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.
To save time and space we will break up the players into two groups. First up are the redshirt juniors. These players have been in school for four years. That fact also plays into their decisions as many of them could be close to graduating and earning a degree.
Bryan Cox Jr. — Stay
Cox has seen an increased role each season he’s been on the field with his tackles increasing from 5 to 29 and now 43 as a redshirt junior. He’s a player who has taken some time to develop, but really took advantage of his increased role in the defense this season.
With that being said, Cox does not have any intentions of leaving school early and that is the right decision for him. He’s shown a steady and marked improvement from year-to-year and another year in college will help to boost his draft stock next season.
Marcus Maye — Stay
Maye came to Florida with lofty expectations, both from the outside and of himself. He didn’t live up to those expectations his first several years on campus but more than exceeded them in 2015.
Maye was named All-SEC and consistently rated the best safety in the country by Pro Football Focus.
With Vernon Hargreaves casting a shadow over the entire secondary and Jalen Tabor having a breakout season, Maye was really the MVP of the secondary. He was able to play safety, nickel and dime for the Gators and that versatility allowed Florida’s secondary to make up for two players being kicked off the team for off the field run ins with the law and Alex Anzalone’s injury.
Maye’s decision is a difficult one. He had his best season by leaps and bounds in 2015 and NFL teams will lust for the versatility he brings (Maye is also a player who could play special teams in the league) and he’s a roster saver — a player who can do multiple things and save NFL teams roster space, which is coveted by all 32 teams.
However, Maye’s best football could be ahead of him. He’s unlikely to be a first round pick but could improve his draft stock with another strong season in 2016. Jim McElwain will encourage all of his players who get first round grades to leave school early. NFL rookie contracts are all slotted now, leaving little to no room to negotiate, making getting to your second contract more important.
Maye had an incredible season and could choose to capitalize off of that momentum, he’s an elite athlete who will show well in combine settings, but he could help his draft stock by returning and continuing to progress on the field, giving NFL teams more film.
Alex McCalister — Go
Personally, I think McCalister would benefit from another year in school, but I’m not the person making a million dollar decision here.
McCalister is very close with Dante Fowler Jr. Fowler’s play on the field hi sophomore and junior seasons were aided by performances at the NFL Combine and individual workouts. McCalister hasn’t had the same impact as Fowler, he did tie for the team lead with 6.5 sacks in just nine games, but he is a player that will impress at combines. McCalister is a 6-6, 240 pound pass rush specialist. In the NFL teams are looking for a franchise quarterback, someone to protect that quarterback and players who can get after opponents quarterbacks. McCalister is the latter and his size, speed and length will have teams willing to take a shot on him.
McCalister likely won’t get a first round grade, which is the biggest reason he should come back to school, but the reason he will leave is a belief that his stock will only rise after getting the chance to workout for teams.