Ras-I Dowling is one of the most interesting and misunderstood Patriots in the 89-man group of men fighting for a roster spot. A majority of this misunderstanding stems from the misconception that Dowling isn’t a good defensive back, which, in turn, stems from him spending more time in the punch line of jokes than on the football field during his NFL career.
Dowling’s injury problems date all the way back to Deep Creek High School, where Dowling never managed to play an entire season. Those injury problems came back to haunt him in his senior season at Virginia, where he was limited to playing just five games. Various ankle, knee, and hamstring problems were the culprit, and the lack of playing time was a sign of things to come for Dowling.
The term “injury prone” did little to deter Bill Belichick in the 2011 draft, as the Patriots looked strictly at Dowling’s potential and skill, rather than worrying about injury history, and drafted him with the first pick in the second round NFL Draft.
In his rookie campaign, Ras-I made sure that Belichick didn’t have to regret drafting him early…for two games.
During the second game of 2012, Dowling tore his hip labrum and found himself hitting IR for the remainder of the season. He ended 2011 with a fairly impressive 3 catches allowed on 7 targets for 74 yards, and could have had a really big impact if his health had held up.
Dowling worked his way back from the injury to take the #2 corner spot alongside Devin McCourty to start the 2012 season. Dowling played a hefty 42 snaps during the opening game of 2012 against the Titans, but gradually lost his spot on the depth chart, playing only 58 snaps during the remainder of the season. He was moved from corner to nickelback, but lost his nickelback job as well, and was replaced by Sterling Moore and Marquice Cole at the spot.
For the third consecutive season, Dowling managed to be on the active roster for less than half of the year, as he tore his quad in week 7, which resulted in him getting the moniker ‘Ras-IR Dowling’ – fitting, to say the least.
This all leads us to the present day, as Dowling looks to take over the second starting corner spot next to Aqib Talib, currently the property of Alfonzo Dennard.
Dowling presents several advantages over Dennard, including size. Dowling is 6’1”, 210 pounds compared to Dennard’s smaller size, at 5’10”, 200 pounds. Dowling also has superior speed, as he runs an impressive 4.4 second 40-yard dash, a large advantage over Dennard’s fairly slow 4.55 seconds.
A pairing of Dowling and Talib would mean that the Patriots would finally have decent size at both of their starting corner spots, and that equates to nothing but trouble for opposing receivers. The added size at corner would allow New England to run more effective and aggressive man coverage, allowing the corners to maul receivers at the line. That kind of tenacity from the corners would finally give offenses a reason to be worried about facing the New England defense – a defense that was once seen as one of the more worrisome to play against in the league.
Dowling still has vast potential, and a high ceiling with New England. He’s already begun the offseason journey to take back the starting corner spot during minicamp, breaking up passes and sticking to receivers like the media sticks to Tebow. Dowling has the opportunity to finish that journey back to starting at corner once training camp begins on July 25th.