JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Former third overall pick Dante Fowler's first two and half years in the league were packed with adversity.
The defensive end missed his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL in his first NFL practice. When he recovered the next season, he was surpassed in the lineup by third-round pick Yannick Ngakoue.
Fowler would go on to have an underwhelming initial playing season in Jacksonville. Ngakoue doubled Fowler's sack numbers, setting a franchise rookie record.
The former first-round pick became a role player, pushed aside for a fellow defensive end with a strong debut season.
This offseason the expectations weren't high for Fowler. He had a run-in with the law and his offseason work wasn't all that eye-opening.
None of that prior history has mattered in the last few weeks, as Fowler has been among the most consistent players on the Jaguars' stellar defense.
In five games, Fowler has already matched his sack total (4) from last season. He has also produced his first two forced fumbles.
Fowler is beating offensive tackles one-on-one, a significant step up from his sack success last season, which typically came on stunts and cleanup work.
Fowler's teammates attribute his newfound success to his change in mindset this season.
"I really think Dante has grown up a lot more," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said last week. "Definitely understanding the situation. Having someone like Yannick come in, light a little fire under you and get you going because he's playing so well, it's going to make you better if you're a competitor. That's what it's done."
Fowler's development has played a key role in the defense's strong start this season. He is making big plays when it matters. Three of his four sacks have come on third down this season.
Defensive coordinator Todd Wash was quick to criticize Fowler last year. However, Wash's tune has changed this season, as he has been impressed by the young defensive end.
"He's affecting the quarterback right now," Wash said in Week 4. "You see him - obviously - he's winning and the ball is out, but you see more flashes out of him."
With 11 games left in the season, Fowler has plenty of time to make his third season in the league special. While he is still serving in a rotation, his production is starting to fall in line with the upside the Jaguars saw when they selected him in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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