roles for Florida's defense, flashing a versatility that NFL teams increasingly crave in trying to match up with spread offenses.
"I really can play anywhere," Fowler said. "Coach (Will) Muschamp’s defense was multiple, we played a 3-4 and a 4-3.
"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."
Fowler's most natural NFL projection is as an outside linebacker in a 3-4. He does, however, carry more weight than several of the other big-name edge players: Vic Beasley (6'3", 246), Shane Ray (6'2", 245) and Randy Gregory (6'4", 237) all checked in well behind Fowler's 261 pounds.
Fowler's build, plus his experience playing defensive end and even some tackle, should keep him on the board for teams primarily running 4-3 schemes. But any defensive coordinator will be able to find spots for him.
"There aren’t many folks ... that can possess the qualities he can give you as far as rushing the passer and that’s paramount in [the NFL]," Muschamp said on a conference call back in November, per the Tampa Bay Times. "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 a tremendous upside in front of him and somebody’s going to be very lucky to have him."
Fowler shifted from linebacker to defensive end as a sophomore in high school, then proceeded to establish himself as a five-star recruit. Florida State, Auburn, USC and Ohio State were among the programs that extended him offers.
Three years later, Fowler now has another laundry list of teams banging down his door.
"I create a lot of problems for the offense and really just stressing offensive coordinators out," Fowler said. "It’s an advantage [to have played DE and LB]. ... I was versatile and fortunate enough to be able to play both."
So the Xs and Os check out. Obviously, that's important.
A secondary task for the players from now until April is convincing teams that their personalities would mesh in an NFL locker room. How Fowler performs in sit-down interviews with coaches and general managers will hold the key there, but suffice it to say he aced his media responsibilities.
To wit, here's what Fowler, a St. Petersburg, Fla. native, had to say when asked if he grew up a Bucs fan: "They’re my home team. I like the Bucs"—here Fowler pauses, smiles—"But the Bucs ... are the Bucs." Later, on his official height at the combine medical check: "6'2½". But my doctor told me I was 6'3", so I'm going with 6'3"."
Granted, a sense of humor doesn't get a player very far on the field. Nonetheless, Fowler's press conference was a breath of fresh air amid the stuffy combine setting. His tape, as he said, "speaks for itself."
"This is a dream come true," Fowler added. "I’ve been wanting 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."