Ras-I Dowling is often thought of as a China doll by most New England Patriots fans, and for good reason. He has only played in 10 games over his first two seasons in the NFL. Despite his injuries, Dowling’s upside remains too tantalizing to simply just let him go.
The 6-foot-1, 210 pound Dowling was the 33rd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Many scouts considered him a first-round talent, but Dowling fell to the beginning of the second round because of injuries that he suffered at the University of Virginia. However, he showed enough in training camp to be named a starter. He only played in two games that season, but he played pretty well. One play to remember was in the 2011 season opener at Miami, where former Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne tried to throw a fade route to the left side of the end zone. Dowling was in coverage and simply blanketed his man so tightly he made the wide receiver unable to catch the ball. That took physical strength. However, like I said before, he went down for the season after two games (hip injury).
2012 was a different kind of season for Dowling. This time, the young cornerback opened the season as the nickel corner, which is not suited for a player of his size. Nevertheless, Dowling made his best effort to play the position. In the season opener against the Tennessee Titans, Dowling allowed a big completion in the slot and then had a pass deflection. After that, not many passes went his way. Then for some reason, Bill Belichick demoted Dowling to fourth corner. The move never made sense because Dowling was a superior player to Sterling Moore. Then Dowling tore his quadriceps on October 21, which ended his season.
Now we enter the 2013 season. The top three cornerbacks are set with Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington. Then there is a battle for what is likely two other spots. The battle is between Dowling, Marquice Cole and Logan Ryan. Ryan should make it because he is a rookie third-round pick who has showed well in the preseason. So the final battle comes down to Dowling and Cole. Most people expect the victory to go to Cole but only because Dowling is so banged up all the time.
Marquice Cole is terrible. He played a major role in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the 2013 AFC Championship Game. Cole was targeted relentlessly once Talib went down and gave up pretty much everything that went his way. That is why the Patriots defense surrendered 21 points in the second half. So that begs the question, “would you rather have Cole or Dowling as Talib’s backup?” The answer should be Dowling, who still has the upside of a starting cornerback if he can stay healthy. And even if Dowling does go down, Belichick can turn to another practice-squad-type player to fill the role of fifth cornerback.
Dowling’s talent and potential are worth the gamble as a fifth corner. He wouldn’t have to play a major role unless there are injuries to other players, which can keep him healthy by default. Plus, if somebody does goes down, Belichick will turn to a cornerback that is much more talented than the average fifth cornerback. Belichick simply can’t give up on such a young, talented player this quickly. It’s in the best interest of the team if Dowling stays on the roster.
Philip Alexander is a New England Patriots writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @steely0906. , “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.