Jonathan Dowling is either an under-the-radar breakout rookie, or a mistake just waiting for his walking papers in August.
The reviews on the former Western Kentucky safety go from hot to cold. The truth won’t be revealed until GM Reggie McKenzie’s seventh-round draft pick shows what he can do in exhibition games this summer.
Dowling is a 6-foot-3, 190-pounder taken by Oakland with its final pick, 247th overall.
As a senior, Dowling had three interceptions, six forced fumbles and 67 tackles. Since his days as a high school star in Florida, Dowling has attracted attention for both his athletic skills and mistakes on and off the field.
He started his college career at Florida, was kicked off the team for violating team rules and transferred to Western Kentucky where he excelled. In his final season, his six forced fumbles led the NCAA, and he had some big plays for the Hilltoppers in two seasons, with an interception return for a score and a blocked-field-goal return for another. Twice he was first-team all-conference, but he also was suspended a game for what was deemed a dangerous hit.
This week, former Dallas Cowboys executive and current NFL analyst Gil Brandt of NFL.com told Raiders head coach Dennis Allen in a radio interview that he expected Dowling would be “a special teams demon.” In a tweet, Brandt also said Dowling “will end up being one of the steals of the draft.”
The Raiders won’t be counting on Dowling to start. Oakland has Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch as starters, with veterans Usama Young and Brandian Ross backing them up. But with a good camp – and his ability to hit – Dowling could make an impact this summer and earn a job with special teams play that will allow him to stick on the roster and learn for the long run behind the veterans.
“I’m ready to learn everything from C-Wood,” Dowling told the Raiders website after being drafted. “I always looked up to him. He’s done things the right way. He’s played as long as anybody should want to play. I’m just ready to get next to him and read him like an open book.”
Based on the scouting report put together on Dowling by Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com, however, Dowling may have much to learn. Nawrocki praised Dowling’s long strides, long arms, hitting prowess and big-play capability. But he also says Dowling needs to bulk up to play the run better and adds he’s “a shoddy tackler with poor fundamentals” and just average instincts.
“Talks too much and shows off-putting body language,” Nawrocki wrote. “Questionable mental toughness. Thinks he’s better than he is.”
Over the next 3½ months, the Raiders will find out if their new seventh-round pick has more good or bad to his game.