In the modern era of the NFL draft – since 1967 – Florida leads the SEC with 48 first-round picks. Two more Gators went in the first round this year, making it four drafts in a row and nine of the past 10 that UF has had a first-rounder.
Florida should add to that total next year, thanks to its defense. You could make the case for five defenders being possible first-round picks. Three seem legitimate possibilities. And as surprising as this may sound, Florida could have an offensive player end up in the first round.
Here’s a look at the potential first-rounders.
Cornerback Jalen Tabor will head into the season as the top-ranked UF prospect. He will have a chance to be a top-10 pick in 2017 and could be the first corner off the board. Next year is a deep cornerback draft, especially in the SEC, with Tennessee’s Cam Sutton and LSU’s Tre’Davious White along with Tabor.
Tabor had 22 pass breakups in his first two seasons at Florida; that is one less than Jalen Ramsey had in his three-year career at Florida State. Ramsey was the first defensive back selected, going fifth to Jacksonville.
Tabor (6 feet 0, 199 pounds) has better size than former running mate Vernon Hargreaves (5-10, 204), who went 11th in this year’s draft, and a big season on the field and as a team leader likely would propel Tabor into the top 10.
Senior linebacker Jarrad Davis is another potential first-rounder. Davis likely would’ve gone in the second or third round this year, but decided to stay in school.
I see Davis (6-2, 240) as a “Will” linebacker at the next level (weakside ‘backer); he had 11 tackles for loss and also broke up seven passes in 2015. He had 98 total tackles in ’15 and should get over the 100 mark this fall.
Junior defensive tackle Caleb Brantley will have to play his way into the first round with a dominating season. At 6 feet 2, he’s a little shorter than most teams want, but his overall size (6-2, 300) is quite similar to Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins (6-1, 299), who played defensive end for the Cardinals and was selected 12th overall this year by the New Orleans Saints; Rankins will move inside at the next level.
Brantley had 6.5 tackles for loss to go with three sacks in 2015. At defensive tackle, his lack of height will hurt him and some will want to see if he can be a two-gap defensive tackle.
RELATED: Caleb Brantley emerging as a star
Senior safety Marcus Maye is another defensive player who could sneak into the back of the first round. He was good enough in 2015 to be selected a first-team All-American by USA Today. UF safety Keanu Neal went 17th overall to the Atlanta Falcons this year, and you can make a case that Maye had the better all-around season.
LSU safety Jamal Adams should be the most highly ranked SEC safety, but if he were to go early, it could open the door for Maye at the end of the first round. Maye is a good “box” player who needs to have a big year in the pass breakup/interception category.
If you’re wondering about junior cornerback Quincy Wilson, I think he is one big year away from being a first-round pick. He has the size (6-1, 200 pounds) and speed (in the 4.4 range in the 40) to be a legit NFL cornerback. I think there is a chance he hangs around for his senior season; it also wouldn’t surprise me if he and Tabor both leave.
The final player on Florida’s roster that could end up being a first-round pick in 2018 is junior offensive tackle David Sharpe. Remember that former UF tackle D.J. Humphries went in the first round in 2015; left tackle is a position of need for NFL teams.
First of all, Sharpe’s sheer size – he is listed at 6-6 and 347 pounds – is going to get the attention of many scouts. He will be protecting the blind side of a quarterback who will be throwing in a pro-style offense. And there will be plenty of tape for NFL personnel to watch of Sharpe going against SEC defensive linemen (i.e., NFL defensive line talent) week in and week out.
The key for Sharpe is developing the nasty disposition it takes to finish blocks. He took a step in the right direction this spring, but must continue to grow in that area.
(You can follow Brady Ackerman on Twitter @bradyack)
© 2016, gridironnow.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.