NEW ORLEANS — Speculation about the impending departures of a number of juniors on the Florida Gators roster began much earlier this season.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam, two key cogs in the nation’s No. 5 regular-season defense, projected to be high picks in the NFL Draft if they chose to forgo their respective senior seasons.
Each made his intention to do so public Wednesday night following Florida’s 33-23 loss to No. 21 Louisville. Floyd likely will be drafted in the first round. Elam’s draft position is more dependent on how he performs between now and April, but he likely will go in the second round.
The respective decisions weren’t surprising. There is little either could do individually to improve their stock. However, teammates spoke of the appreciation they had for how Floyd and Elam handled their final season in a Gators uniform.
“I remember this time [three] years ago — I was a redshirt freshman — seeing the older guys on the team, that’s all they talked about: NFL, NFL, NFL,” Hunter said. “These guys, they don’t even worry about that stuff. They play every game like its their last game and don’t worry about that.”
Hunter’s opinion was not unique. Even after Floyd and Elam made their decisions public, a number of teammates were unaware of their decisions. Perhaps they were playing coy, but it seems truthful that the Gators were solely focused on a matchup with Louisville and planned on letting the rest handle itself later.
“That’s news to me,” senior Jon Bostic said when asked about Elam’s decision. “I hadn’t really heard anything. But he’s a guy that’s going to be hard to play the position after.”
Bostic also projects to be selected in the NFL Draft, though likely later than Elam and Floyd. Similar to the two juniors, Bostic had delayed spending much time thinking about the NFL Draft prior to the end of the season. Now, Bostic said he expects to begin thinking critically about things in the next week or two.
“Just kind of let all this settle in first,” Bostic said. “Then kind of figuring everything out from there.”
Hunter has a similar expectation for the next couple of weeks. Unlike Gators who have previously declared, or even those who are still on the fence (juniors Jordan Reed and Dominique Easley), Hunter’s draft stock is pretty low. He would likely go late in the draft or have to sign with a team as a free agent.
However, after the game, Hunter gave an impassioned plea to NFL scouts. He wants to join his teammates in the NFL.
“Please, somebody pick me up,” Hunter said.