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View from the O-Zone: The wait begins


GAINESVILLE – So now, draftniks, we wait.

And make no mistake:

With Dante Fowler Jr.'s Pro Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on a hotter-than-expected April morning marking the public end of the 2015 pre-draft process, we move now to a most-dreaded phase of the NFL offseason.

It's the final phase. No all-star games. No combine. No on-campus workouts. Yes, that means the 2015 NFL Draft is fast approaching, just three weeks out. But those three weeks also mark perhaps the slowest-moving, most-agonizing part of the offseason for many fans.

Because all there is to do is wait.

There's speculating involved, too. And predicting, projecting and just, plain guessing. That's for those of us mocking and monitoring the pre-draft process. For those being drafted, there are pre-draft visits such as the one Fowler and others will make to Jacksonville in the coming days. Then they get to spend the weeks after that waiting just like the rest of us.

For those doing the drafting?

Well, with the Pro Day season ending on Tuesday, their pre-draft process moves into a new phase, too. Scouts, general managers and coaches will gather at 32 facilities around the nation. They'll spend time meeting and discussing, and then the general manager and a few high-placed types will finalize 32 mysterious, well-guarded draft boards.

In the early evening of Thursday, April 30, a representative from a team – almost certainly the Tampa Buccaneers – will walk to a podium with a card that almost certainly will contain the name of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

With that, the fun will begin.

And when we say "fun," we mean it. Unless you're a general manager, this year's first round promises to be entertaining and full of mystery. So yeah …

It should be fun.

Because once the Buccaneers draft Winston it's truly anyone's guess how this year's draft will play out. There are smart NFL people who believe the Tennessee Titans will use the second selection of the draft on Southern California defensive end/tackle Leonard Williams, and there are seemingly as many smart people who believe the Titans will use the selection on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. There are probably that many who believe the Titans will trade out of the spot.

There are seemingly as many scenarios being thrown around for the Jaguars at No. 3 as the Titans at No. 2. There's talk of a trade down with a team wanting Mariota. There's talk of staying at the spot and taking Williams. Or Fowler. Or Clemson linebacker Vic Beasley. Or a wide receiver.

So, what will the Jaguars do?

We won't know for sure until April 30, and anyone thinking differently need only think back to last offseason, when General Manager David Caldwell attended every significant quarterback Pro Day and still convinced nearly everyone he wasn't taking a quarterback at No. 3.

There will be conversation about the Jaguars' selection. Lots of it. We can say with certainty Fowler will very be a part of that conversation and we can say with certainty that Mike Mayock believes that's a good thing for the Jaguars.

Mayock, the NFL Network analyst considered one of the media's top draft analysts, said Tuesday there's little difference Fowler and Williams, the latter of whom is considered by many analysts the draft's top non-quarterback. Mayock said Fowler absolutely is worthy of a Top 5 selection and he's worthy as well of going No. 1.

Fowler won't go No. 1, but if he is there for the Jaguars at No. 3, the guess remains the Jaguars will take him. That's hardly a daring guess. He has been projected to the Jaguars at No. 3 more than any other prospect, and nothing occurred Tuesday to change that.

Know this, too:

If Fowler is the selection, it will be an easy sell. Not just because he went to Florida, and not just because his family in Jacksonville and he's a native of the state. He's an impressive guy. He enjoys the spotlight, and handles it with ease. He's likeable at first glance, and appears unlikely to be overwhelmed by any of the off-field peripheries that sometimes overwhelm Top 10-drafted players.

He's impressive physically. Fowler didn't do measurable drills Tuesday, but he was impressive enough at the combine it wasn't necessary. He instead focused on working in space, showing he can cover as well as rush the passer. He wanted to show he is a complete player. To talk to analysts and coaches Tuesday was to get an idea he accomplished that.

"I think this kid has special ability," Mayock said.

Fowler, for his part, said he believes he's the best defensive player in the draft. He also said he doesn't mind the idea of Winston and Mariota not attending the draft because he very definitely is going. If those two don't go and he's selected No. 3, Fowler said "it would be like going No. 1."

Fowler laughed when he said it, and the line drew laughter from gathered media.

A while later, the UF Pro Day ended, with Fowler scheduled to drive to Jacksonville and the gathered scouts, coaches and officials scheduled to return to their cities.

And with that, the public audition part of the pre-draft process was very definitely over.

And for draftniks and those of us who pontificate and guess about such things, that meant all that's left now is the wait.

Take a look at images as Dante Fowler Jr. and other Florida Gators worked out for NFL personnel during Florida's Pro Day held inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

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