Jelani Jenkins Declares For NFL Draft; LB Becomes Fourth To Leave Florida Gators Early

In a somewhat surprising move, Florida Gators’ redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins has declared his intention to enter the 2013 NFL Draft. Jenkins joins fellow early draft entrants safety Matt Elam, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and tight end Jordan Reed.

Jelani Jenkins - Florida Gators

Though not lacking in potential or talent, Jenkins’ announcement is a bit of a shock because he could be deemed as the one of the four that would most benefit from another season with the Gators. Jenkins career wasn’t derailed by injuries, but they did slow his development at times. He came to the Gators as an all-world recruit, considered one of the better high school defensive players in the nation, but leaves with some feeling of “what if.” What if there hadn’t been a coaching change during his Florida career? What if he had been 100% healthy? What if he had played from day one? And what if he came back for one more season?

Jenkins is likely a mid-round pick as many teams might not believe they’ve seen enough to take him in the early rounds. He could be a sleeper if still available in the later rounds.

We’ll most remember Jenkins for one glorious moment that bailed the Gators out of possible disaster when he returned a block punt against Louisiana-Lafayette, sealing a Florida victory.

Florida Gators 27 – Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns 20; No, THAT Was The Defining ‘Just Win’ Game

For a good, solid 10 minutes I laughed. I probably sounded crazy, sitting by myself in my office at home watching the Florida Gators defeat the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns 27-20 on my laptop. The medicine to combat the flu would be what many would have blamed for my maniacal cackle, but it wasn’t the culprit. The Gators had just won in a way only the Gators of 2012 possibly could. For 58 minutes, all signs pointed to a Florida loss, but that’s not what happens this season. Of course, the Gators scored with 1:42 left on the clock via a touchdown pass by the guy that lost the quarterback job at the beginning of the season and has since been the subject of transfer rumors. Of course, they blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to secure the victory only 100 seconds later. Of course. And I laughed…and laughed…and laughed.

Florida Gators

For 58 minutes, I was disgusted; we all were. For 58 minutes, I watched the Florida offense do what the Florida offense does–struggle to do much of anything. There was an offensive touchdown and a couple of Caleb Sturgis field goals, but when the Cajuns scored 17 unanswered in the second half to take a seven-point lead, I honestly thought the Gators had lost. I was ready to put up the L and painfully move on to whatever the rest of the college football weekend had to offer. I should have known better.

By now, the latest BCS rankings have been released. In them, the Florida Gators sit at No. 6 in the same position they were last week. Amazingly, this is a team that is now 9-1 (7-1 SEC). From a record standpoint, this is a great Florida team. Look closer at that record and it’s even further justified–the one loss came to the nation’s No. 5 team (a team that will be playing in the SEC Championship Game in a few weeks) and three of those wins came against top-10 opponents. That’s a better than good résumé. Then you go to the game tape of the last three weeks and you might have no idea you’re watching that same team. There are turnovers, offensive struggles, a loss and two near wins that shouldn’t have been so. But when it comes down to it, nine times out off 10 this season, the Gators have done exactly what they’ve needed to–just win.

I proposed the Missouri game as the definitive just win example. I was wrong. How would I know that one week later Florida would give us this gem? A Sun Belt team comes to The Swamp and nearly knocks off an 8-1 Gators team before Florida snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. The offense got the score to an even point and then special teams won it. That seems about right. We weren’t expecting some last-minute perfectly thrown touchdown pass, were we? No, we weren’t. That doesn’t happen these days. Florida winning on a blocked punt is the perfect ending.

For a moment, I forgot I had the flu and ran through my house, laptop in hand, to find my wife. Unfortunately, she was putting our son down for a nap so my celebration would have to be a silent one, but that too felt right. I wasn’t in my driveway waving my Gators flag yelling at cars passing by. Instead, I was standing in my living room staring blankly at my laptop (the feed already gone black), pumping my fist wondering what the hell just happened. There was no explanation, but there was–this was the Florida Gators and this was the 2012 football season.

Just like that, it was all over. Another game in the books and another victory. Years from now, people will look at the Gators history and see a season during which Florida only lost one SEC game and finished with somewhere between 10 and 12 wins. They will think to themselves that this was a pretty good Gators team. In some ways, they will be correct. In others, they won’t have an accurate picture of what really happened. For 58 minutes, the Gators looked like a .500 squad. For two, they looked like an improbable 9-1 team. Yet another game. Just win.