The Florida Gators struggled down the stretch, but by all accounts had a successful season. When the media gathered at SEC Media Days in July Florida was picked to finish fifth in the SEC East. That’s not the SEC, just the East division. Jim McElwain had a tremendous first season and while there were plenty of contributions from freshmen like CeCe Jefferson, Martez Ivey, Antonio Callaway, Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson, Florida really relied on older players in 2015.
Many of those upperclassmen had career seasons, put up personal bests in new roles and reached new heights on the field. Gator Nation was watching but so were NFL scouts, who flocked to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium every Saturday and could be seen on the sidelines at practice throughout the season.
Florida has a slew of players who will need to decide whether to stay in school or declare early for the NFL. There are many things to consider here. Our list will take talent, ceiling, depth at the position in this draft class as well as next draft class, as well as a player’s potential to improve their draft stock by returning to school.
After looking at the redshirt juniors on Thursday we turn our attention to the juniors in the Florida Gators program that will have the tough decision of declaring for the NFL Draft or staying in school for one more year.
Vernon Hargreaves III — Go
A three-time All-SEC player, Vernon Hargreaves was always destined to leave for the NFL early. Hargreaves is one of the nation’s top cornerbacks and will garner a high first round grade when his paperwork comes back. Most draft analysts have Hargreaves in their top-10 players available this draft class. This is a no-brainer.
Alex Anzalone — Stay
Another no-brainer, but for a different reason entirely. Anzalone hurt his shoulder against ECU in the second week of the season and missed the rest of his junior campaign. This was to be his breakout season, so Anzalone still has a lot to prove on the field both with his play and also showing NFL teams that he can stay healthy for a full season.
Anzalone could also be in a good situation next season. Because he missed most of 2015 with an injury, he could opt to apply for a hardship waiver, one that would likely be granted. This would afford him the opportunity to play two more seasons in college if need be and he does not need to apply for the redshirt immediately. He could wait to see how 2016 plays out and if he doesn’t like the draft grade he receives at that time could apply for the hardship waiver after the 2016 season.
Jarrad Davis — Stay
Davis announced his intentions to stay in school immediately following the bowl game. Davis was arguably Florida’s best linebacker this season despite not being named to an All-SEC team. Davis will submit his paperwork to the NFL to receive a draft grade but he’s unlikely to be a first round projection. Davis also told reporters that he feels like he has more to prove at Florida. He’s a player who will have a starring role on the Gators’ defense in 2016 and another good season will go a long way towards improving his draft stock.
Keanu Neal — Go
Possibly the most interesting player on the list, Keanu Neal will have the most difficult decision to make. After speaking with several draft experts, many believe Neal will get a low first or second round grade.
Jim McElwain has said that he will tell players with a first round grade that they should declare for the draft, but players without a first round grade would be encouraged to come back to school. Neal could undoubtedly improve his draft stock with a strong senior campaign but this is a relatively weak safety class and that will play a factor into Neal’s decision.
A lot of NFL teams will view Jalen Ramsey as a safety at the next level and would likely grade Ramsey above Neal. Ole Miss safety Tony Conner will also declare early for the NFL and would be graded above Neal. There was only one safety selected in the first round in 2015, but three safeties were selected in the first round the previous season and four were taken in the first 41 picks.
Neal has had a great career in Gainesville, he has enough film for NFL scouts to look at and with a relatively weak safety draft class, this is the time for him to declare for the draft.
Demarcus Robinson — Go
Robinson was suspended for the Florida State game this past season, the fourth suspension of his career. Robinson has all the talent in the world but just hasn’t been able to keep his nose clean and stay on the field consistently. NFL scouts will have a ton of questions and will likely place a red flag next to Robinson’s name when they’re considering him, but his talent is undeniable.
The question also begs asking, has Robinson out stayed his welcome in Gainesville with this new coaching staff?
Robinson will impress at the combine running the 40 and going through drills. He’ll be drafted early despite his perceived character flaws and now is the time for him to go. Look for Robinson to sign with a big-time agent in the near future and have that agent go to work for him as a person off of the field, while allowing Robinson’s athletic ability to win scouts, general managers and coaches over on the field.
Kelvin Taylor — Go
I said it last season with Matt Jones and I’ll say it again: the NFL does not value the running back position. The game has been completely changed to favor quarterbacks, passing and points and running backs are a dime a dozen. In the new rookie wage scale system, you’re slotted into a rookie contract with little to no wiggle room. This places more importance on getting to your second contract, which means getting into the league as quickly as possible and earning a second contract.
Taylor is coming off of his best season in Gainesville by far. He blossomed as a junior and he’s not going to improve his draft stock much by coming out this season. Florida will be loaded in the backfield next year with JUCO transfer Mark Thompson and freshman Lamical Perine coming in, not to mention Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite going into their sophomore seasons. Coming back would put Taylor into a loaded Florida backfield as well as place him in the same draft class as Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb and Dalvin Cook. Not ideal.
Now is the time for Taylor to take the next step in his career.