VETTEL: Time for Some Unsolicited Advice

Several members of the Gators football team (at least four) have done the paperwork to get an evaluation from the NFL as to their likely draft status. I think it is a good thing to do, but I hope the players realize the info they get won’t be that much better than the opinions they get from college coaches, agents and even uninformed clowns like me.

There are several reasons for this fact that those involved must realize.

First, the NFL has a vested interested in getting players into the league. If the top ten draft eligible players come out early, that increases the value of a number of draft picks. However, if 50 top players end their college careers ahead of schedule that’s a bonanza for the pros. They get better talent at less cost both in terms of draft position and financial compensation.

Second, the NFL can’t give an accurate assessment of ANY players’ draft status until and unless they know EVERY player that is in the draft pool. They may consider Bubba Caldwell (for example) a guy who would go around # 50 overall right now. But if ten other receivers come out early, glutting the market he could fade by two or three rounds as a result.

Third, the NFL has nothing to lose if a player makes a mistake by coming out early (remember Dee Webb?). In fact, they benefit by getting a player with second or third round talent in a later round because he just isn’t ready for the next level. Until the NCAA starts looking out for student-athletes and allow them to stay in school if they are not happy with their draft position this will remain a one-sided system in which the player takes all the risk.

What Should the Top Gators Do?

I believe there are a half dozen players on the 2006 Florida football team who should give serious thought to a pro career. I also believe most of them should and will reach the conclusion that another season in college will be more beneficial in the long run. For what it’s worth, this is what I think they should do and why.

Reggie Nelson —– Florida’s free safety extraordinaire is one of the most dynamic defensive players in the nation and for my money should have won the Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football. He’s fast enough to run with most receivers, tough enough to take on any blocker and gutsy enough to make the big play when it has to be made. He owes a lot of his success to Ryan Smith whose emergence let him play safety instead of corner. I’d love to see another dozen games of him wrecking opposing offense, but I can’t see it happening. He can’t move up from the top two safeties in the draft. It’s time to go.

Andre “Bubba” Caldwell —– He has the toughest decision of the group because there is so much volatility in his situation. It’s easy to see his physical skills and project him to go about where Chad Jackson did. But Caldwell has two problems Jackson didn’t have. First, this is potentially a great draft for receivers while last year was awful. Second, Caldwell missed almost all of 2005 with a broken leg. He had just two receptions of over 25 yards this season and that might concern the NFL. If the majority of the best junior receivers out there (Calvin Johnson, Sidney Rice, Ted Ginn Jr., Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Meacham, Markus Monk and Anthony Gonzalez) enter the draft (and I think they will), Bubba should stay in school.

Jarvis Moss —– Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Moss as # 3 among the junior defensive ends, which is a pretty good place to be. Moss has the speed to the corner NFL scouts love to see and just ask South Carolina’s kicker about Moss’ wingspan and jumping ability. He has improved against the run, but his 5.5 sacks are less than overwhelming. It looks like a very strong draft at defensive end which also should be considered. Moss is a top half of round one talent who looks ticketed for the second half of round two. He has more to gain by coming back than any other Gator junior… so he should stay.

Brandon Siler —– this is the toughest one for me to deal with because, frankly I am too fond of Brandon and spent too much time with him to be completely objective. Siler is one of the finest young men I have had the pleasure to get to know in my years covering the Gators and I want to see him exert his influence on Gator players for years to come. As a football player, Kiper has Siler # 4 among inside linebackers and I don’t think it’s a very good draft at his position. He’s not a workout guy who will wow you at combines and he won’t get much better at the college level. His play against Arkansas in the SEC Title Game was the best MLB performance I’ve seen at UF. Still, after spending an entire day with his family I know how much his graduation would mean to him and especially his mom. While that is an attractive lure to come back for his senior year, football wise, as much as it pains me he should turn pro.

Derrick Harvey —– After two years of doing little, Harvey emerged as a fine player over the course of 2006. He led the Gators with eight sacks and really stepped up his play as the line thinned out. With two more years of eligibility he has lots of time to develop into a first rounder under the masterful tutelage of Greg Mattison. No question, Harvey stays in school.

Tony Joiner —– Joiner is an underappreciated talent whose consistency gave Reggie Nelson and Ryan Smith to be big play guys. However, only big play guys should come out early. I believe he can enter the NFL this year, but he has a chance to be the big play guy in ’07 and should not pass it up. Tony Joiner returns as captain for his senior year.

If all six returned for 2007 the Gators would enter the campaign with very few questions and no leadership vacuum. But that’s not likely to be the case. If Florida goes four for six, that would be a pretty good result. The outcome of the game in Arizona might be the deciding factor for Moss and Siler, Caldwell needs to watch the other receivers’ decisions before committing. It appears the decisions for Nelson, Harvey and Joiner are quite clear.