Ronald Powell the Latest to Declare for 2014 NFL Draft; DE/LB to Leave Florida Early

Ronald Powell has become the latest underclassman to declare his intentions to leave Florida early and enter the 2014 NFL Draft. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker had one season of eligibility remaining.

Ronald Powell, Florida Gators

The top recruit in the nation coming out of high school, much was expected of Powell before he ever stepped foot on campus. He was the second top prospect to sign with the Gators under former head coach Urban Meyer and if his impact were to even be close to that of the first–Percy Harvin–Florida fans were in for a treat.

Powell struggled early, but mostly due to those high expectations. It’s not that he underperformed during his freshman season; it’s that so much more was expected out of him. Will Muschamp’s arrival as the new Florida head coach may have been a good thing for Powell in the long run. While it did take him some time to get used to his role as a “buck” linebacker, Powell started to come on strong during the season half of the 2011 season. Seven of his nine tackles for loss and four of his six sacks came in the final six games of the season.

Powell wouldn’t get a chance to build on his strong end to the 2011 season as his 2012 season was over before it began. He tore his ACL during the Orange & Blue Debut, putting him on the shelf for all of 2012.

When the 2013 season came around, Powell was ready to contribute again. While he was back to full strength, he also greatly benefited by the play of defensive lineman Dominique Easley and fellow buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. The emergence of Fowler allowed Powell to move between buck and more of a traditional linebacker role throughout the season.

Powell played well enough throughout the season that this announcement isn’t much of a surprise, but it’s also widely believed he would benefit greatly from one final year of development. However, after suffering the type of injury he did, it’s understandable that he would leave now and not risk getting hurt at the college level again. Early predictions have Powell falling somewhere in the middle rounds of the draft.

While I wish Powell all the luck in the world, the one thing I would have really wished for him during his time at Florida was more wins. Due to the injury forcing him to miss the 11-2 2012 season, Powell played for the Gators during seasons in which they finished 8-5, 7-6 and 4-8.

Marcus Roberson to Declare for 2014 NFL Draft; Cornerback to Leave Gators

According to Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun, Gators’ junior cornerback Marcus Roberson will leave Florida early and declare himself eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft. Roberson only appeared in seven games for the Gators in 2013, missing time due to injuries and suspension, but he is still projected to be selected in the first or second round of April’s draft.

Marcus Roberson, Florida Gators

Despite playing in just more than half of the Gators’ games in 2013, Roberson’s draft stock isn’t expected to be impacted. His coverage skills have been one of his greatest strengths during his entire Florida career and many believe he will only get better with time.

Roberson’s play does present some concerns as he is a frequent offender when it comes to pass interference calls. He has always played the game physically and it has haunted him at times. However, he is still a relatively young player and discipline could come with time and coaching.

Roberson becomes the second Florida cornerback to leave the Gators early for the NFL Draft. He joins fellow junior Loucheiz Purifoy who declared his intentions to bolt to the NFL almost immediately following the conclusion of the 2013 regular season.

While Florida still has talent at cornerback, it is largely young talent that split time with veterans such as Roberson, Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins. The Gators need to reload immediately and will be sure to look at any available prospects during the final month of recruiting. Florida appears to be in good shape with Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson and Quincy Wilson currently committed, but Jackson is wavering and all three will need time to develop.

2013 NFL Draft Good to Former Florida Gators; Floyd, Elam Selected in First Round

The 2013 NFL Draft was good to the Florida Gators. Good to the tune of eight former Gators selected in the first six rounds. And Florida wasn’t the only school celebrating its draft accomplishments. The SEC set a new record with 63 total players selected. Those of us that consider ourselves fans of the conference still chuckle when outsiders question the SEC’s dominance.

Sharrif Floyd - Minnesota Vikings

Kicking things off for the Gators–albeit later than expected–was defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd. Floyd–an early entrant–was once considered one of the few with a legitimate shot at being selected first overall. He wasn’t that high on every team’s board though and fell into the welcoming lap of the Minnesota Vikings at No. 23. A similar situation occurred just three years ago when Percy Harvin fell to the Vikings. Harvin was recently traded to the Seattle Seahawks, but had enjoyed a successful stint in Minnesota up to that point.

Sneaking into the first round with Floyd was another early entrant, safety Matt Elam. Elam couldn’t have fallen into a better situation; the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens selected him at No. 32. A first round talent, Elam could have been selected anywhere between picks No. 20 and No. 40 and no one would have been entirely surprised. As it stands, the Ravens feel they have found the perfect fit to fill the void left by Ed Reed who signed with the Houston Texans this offseason.

In the second round, the Chicago Bears selected linebacker Jon Bostic with the 50th overall pick. Bostic upped his game during his final season and pushed himself into a position where the Bears thought he was worthy of a second-round pick. With an NFL-ready body and superb on-the-field speed, Bostic could be the heir-apparent to former Chicago middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. Those are large shoes to fill, but the Bears will give him every opportunity.

The third round saw the selection of another early entrant. With the No. 85 pick, the Washington Redskins selected tight end Jordan Reed. There was some debate over Reed. While some thought he could improve his stock with another season at Florida, others believe he was selected where he would have been regardless of it being this year or next. Reed may be looked to early to bail out Robert Griffin III when the dynamic quarterback is pushed out of the pocket.

The Miami Dolphins made quite the splash beginning in the fourth round. The new-look Phins may have become many an orange and blue fan’s favorite team after they selected three former Florida Gators. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins was selected by Miami in the fourth round and was followed by running back Mike Gillislee and kicker Caleb Sturgis in the fifth.

The Gators’s run would come to an end in the sixth round when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected safety Josh Evans No. 169 overall. Evans ended a run of three Gators selected in six slots from picks 164 to 169.

Having eight players selected is nothing new for the Gators–just as recently as 2007 and 2010, Florida saw nine players picked–but it’s a great accomplishment all the same. Consistently putting players in the NFL–or at least preparing them to be drafted into the league–is something recruits notice. Not that Will Muschamp and the Gators need help in the recruiting department, but this is just one of many things that leads to top classes.

With the draft coming to an end, we closed the book on another season for the Florida Gators. The overall picture proves it to be a successful one. We can think of two very clear down moments that resulted in the ‘2’ in the 11-2 record, but the past season was one to build on. With that, we wish the newest NFL employees luck and remind them that once a Gator, always a Gator.

Sharrif Floyd Tops Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board; Could The Former Florida Gators DL Go No. 1?

Near the top of most lists for all of this year’s NFL Draft season, former Florida Gators defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd has become the No. 1 player on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board. Floyd has already established himself as a top-five pick in next month’s draft, but as he continues to impress, the chances of him being selected first improve.

Sharrif Floyd - Florida Gators

Fans love to hate Kiper. If he doesn’t believe a player from your school is worthy of a top pick, you can’t stand the man and don’t believe he knows anything about, well, anything. If he does have your favorites among his top players, then it’s no better because that’s his job and he’s just regurgitating what you already knew. Basically, he can’t win.

Regardless, of how you feel about the man and his methods for ‘guessing’ the outcome of the NFL Draft, he does his homework and evaluates each year’s prospects to a level of detail few others do. And, of course, as Florida fans, we can now praise the man for his unmatched expertise and intelligence. There’s a player atop his board with a Gators logo next to his name.

Being atop Kiper’s Big Board doesn’t guarantee that Floyd will be selected No. 1 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. First of all, the Chiefs are thought by many to be leaning toward an offensive lineman (but they could take the best overall player regardless of position, which they should probably do). Second, this is a year without a definitive top choice. But Floyd does have a chance to be the highest Gator ever selected in the draft and that’s something for us to applaud.

Florida has had three former players go No. 3 overall, but never been able to jump into the top two. Those three are extremely recognizable.

    • 1967 – Steve Spurrier – QB
    • 1978 – Wes Chandler – WR
    • 2001 – Gerard Warren – DT

Floyd could join those three at No. 3, or make a name for himself all alone as the only Florida player to ever be selected in the top two. And—orange and blue glasses aside—he’s worthy. He has the size, speed and overall talent to succeed in the NFL in either 4-3 or 3-4 systems. Throughout his Gators career, Floyd was moved from defensive tackle to 4-3 defensive end to nose tackle to end in the 3-4. His versatility and ability to excel wherever he lined up has made him one of the better players available. Whenever he goes, we won’t be waiting long to hear his name.

Oddly enough, the baseball program’s highest drafted player also went No. 3—Mike Zunino one year ago. The men’s basketball program bests both football and baseball by one spot. Neal Walk went No. 2 overall in 1969.

John Brantley, Deonte Thompson And William Green Sign NFL Free Agent Deals

Two former Florida Gators were expected to be selected in the 2012 NFL draft and exactly two were. Defensive lineman Jaye Howard went to the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round and running back Chris Rainey joined former teammates Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert after he was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round. No other Gator heard his name called during the NFL’s three-day event (Janoris Jenkins aside). There is hope though; more than a few undrafted players have become key contributors and even stars in the NFL.

Once the draft ends – and even before it comes to its conclusion – phones are ringing and teams are talking to those players they hope to give an opportunity to (or, more realistically, take another look at). Players are signed as undrafted free agents, while others are invited to various camps. Four such individuals have been given a chance to continue their football careers beyond their time with the Gators.

The Baltimore Ravens signed both quarterback John Brantley and wide receiver Deonte Thompson. The two have already spent a lot of time together as Gators and former classmates as a part of Florida’s 2007 recruiting class. While neither would claim their orange and blue careers went as planned, it is nice to see them get at least a look at the next level. There is plenty both can improve, but the opportunity is there. Brantley isn’t being brought aboard to unseat Joe Flacco, but Thompson comes to a team with little depth at wide receiver.

Defensive end William Green was signed to the team that at one point in NFL history became the team that signed Brantley and Thompson. Still with me? Green is now a member of the Cleveland Browns and will go to camp fighting for a roster spot.

Former Florida and Notre Dame offensive lineman Dan Wenger also received interest from several NFL teams, but wasn’t offered a deal. He was invited to participate in the New York Jets mini-camp though.

Chris Rainey Drafted No. 159 Overall By Pittsburgh Steelers

With the 24th pick in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft (No. 159 overall) Florida Gators running back Chris Rainey was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In Pittsburgh, Rainey will join former his former Florida teammates Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert.

Rainey was expected by many to be drafted, but there was a range on exactly where he would fall. Some said the former star could go as high as the second round, while others saw him sneaking into the draft late. In the fifth round, the Steelers – who have had some success with former Gators – took a chance on the speedster.

The remainder of the draft went as expected with Rainey and defensive lineman Jaye Howard not being joined by any additional former Gators. The 2012 draft would mark the first since 1993 that the first three rounds didn’t feature a Florida athlete. We wish both Rainey and Howard the best of luck, but hope 2013 is more kind to the Gators.

Jaye Howard Drafted No. 114 Overall By Seattle Seahawks

113 picks went by in the 2012 NFL Draft before the Seattle Seahawks selected defensive lineman Jaye Howard with the 114th pick. Howard was the first Florida Gators player taken (if you don’t count Janoris Jenkins). With Chris Rainey being the only other Gator expected to be drafted, it could remain quiet for Florida fans.

A defensive tackle that also played some defensive end, Howard is a versatile lineman that could line up at any position and in any formation. He has the strength and power to play inside, but also the surprising speed to play outside. Howard has the ability to stop the run, but also rush the passer. He still has some development ahead of him, but given the right situation he could definitely become an every down lineman over time.

The Seahawks are this year’s proverbial winner as the first team to select a Florida Gator in the draft. Congrats to Howard and mythical trophies to Seattle have been dispersed.

Janoris Jenkins Drafted No. 39 Overall By St. Louis Rams

The Florida Gators have yet to technically have a player selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, but the second round gave us a definite link. With the No. 39 overall selection, the St. Louis Rams selected former Gators and North Alabama Lions cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

It was difficult to predict exactly when Jenkins would be selected. He had top-10 talent and had he been able to remain at Florida for his senior season, there’s a good chance he would have been drafted that high. However, off-the-field issues caught up to Jenkins and Will Muschamp dismissed him before he ever played a down for the new head coach. Instead of finishing what was a great career on the field at Florida, Jenkins ended up at North Alabama with a chance to restore his image. Despite staying out of trouble, some teams flagged him or removed him from their draft boards entirely and that’s where the uncertainty came into play.

The first round came and went on Thursday night without Jenkins hearing his name called. It wouldn’t take long on Friday though. Jenkins only lasted a few picks before finding a home with the Rams. From a talent standpoint, Jenkins is a steal at No. 39, but those other issues raise questions. If all goes well, the Rams will be very happy with the former Gator and Lion. IF all goes well.

Round 1 Of The NFL Draft Ends; Former Florida Gators Wait

Round 1 of the 2012 NFL Draft came and went on Thursday night and as expected no former Florida Gators were selected. It wasn’t surprising, but to many indicates just how far the Gators have fallen off the map.

That’s true, but it also isn’t. College talent doesn’t always equal NFL talent. It’s a different game and employs different types of players. A great college player doesn’t always become a great NFL player, but it can have a link to recent success or a lack thereof. There’s a reason Florida, Florida State and Miami were all shut out in the first round for the first time since 1980. Alabama on the other hand; well, you only have to look at the top seven picks. Where the biggest link comes to life is when you look at the Gators record over the last two seasons. Programs that go 15-11 end up in a situation like this.

A Gator will eventually go, but the question is when. Jaye Howard and Chris Rainey are the likely candidates. Howard’s potential and strength have some teams interested, while Rainey’s speed and overall skill set could push him into the first half of the draft. They’re both expected to be selected, but we have no educated idea of when that will happen. Some say Rainey could go as high as the second round or as low as the fourth. Howard is a likely sixth or seventh round pick.

That they will be the only former Florida players drafted says something about the recent roster, but again it doesn’t. It says something about the NFL talent level. Of course, in the SEC, that can mean much of the same. While we’d all like to see Gators fly off the board each year come draft time, we’re much more concerned with how they play when they suit up for Florida.

Jeff Demps, Jaye Howard And Chris Rainey Invited To NFL Combine

Jeff Demps, Jaye Howard and Chris Rainey have been invited to participate in the NFL Combine in preparation for the 2012 NFL Draft. The former Florida Gators have a chance to improve their draft stock by participating in the various drills offered at the combine. For all three, it presents a good opportunity to be seen in front of a number of NFL scouts, and that’s where it gets interesting.

It would seem like it’s a no-brainier for Howard and Rainey to accept their invitations. The defensive lineman and running back/returner are both looking to continue their playing careers, but have some work to do before the draft. Participating gives them the opportunity to potentially move up the draft boards of some teams. “All three” is a different story though.

During January, Demps announced that he was done with football and would not be persuing a career in the sport. Instead, he was shifting his efforts toward track and focusing on his future there. It was thought of as a wise decision at the time as many believe track presents him with the best career opportunity. With the invite to the combine, might he be reconsidering? It’s doubtful, but it’s hard to imagine it hasn’t at least crossed his mind.