Dante Fowler Jr. among rookies on road to greatness

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  • By Manouk Akopyan NFL.com
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At the 2015 NFL Draft, 256 prospects were selected. Some will become serviceable pros, others will fail to stick with a team -- and a special few will leave their mark on history. While only time can truly reveal the stars of the rising rookie class, here are seven players -- one for each round of the draft -- to track as they attempt to forge a successful path down the road to greatness.

Dante Fowler Jr., outside linebacker

Drafted: First round (No. 3 overall)
College: Florida
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

Just like Khalil Mack was the cant-miss linebacker from last year's draft, the same goes for Florida pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. this year. The gifted St. Petersburg-native had the luxury of staying close to home when the Jaguars made him the first defensive player taken off the board with the third-overall pick. The 20-year-old outside linebacker was a first-team All-SEC terror, filling up the stat sheet with 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries. The defensive-minded Gus Bradley filled a meteor-sized hole and now has a Day 1 starter and a cornerstone for his Jacksonville outfit. If the 6-foot-3, 261-pounder plays just as good as he dresses, the Jaguars struck gold.

Dorial Green-Beckham, wide receiver

Drafted: Second round (No. 40 overall)
College: Missouri
Team: Tennessee Titans

The Titans were one of the team's heading into the draft that lacked an offensive identity. After selecting Marcus Mariota and handing him the Week 1 keys, they continued to reload on offense by taking the talented yet polarizing Dorial Green-Beckham. Standing at 6-foot-5 and nearly 240 pounds, the big-body Missouri wide receiver was a first-round talent who slipped down draft boards due to character concerns. The red-zone target can be the antidote to Tennessee's vanilla offense and help Mariota turn into the Titans' first franchise quarterback since Steve McNair.

Garrett Grayson, quarterback

Drafted: Third round (No. 75 overall)
College: Colorado State
Team: New Orleans Saints

Heading into the draft, one storyline was clear: The Saints were going to draft and develop 36-year-old Drew Brees' future successor -- even though the Super Bowl champ has his sights on playing till he's 45. New Orleans made its splash by selecting Colorado State signal-caller Garrett Grayson in the third round. The 6-foot-2 Grayson is a solid athlete with a good deep ball and a great grasp of handling a pro playbook. The 23-year-old threw for 4,006 yards on 64.3 percent passing with 32 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in his senior season. Coach Sean Payton, once upon a time a Cowboys assistant, dealt with a similar situation when Dallas groomed Tony Romo for three years before unearthing him. We very well could be seeing the same unfold in the Bayou with Grayson.

T.J. Clemmings, offensive tackle

Drafted: Fourth round (No. 110 overall)
College: Pittsburgh
Team: Minnesota Vikings

Anytime NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock's 33rd-ranked prospect is available at No. 110, conventional wisdom indicates you draft him. That's exactly what Minnesota did by taking Pittsburgh offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings. The long and athletic Clemmings has to overcome foot-injury concerns that saw his draft stock plummet. He can be a rookie starter from Day 1 should he stay out of the doctor's office. For the run-first Vikings, a fringe playoff team, supplying road graders for Adrian Peterson and surrounding franchise signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater with capable offensive linemen is the right recipe for a postseason berth.

Jay Ajayi, running back

Drafted: Fifth round (No. 149 overall)
College: Boise State
Team: Miami Dolphins

Boise State running back Jay Ajayi is another player whose draft stock fell due to injury concerns. If the dual-threat, north-south runner -- once projected to go in the second round -- can stay on the field, he'll serve as a solid complement to starter Lamar Miller in the Miami Dolphins backfield. Despite medical issues, a motivated Ajayi answered the bell every week for the Broncos last year en-route to becoming the only player in FBS history with 1,800 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a single season.

Michael Bennett, defensive tackle

Drafted: Sixth round (No. 180 overall)
College: Ohio State University
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

Top-tier talent is usually off the board by Round 6, but there are still quite a few players that remain for a litany of reasons. Michael Bennett, a 6-foot-2, 293-pounder was one of the big fallers. Draft prognosticators indicated that the Ohio State University three-technique defensive tackle was a "scheme specific" player. Bennett now has the opportunity to shake away from that designation and play a helping hand in the upstart Jaguars' defensive overhaul. In 49 games (30 starts) for the Buckeyes, Bennett tallied 111 tackles, 18 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss.

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, cornerback

Drafted: Seventh round (No. 241 overall)
College: Oregon
Team: Cleveland Browns

The Browns took 2014 consensus All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu with pick No. 241. The 5-foot-9, hard-hitting cover man and Jim Thorpe Award finalist suffered a torn ACL in December during practice for the Rose Bowl. Browns general manager Ray Farmer believes Ekpre-Olomu will eventually develop into a productive corner in the Browns' secondary, going as far as saying "We felt this kid can be a starter if he's 100 percent." For a seventh-round pick, you couldn't ask for a better ringing endorsement.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan.

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