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Making the Leap, No. 28: Bucs DE Da'Quan Bowers

Around The League will profile the top 40 players we see Making the Leap in 2013. No. 28 on the list: Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.

Why Bowers is on the list

Drawing comparisons to Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, Bowers led the nation with 15.5 sacks and ranked second with 26 tackles for loss at Clemson in 2010. After winning the Nagurski and Ted Hendricks Awards as the NCAA's top defender and top defensive end, respectively, he widely was viewed as a candidate to go No. 1 overall when he declared for the 2011 NFL Draft.

Three months later, Bowers slid to the latter half of the second round amid rumors that a degenerative knee condition would make him a "one-contract player."

Injuries have made it tough to get a reliable read on Bowers' potential two years into his NFL career. Recovering from minor microfracture surgery, Bowers was limited by a weak knee in a part-time role as a rookie. Although he matched Terrell Suggs' impressive five-month return from Achilles surgery in October of 2012, Bowers noticeably was hindered the rest of the way.

On a positive note, Bowers has shown flashes of potential as a power rusher with excellent upper-body strength and the ability to win the leverage battle against offensive tackles. While the lower-body explosion isn't what it was at Clemson, Bowers still showed decent straight-line closing speed. The Bucs also appreciated the aggressive and violent edge to his play.

Obstacles

Achilles surgeries have a well-deserved reputation for leading to further lower-body issues down the line. It's especially noteworthy for a player whose knee drew red flags as a potential long-term concern entering the league. Some teams even removed Bowers from their entire draft boards, as they believed his career would be shortened.

Although Bowers was able to overpower weaker blockers last season, he must improve his lateral agility to gain consistency as a pass-rushing threat. It remains to be seen if he will ever recapture his college form. Furthermore, Bowers needs to stay on the field. He's yet to show that he can remain productive and healthy enough as a three-down player.

2013 Expectations

Anything less than double-digit sacks will be a disappointment. Bowers has acknowledged as much, and the coaching staff expects it.

The Buccaneers' brass is pushing all of their chips to the center of the table, going all in on Bowers' perceived pass-rushing upside. The problem is they're working without a safety net after letting Michael Bennett walk in free agency. If Bowers' lower legs don't cooperate, the Bucs' improving defense will be submarined by its edge-rushing deficiencies.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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