Draft

Florida draft primer: This year’s top talent, plus positions where Gators are strong (and not so strong) in NFL

Florida draft: Emmitt Smith, Joe Haden, Jalen Tabor
SMITH PHOTO COURTESY OF FLORIDA ATHLETICS; HADEN AND TABOR PHOTOS BY USA TODAY SPORTS

At one point in the draft process, there was a thought that Florida could have as many as three players drafted in the first round later this month. Now, it’s not a stretch to think UF could have zero for the first time since 2012.

Cornerback Jalen Tabor has slid down draft boards with poor workouts at both the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day; coupled with some off-field issues means it now would be a surprise if he goes in the first round. That leaves cornerback Quincy Wilson and linebacker Jarrad Davis as the potential first-rounders, but neither is a given.

The 2012 draft is the lone draft in the past 10 years in which no Florida player was taken in the first round; in addition, there have been just four drafts in the past 20 years with no Gators in the first round.

Here’s a look at Florida players who have a legitimate chance to be drafted this year, along with a look at the positions where UF alums have fared well – and not so well – in the NFL.

RELATED: LB Jarrad Davis impressive at Florida’s Pro Day

This year’s potential draftees (in rough order of when they can be expected to come off the board): CB Quincy Wilson, LB Jarrad Davis, S Marcus Maye, DT Caleb Brantley, CB Jalen Tabor, LB Alex Anzalone, OT David Sharpe, DE Bryan Cox Jr., DT Joey Ivie.

The Gators are: “Defensive Back U.” Plenty of choices here, but there’s no position that stands out for UF during the past decade quite like the secondary. Joe Haden and Reggie Nelson are NFL stars, and Vernon Hargreaves might be one before long. Throw in Janoris Jenkins (who later transferred to North Alabama) and Atlanta Falcons rookie Keanu Neal and you’ve got a seriously good NFL secondary. On the bench? Brian Poole, Jaylen Watkins, Matt Elam (well, maybe, depending on his legal issues), Major Wright and Marcus Roberson. Go back in time and you’ll find Lito Sheppard, Louis Oliver, Jarvis Williams and Steve Tannen, all the way to Bernie Parrish of the Jim Brown-era Cleveland Browns in the 1960s. Then, time for the coming attractions. Scouts are closely eyeing 2017 draft picks Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye. At this rate, the Pro Bowl might have to split its secondary into two categories: Gators and everybody else.

RELATED: Florida’s top 10 defensive backs this century

Next in line: For sheer numbers, the volume of Gators receivers making their way to the NFL ranks has been staggering, although only three UF receivers are active in the league right now. Over the past two decades, though, Percy Harvin, Jabar Gaffney, Darrell Jackson, Travis Taylor, Jacquez Green and Ike Hilliard are just a few of the receivers to make a mark in the pro football world since the program’s 1990s resurgence. Before that, Nat Moore, Wes Chandler and Cris Collinsworth represented the Gators’ receiving corps on Sundays.

Not so much: With Steve Spurrier. Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow, Gators quarterbacks have won three Heisman Trophies. At the NFL level, though, it’s been a different story. All three saw NFL playing time, but despite a memorable if brief playoff run with the Denver Broncos for Tebow, their skill sets just didn’t translate smoothly to the pro game. Rex Grossman had a handful of exciting (if wildly inconsistent) years with the Chicago Bears, and some others have seen playing time here and there, but UF quarterbacks have lagged behind their college teammates at other positions.

Over the years: This pipeline has slowed to a trickle, but from the 1980s into the early 2000s, the Gators supplied a virtually unbroken line of running backs to the pro ranks. The king of them all, of course, was Emmitt Smith, who became the NFL’s leading career rusher and won three Super Bowls during his career with the Dallas Cowboys (and, briefly, the Arizona Cardinals). He wasn’t alone. Neal Anderson (6,166 yards with the Chicago Bears), James Jones (3,626 yards with the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks), Errict Rhett (4,143 yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns), Fred Taylor (11,695 yards with the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots) and John L. Williams (5,006 yards with the Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers) all churned out some serious yardage. For backs from one college going into the NFL within a 15-year span, that’s a record that not many schools can top.

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