Florida Gators in the NFL Draft: Then and Now

By Steve Anderson

The recent Florida Pro Day was a chance for our NFL hopeful Gators to showcase their skills in a familiar setting to the delight of pro teams.

Numerous Gators will hopefully improve their draft stock in the process.

Pro Day in Gainesville is an event because of the tradition of quality players that come from the University of Florida.

Historically 308 Gators have been drafted since 1936, with the Pittsburgh Steelers leading the way with 24 Gators selected during that time. Since 2010, those same Steelers have drafted a Gator three straight years but the record is four years straight by the 1975-78 San Francisco 49ers. The fewest? That would be the Houston Texans with one, drafting wide receiver Jabar Gaffney in the second round in 2002. In 2013, as with every club trying to win a ring, the Texans would do well to draft some of the latest pro-ready Gators. These 2012 Gators are expected to put at least one player, perhaps even two, in the first round, specifically defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and strong safety Matt Elam.

Floyd’s perceived rise in draft stature has been amazing; teams are always looking for a disruptive interior force with speed to close in and sack the quarterback. Floyd has been mocked as early as the number three overall pick, and if certain chips fall into place, he could even be drafted first overall. A Florida Gator has never been picked number one overall, but since 1967 eleven Gators have been picked in the top ten, with cornerback Joe Haden most recently going seventh to the Cleveland Browns in 2010. Both Floyd and Elam have seen their stock soar in the last month or two and both could be the first players selected at their position.

The highest drafted Gator defensive tackle was big Gerard Warren, drafted by those same Cleveland Browns number third overall in 2001. That ties the highest pick any Gator has been drafted before, tying Wes Chandler (1978 – New Orleans) and the ol’ ball coach himself, Steve Spurrier, who was selected third by the San Francisco 49ers in 1967. Wes Chandler still holds the National Football League record for highest receiving yards per game in a season (129.0). Floyd has been mocked consistently going to the Raiders at pick three, and the Jaguars are always thought to be privy to awesome Gator exploits due to proximity.

Safety Matt Elam could be drafted higher than any other Gator safety in school history if he’s drafted before pick 21. The highest Gator safety ever drafted was Reggie Nelson by Jacksonville in 2007. Safeties have become more important at the pro level due to the proliferation of dynamic passing offenses and problematic spread offenses, athletic tight ends, etc. Safeties were seldom picked in the first three rounds in the NFL circa 2000. Elam’s 2012 game tape, combine and pro day have some scouts salivating.

No one would be surprised to see two more Gators selected in the second and third rounds, specifically tight end Jordan Reed and linebacker Jonathan Bostic.  The highest pick for a Gator tight end was Ben Troupe, who was selected in the second round by the Tennessee Titans in 2004. The highest pick for a Florida linebacker was the beast that was Wilber Marshall in 1983, going eleventh to the Chicago Bears.

1,000-yard rusher Mike Gillislee won’t likely last past the fourth or fifth round and linebacker Jelani Jenkins could be called as early as the fifth round as well. The most famous Gator running back is probably Emmitt Smith, who was drafted by Dallas at seventeen in 1990; I can still remember his rookie Pro Set card; the way it smelled.  W. Larry Smith was the highest drafted Gator running back, going eighth in 1969 to the Los Angeles Rams. Offensive guard Xavier Nixon seems primed to go sooner rather than later on Day 2.

Free safety Josh Evans more than held his own in 2012 and will look to hold up the productive line of Gator true free safeties; probably starting with Louis Oliver (1st round – Pick 25 /Miami) all the way up to the aforementioned Reggie Nelson and Ahmad Black (5th Round/ Tampa Bay). You probably know kicker Caleb Sturgis had an exceptional career, but a Gator kicker hasn’t been drafted since Jeff Chandler in 2002. A Gator punter hasn’t been drafted since 1986 (Ray Criswell- Eagles) and a Gator fullback has not heard his name called since 1992 (Dexter McNabb – Packers). It’s a small wonder since Gators rarely give a punter much time to hone his craft and haven’t run much with a lead blocker in those years either.  Ah, the price of those exceptional offenses.