A talented defensive back out of the University of Virginia, Dowling was considered a late-round pick by most due to his injury history. He started every game of the season only once in his three years at Virginia despite being the most talented defensive back on the team. But, like Bill Belichick and the Patriots have tended to do in the past few years, they took a chance and drafted him early.
So far, that chance hasn’t paid off — not even close. Just as it appeared he would, Dowling has struggled to stay on the field and out of the training room since becoming a Patriot.
Rookies and second-year players tend to get some slack, but if Dowling can’t stay healthy and prove that he can be a contributor on defense in his third year, there may not be a spot on the team for him anymore.
The defensive backfield depth chart for the Patriots, an area that has been a weakness for years, has finally started to get better. The additions of Aqib Talib at corner and former pro bowl safety Adrian Wilson may not make the group a true strength, but at least they’re not a liability anymore.
That means it will be even harder for Dowling to find a way to get on the field and contribute.
But it’s not impossible. The second starting cornerback job was looking all but locked up by second year man Alfonzo Dennard until he was recently arrested on suspicion of DUI. If Dennard’s legal troubles keep him off the field, Dowling will have the chance he needs to prove he has what it takes to be a starting cornerback in the NFL.
And this is the year he needs to do that. He has the talent — no one doubted that coming out of college — but the history of the league is littered with talented guys who just couldn’t stay healthy.
Time is running out for the former second-round pick. 2013 will be the year we finally get an answer on whether Dowling is a bust or a success.