Western Kentucky free safety Jonathan Dowling has decided to forgo his senior season and will instead enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
All draft prospects get questioned relentlessly by hundreds of various coaches, scouts, execs, etc. leading up to the draft. That’s just part of the deal, especially considering how much money these teams invest in a prospect. Dowling knows this, but he also must know he’s going to have to answer more questions than the normal prospect.
You see, Dowling didn’t originally sign with the Hilltoppers out of Southeast HS in Bradenton, Florida. Dowling was a highly-touted four-star prospect with offers from all over the country before eventually signing with his home-state Florida Gators. But towards the end of his freshman season in Gainesville, he was abruptly thrown off the team by then-head coach Urban Meyer. The reason Meyer gave? The classic, arbitrary answer of a “violation of unspecified team rules”.
As it turns out, Dowling was just immature — very immature, like all freshmen are on all campuses nationwide. Dowling skipped classes, team meetings, positional meetings, tutoring sessions, etc. When coaches tried to corral him, he lashed out and was apparently quite disrespectful, particularly with positional coach Chuck Heater.
All of this led to the Gators throwing him off the team only months after joining it. And remember, Meyer had quite the propensity for giving troubled players multiple chances, so the fact that Dowling didn’t get one says something. You can absolutely guarantee that scouts are going to be drilling him hard about his time spent in Gainesville.
Dowling did find some redemption, however. After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules (and reportedly maturing in the process), Dowlling became the star safety for WKU and then-coach Willie Taggert. Through 23 games in ’12 and ’13, Dowling started 23 games and hauled in an impressive nine interceptions en route to All-Sun Belt honors.
I’m rooting for Dowling. I think this could be a nice feel-good story in the end. By the looks of things, he’s matured quite a bit over the last few years and has developed into a solid student-athlete. The problems he had at Florida, while certainly unimpressive, weren’t that egregious. He was just a cocky, smart aleck who had some growing up to do.
As a prospect, there’s a lot to like about Dowling. He’s a big (6-foot 3, 200-pound), physical safety with speed to burn (reported 4.4 40-time). Big safeties have become all the rage in the NFL, and Dowling fits that mold to a ’T’. With his instincts and playmaking ability to go along with his size and speed, Dowling is arguably as talented of a safety as there is in this class.
Where he gets selected in the draft will be decided on how well he interviews, and whether or not he can prove to personnel guys that he’s matured into the man he wants to be. He’ll be an interesting prospect to follow moving forward.