The Florida Gators had a lot of early entrants to the NFL draft from 2006-2009 when they won two BCS titles, two SEC titles, and played for a third SEC title. After a combined record of 15-11 from 2010-2011 there was little interest from scouts in players leaving early in Gainesille the last two seasons. After finishing 11-1 this season, however, the interest level returns.
There are five UF juniors that could possibly leave early this season. While it’s unlikely all five will leave, let’s look at the five and their readiness to go pro.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is probably the most likely to leave early and the most ready. After a junior season where he was arguably the most dominant interior lineman in the SEC, it wouldn’t make a ton of good sense for Floyd to stick around for his senior season. He came to Florida as the top ranked high school defensive tackle in the country and did not disappoint making the SEC All Freshman team and continuing to improve each season in Gainesville. At 6-3 305 he has the size teams like and can play either nose guard in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3 and he has great athleticism and strength for the postion. While another season at Florida may improve his draft stock, which right now is anywhere from 20th to 35th in the draft, the likelihood of injury makes sticking around one more season a big gamble.
Tight end Jordan Reed came to Florida as a quarterback but it was obvious early on that he might be better suited for tight end with his size, 6-3 245, and his athleticism making him a match-up nightmare for linebackers and safeties. In just his second season playing the position, Reed became the go to guy for new quarterback Jeff Driskel and turned into the only reliable playmaker in the passing game this season for Florida. Because he is so new to the position, Reed could certainly benefit from another season at Florida, but the likelihood that he would go in the second round may be enough to lure him away. Athletic tight ends are a premium in the NFL right now with many teams employing two tight end sets and Reed’s upside is huge as he improves his pass catching and blocking skills.
Safety Matt Elam is in line with Floyd in terms of readiness to go. A big, physical safety he is extremely versatile playing both safety spots, nickel, and dime. He is best up close to the line in run support but can cover tight ends or the slot as well. Like Floyd, Elam came to Florida as a highly rated player and has been a fixture since the moment he arrived on campus. He an Floyd both were named to the Sporting News All-American team this season and he is considered by some draft services as the number one rated prospect at the safety position. He is a big hitter and makes all the defensive back calls in a defense which makes a lot of calls at the line so it’s obvious he has the smarts along with the physicality to become a great pro player. Like the others, Elam may benefit from another season in Gainesville, but it’s likely he has the least to gain and very well could be a mid to late round draft pick if he chooses to go.
Defensive tackle Dominique Easley is another highly rated defensive player from the 2010 recruiting class that will get a few looks from pro scouts. He has played well since he arrived in Gainesville but has been prone to injury. Like Elam, Easley is versatile and can play inside at tackle or outside at end and is good against the run inside or out. Before the season, the scouting report was mixed mostly because many scouts wanted to see him injury free for a full season and to see how he plays with a full injury free season. The injury bug struck again this season a couple of times so it is unlikely he gets a high round evaluation back from the NFL. Will he or won’t he? He should come back for his senior season as he has a high ceiling and much to gain, but we’ve seen in the past that low evals haven’t necessarily stopped players from taking the leap so certainly the jury is out, but I got to believe Quinn and Muschamp will give him a straightforward analysis of his situation and he will make a good decision.
Finally, Jelani Jenkins, the Gators weakside linebacker, is another case like Easley who has played well but has spent a lot of time on the injury list and realistically needs another season of injury free football to really improve his draft stock. Of course, you never know what lurks in the mind of young guys seeking riches but hopefully the coaching staff will be able to persuade Jenkins to stay one more season. Though smallish, he is active, has a nose for the football, and is a hard hitter so his upside is great and with another season may be able to improve his draft status from late round/free agent to 2nd to 4th round, a significant boost in money.
So it’s likely we’ll see some guys leave early this season, how many remains to be seen, but along with a number of seniors, this should be a good draft for the Gators and the best we’ve seen since 2009.