Coming out of Varina HS in Richmond, Dowling’s offer list was unimpressive. Other than Virginia, his offer list was entirely FCS schools, though he was getting interest from Virginia Tech and a few other ACC schools. Despite being named district player of the year, as well as all-district at WR, DB, Utility (whatever that actually means) and punter, Dowling was completely off the recruiting radar, possibly because it’s unclear where he might fit as a college player. In fact, I can’t even find a highlight reel for Dowling. Here is the video that virginiasports.com posted on signing day 2014:
Dowling played WR and CB in HS, and while he has good straight-line speed, he isn’t a quick twitch athlete. He definitely was not going to play CB in college. Many people actually saw him as a potential LB. His instincts defensively were good and he is raw as a WR. He wasn’t a good route runner and wasn’t particularly dangerous with the ball in his hands. His biggest strengths as a WR are his size and his hands. Players with those attributes are often slotted on defense.
In fact, when Dowling arrived on grounds, it still wasn’t 100% determined what position he would end up playing, though WR seemed the most likely option. That’s obviously where he ended up and he even started one game as a true freshman while totaling 17 catches for 141 yards. Then last year, after tearing his ACL during the off-season, Dowling never seemed to get it going. He played in 8 games, though mostly on special teams. He totaled 1 catch for -1 yards.
Watching that video above, you see a guy who excels when going up to get the ball. He’s tall, he has long arms, he can jump and he gets the ball at the peak. That makes him very good on jump balls and back-shoulder throws. He has good speed, but it takes him a while to really get going. That sometimes means he can have trouble getting open. His size and leaping ability mean that he can make catches even if he’s not open. The video also shows how when he gets going with open field in front of him, he isn’t going to get caught.
Though not necessarily a prototypical slot receiver, this appears to be the best place for Dowling. For one thing, he wouldn’t face press coverage as often, which would give him a chance to build up some speed before he’s locked up with a defender. His size makes him an ideal possession receiver going over the middle. Dowling has very good hands, and would be very useful on 3rd and short. He could run a quick in or a stop route and use his body to shield the defender from the ball.
Dowling is unlikely to be a game-breaking type of receiver. But, if given a chance to get out and run, he could be a deep threat. The injuries last year basically led to a wasted year for Dowling, and he would’ve been better off taking a redshirt year. (There were rumors that he was pushed to return prematurely by the previous coaching staff.) He’s back and by all accounts largely healthy, though he is dealing with some minor issues this fall. He impressed in the spring and seems likely to get plenty of reps this season. The Hoos’ WR corps is largely untested but has a lot of promise and Dowling is a big part of that promise.