Think back for a moment on the 2010 NFL Draft. It was a memorable one for the Florida football program as nine Gators were selected, including six in the first two rounds. That dominant defensive team boasted a ferocious group that decimated opponents in every facet of the game. The Gator defense ranked fourth in total and scoring defense and were the second best in the country that year against the pass. It came to no surprise then, that six players off that defense were drafted in the first three rounds of the 2010 NFL Draft. What are those six players doing now? Well they are all currently starters for the respective NFL teams that drafted them.
CB Joe Haden: 1st Round, 7th Overall to the Cleveland Browns
Has started for the Cleveland Browns since he was first drafted following his junior year at Florida. Considered to be one of the top cornerbacks in professional football, Haden had 40 tackles and three interceptions during 11 games in 2012.
MLB Brandon Spikes: 2nd Round, 62nd Overall to the New England Patriots
The menacing leader is currently the starting middle linebacker for the perpetually strong New England Patriots. Spikes racked up 57 tackles in 2012 to go along with five forced fumbles.
DE Carlos Dunlap: 2nd Round, 54th Overall to the Cincinnati Bengals
A starter at defensive end for the Cincinnati Bengals, Dunlap has improved every year since joining the league, tallying six sacks last year to go along with one interception and four forced fumbles.
DE Jermaine Cunningham: 2nd Round, 53rd Overall to the New England Patriots
Cunningham has been a staple at defensive end for the New England Patriots since he was first drafted. Cunningham accumulated 24 tackles and two and a half sacks in 2012.
S Major Wright: 3rd Round, 75th Overall to the Chicago Bears
People doubted Wright because of his size when he first went to the NFL, but he exploded last year on his way to 52 tackles and four interceptions.
Don’t forget as well, those defensive stalwarts had the help of future NFL players Janoris Jenkins and Ahmad Black in their final year at Florida. We all remember those days of Gator glory; some wondered if we would ever have such a talented group boast the Orange and Blue ever again. This past season, Florida ranked fifth nationally in total and scoring defense, as well as sixteenth against the pass and fourth against the run. Now I’m not saying this year’s draft class is up to that caliber, but they could very well have five players of their own drafted in the first five or six rounds.
DT Shariff Floyd
Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap were both star defensive linemen in their own right, but they still don’t match the impact that Floyd has when he takes the football field. As a space eating defensive tackle, Floyd is a top-five lock and will be a force from day one for whichever team is fortunate enough to draft him. Expect to see Floyd go with either the second or third overall pick in the draft.
S Matt Elam
Matt Elam doesn’t have the size of cornerback Joe Haden, but the play-making safety always finds the ball and plays with unmatched intensity. Elam hits with the same tenacity we saw from Major Wright in college and will likely be a starter during his first year in the NFL. Expect Elam to go in the late first or early second round.
MLB Jon Bostic
Bostic plays a very similar style of play to Spikes in that they both excel at stopping the run. Likewise, they both have drawn questionable scouts as far as their pass coverage ability goes, although Bostic is much faster then Spikes was coming out of college. I expect Bostic to be a strong contributor in the NFL as he is slotted to likely be a third round selection.
S Josh Evans
Evans was not the most vocal player on the Gators in 2012, but he did still manage to lead the team in tackles. Evans won’t lay the wood like Elam or Wright but he is a rangy player that always seems to end up by the ball. Evans is slotted by most as a fifth round selection and I expect him to become a well-known name after a couple years in the league.
LB Jelani Jenkins
Jenkins was an athletic freak coming out of high school; he has the size needed for the linebacker position but is still more then capable to drop back into coverage. Jenkins may not be the force Bostic or Spikes are against the run, but again, he is surprisingly good in coverage. The NFL-bound junior will likely drop to the fifth round as he still recovers from an injury but he will undoubtedly be an NFL starter in due time.
Take into account as well that future NFL draft pick Dominique Easley decided to stick around Gainesville for his senior year. Regardless of how you look at it, there is no denying that Will Muchamp did a fantastic job coaching these kids in his first two years at Florida. The offense may be a project in the making, but the projections for this year’s NFL Draft make it clear that Florida is once again churning out some of the top talent in the country. Looking at Florida’s defense for next year, it wouldn’t surprise me to see at least seven of the projected starters to play in the NFL eventually, not including the wealth of young talent the Muschamp brought in with the 2013 recruiting class.