Did the Cowboys find a Diamond in the rough?
Guys, I wanna share something personal with y'all. I love EDGE rushers. They are one of my favorite positions to watch, so when the Cowboys brought in a new one through free agency, I just couldn't help but turn on the tape and see what Fowler Jr. can offer. He was a really productive rusher with the Rams and Jacksonville until he joined the Falcons. So what happened? Does he still have something in the tank?
Coming into the League: Coming out of Florida he was considered a very athletic prospect, however he only posted an RAS score of 6.97 out of 10. Benching 19 reps at the combine, with an Okay to Good agility grade, a 4.6 40 yard dash and almost a 34 inch arm length.
This is what NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein said about Fowler: "Strong-side 3-4 outside linebacker with the physical traits and above-average potential to set the edge or spill runs wide to an early demise. Fowler is a competitive pass rusher getting by on athleticism and inside moves right now, but has a Pro Bowl ceiling with double-digit sack potential if he takes coaching and addresses his rush technique."
Career so far: So how well has he done since coming into the League? Through 91 games he has 10 FFs, 200 Combined tackles, 44 TFLs, 35 Sacks and 59 QB hits. It hasn’t been a bad career, but for a former 3rd overall pick you expect a little bit more. You’ll notice if you look at his stats that he had his best statistical year in 2019 (2 FFs, 58 Combined tackles, 16 TFLs, 11.5 Sacks and 16 QB hits). So when 2020 came around, Atlanta signed him to a 3 year deal worth $45 Million hoping he can keep it going. He didn’t. In 2 Seasons with the Falcons he barely produced the stats he had in 2019 but 6 less TFLs and 4 less Sacks. Not Good. So what went wrong? Is there any hope Quinn can get this former Florida Gator back on track? Let's look at the Tape and find out.
Film breakdown: I watched games from his best statistical season in 2019 when he was with the Rams and also watched his latest season with the Falcons to see what worked and what didn’t. In 2019 when the Rams ran a 3-4 defense he was tasked with the "LEO" position, whose job is to rush off the edge from the 9 tech spot way outside the Tackles frame and cause havoc on passing plays.
You can see the issue his 4.6 speed causes for Offensive Tackles in this play (FOWLER, 56):
I personally think that since he knows he’s very fast he relies a lot on his speed to win him the rep, so when he faces a Tackle that knows how to counter his speed rush, well, I'll just show you what happens:
He lost this rep and shows what happens when you only use a speed rush to try to get a sack, he tries to get the edge on Matthews but he keeps his hands low and lets Fowler make the first move, so inevitably, when Fowler tries to club Matthews hands away he doesn’t hit anything. That’s when Matthews puts his left hand inside Fowler's chest and grabs his wrist with his other hand. Neutralizing him and stopping the rush dead in its tracks.
This doesn’t make him a lost cause however, he has shown the ability to win not only with speed but technique as well. Later in that same game against the Falcons, he gets matched up with Matthews again:
He loses to Matthew on the initial contact but when he engages him again, Fowler attacks his inside shoulder with one arm and does a rip move to catch Matthew in an awkward position to where he can’t get inside his chest.
Now on tape he doesn’t show insane strength, He does have the ability to cause knockback but it isn’t consistent. I really enjoy when he sets up a bull rush or some kind of powermove. Like this play (FOWLER, 6):
He set up the Tackle making him think that he was going for another Speed Rush. He shoots up field causing the Tackle to really shuffle back in a hurry to shut it down but Fowler turns his hips and punches his chest to get the Tackle in a vulnerable spot and uses a Long arm move ("one arm is longer than two") to make sure the Tackle can’t get access to his chest and gets a QB "hit", not really a hit but just a love tap to Brady to remind him that he’s there.
Now I said he can’t win constantly, here’s what I mean:
He focuses an attack on the outside shoulder of the Tackle and this normally works as doing this you could catch him off guard and off balance because of all that power to just one side of his body and "open the flood gates", per say, and this should have worked, as you can see Jarrett really push to attack the C Gap between the Guard and Tackle, occupying them both. So he's schemed up to win this rep but as you can see, he looks to run out of steam mid play.
What he really does well is stunts:
Keep this play in mind as I will refer to it later. (P.S: The Cowboys love stunts).
So what about his Run stopping ability?
I wouldn’t want him on the field on early downs. Here’s why:
He is not a run stopper and is a liability in my opinion. He almost never gives any pushback and is always getting moved backwards. If he goes against a Lineman that knows how to use his hands and leverage, Fowler is going to get deleted from the play. I don’t know what it is though, as seen earlier he does have the power to not get pushed back as far as he does. I don’t know if it’s an effort thing or something like that but I don’t want to make assumptions like that because I don’t know him. I don't want to question someone that I don’t know and their work ethic. I just know that he isn’t an asset on running plays as this play is seen more often than you hope.
So in conclusion: I haven’t mentioned that in 2019 he lined up on the right side of the line, the left side and also dropped into coverage here and there. While I don’t want him manned up on a RB or TE, he can zone drop and take away a QBs 3rd option or take away a curl or drag route in his area. He is very versatile and has kept that athleticism from 2019. Against the Cowboys last season he ran across the offensive line to shut down a run play before it could develop, he does have juice in the tank.
So when the Cowboys signed him and I was doing research on this topic, I was really hoping that they had him listed as a LB on the depth chart behind Micah Parsons. Because I feel like him and Micah can play the same role as a versatile chest piece. Obviously Micah is better, but Fowler can give Micah a breather here and there.
Based on what I've seen, and what seems to work for him and what doesn’t, I see Quinn deploying him on obvious passing downs like 2nd and 10 or 3rd and long where he can be used on a stunt. Imagine a 4 man front with Fowler lined up as a stand up edge, Lawrence at 3-tech, Micah lined up over the B gap, and Sam or Dorance rushing off the edge to take away any backdoor escape routes for the QB.
He did really well with Aarron Donald besides him and to be fair, everyone could probably be better next to him. But Donalds don’t grow on trees, however the Cowboys have one. Micah isn’t the player that Donald is right now but he disrupts plays the same way that Donald does. He is strong enough to demand a double team on stunts and will be the main focus of offensive coordinators, a luxury that Folwer didn't have in Atlanta. I do think he revives his career to an extent in Dallas. So let’s just hope for the best. Thanks for reading, take care.