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View from the O-Zone: Fowler the right position at the right time


JACKSONVILLE – The smiles told the story.

Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell was smiling – widely – and Head Coach Gus Bradley was, too. Those smiles were about more than just the months leading to the 2015 NFL Draft being at last in the rear view. The duo had gotten a rare thing – a chance to pick any draft-eligible player they really wanted – and when they made that selection, it felt right.

University of Florida edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. became a Jaguar around 8:25 p.m. Thursday, and to Bradley and Caldwell, it felt more than right. Actually, it felt perfect.

The perfect fit for the right position at the perfect time.

"For us, it came down to need," Caldwell said.

Caldwell said while he's not one to compare draftable players at different positions, "We thought he was the best player at his position."

Bradley agreed.

"Obviously he jumped out for us," Bradley said. "We felt very strongly about him."

The Jaguars' direction at No. 3 overall in the 2015 NFL Draft surprised those who believed the selection would be Southern California defensive tackle Leonard Williams. Others believed it would be Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. Caldwell said the Jaguars liked both players, but because of fit, they liked Fowler a bit more.

And here's the thing we learned a half hour after the pick:

This selection wasn't too difficult for the Jaguars, and was pretty much made last Friday. Caldwell and Bradley said they talked extensively after the team's pre-draft luncheon with the media that day, and it became quickly obvious each wanted Fowler.

"All of our conversations came back to him," Bradley said.

Caldwell said the decision was made that day, and that the biggest reason was Fowler just plain fit what the Jaguars wanted. And more specifically, what they needed.

Caldwell said there was very little difference between Williams and Fowler in terms of talent level. Where there was a difference was scheme fit. And there was a difference in need, too.

The Jaguars signed Jared Odrick as a free agent last month. He will start at the strong-side defensive end position where Williams fit best. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks has been the Jaguars' best defensive player the past two seasons. He is rehabilitating from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but when he returns, he will start at the three-technique tackle. That's the other position where Williams would easily have fit into the Jaguars' scheme.

Fowler, according to Caldwell and Bradley, can play multiple positions. Each considers Fowler a three-down player, but he primarily will play the Leo rusher position. Veteran Chris Clemons registered eight and a half sacks from that position last season, but Caldwell said the need for a young edge rusher was real.

"He's a good fit in our scheme and we need an edge rusher," Caldwell said. "We need a young edge rusher. … Young edge rushers are hard to find."

The selection also fit into Caldwell's big-picture building process. He said upon taking the Jaguars' general manager position in 2013 that ideally there were three positions that needed to be filled with premium draft selections: left offensive tackle, quarterback and pass rusher.

The Jaguars selected left tackle Luke Joeckel No. 2 overall in 2013 …

They selected quarterback Blake Bortles No. 3 overall in 2014 …

That made selecting a pass rusher Thursday logical. Beyond that logic, Caldwell said the timing was right.

"We look forward to next year's draft to be quite frank with you and it's not a great year for edge rushers," he said. "I hope we're not in a spot where we're picking high in the draft. We won't be able to be in a position to pick a guy. They're hard to find. …

"Our plan has always been left tackle, quarterback and defensive end. That's what we stuck to. We didn't want to out-think it. We didn't out-think it."

And in the end – or at 8:25 on Thursday, anyway – that's what the selection became about: sticking to the plan, staying the course, doing the logical thing.

There are always things that can knock a general manager off course during a draft. One is a potentially lucrative trade. Such a trade was rumored as a possibility before the draft, but Caldwell said there were no serious talks or offers.

So, when it came time to select, the process actually was pretty easy – and had been for a while.  Caldwell and Bradley each liked Fowler's fit. They liked his physicality. They liked his motor, which Bradley, Caldwell and defensive line coach Todd Wash all said stood out on tape.

Bradley loved that Caldwell wanted to play for the Jaguars, and loved more than he has special size and skill for the position. It was mentioned to Bradley after the selection that Fowler at 6-feet-3, 261 pounds was a bit larger than a normal Leo. Bradley smiled.

"Sometimes when you get 260, 265 now they're 4.75 or 4.7, but he is 260 at 4.6," he said.

Bradley smiled again.

"That's a little bit different now," he said. "He is a little bit different style Leo."

What Fowler needs to be, of course, is a player who transcends the Leo, who is elite whatever the name of the position and whatever the role. That's what's expected of No. 3 selections, and when you heard Caldwell and Bradley speak of his ability to play the run, and the force with which he tackles, that's the level they were describing.

That's why the smiles told the story Thursday. Given the rare opportunity to choose any player they wanted, the player they liked best was one they needed, too.

The perfect fit for the right position at the perfect time.

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