Florida’s low projected number of NFL Draft picks bodes well for 2019

After consulting four mock drafts that cover all seven rounds and have been updated this week — CBSSports.com, Draft Tek, Draft Site, and Walter Football — it appears likely that five Florida Gators will be drafted: Jawaan Taylor, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Jachai Polite, Vosean Joseph, and Martez Ivey. All five of them appear in each of the mocks except Ivey, who’s in three of the four. UF has an outside shot at a sixth being drafted in Jordan Scarlett, who shows up in one of them.

Sticking with a projection of five draftees, that’s not a high number for a team that won ten games in the season leading up to the draft. In fact, the Gators had four players taken after the 4-8 season in 2013 and five taken after the 4-7 season in 2017.

Florida has won at least ten games in a season, counting bowl wins, eight times in a season since 2000. I’m going to toss in a ninth, the 2016 team that went 9-4. It lost out on a gimme win against FCS Presbyterian due to a hurricane cancelation, so it basically was a ten-win team too.

Twice, after 2006 and 2009, Florida had a remarkable nine players drafted. It’s hard to have more than that in a year. Even programs that have in recent years churned out tons of draft picks like Alabama, Clemson, FSU, LSU, and Ohio State do not regularly meet or exceed nine players taken in a single draft. The ’06 team won a national championship, while the 2009 team had most of the players that won the 2008 national championship on it and came close to winning one of its own.

In two more instances, after 2001 and 2012, the Gators had eight players taken in the draft. Both of those teams came one regular season game away from playing in an SEC Championship Game that would’ve had a national title game berth on the line.

Then in two other instances, after 2015 and 2016, Florida produced seven draft picks each. Those two teams both won the SEC East but didn’t challenge Alabama that much in the SEC Championship Game.

That covers six of the teams. The nine-pick teams were national title worthy, the eight-pick teams were only a step down from that, and the seven-pick teams were divisional contenders but not much more than that.

The 2000 Gators won the SEC Championship at 10-3 and finished No. 10 in the AP Poll. That team only had four players drafted: Gerard Warren and Kenyatta Walker in the first round, Jesse Palmer in the fourth round, and John Capel in the seventh round. Most of the best players on that team returned and fed the 2001 team.

The 2008 Florida team is one that needs no introduction. It only had three players drafted from it: Percy Harvin in the first round, Louis Murphy in the fourth, and Cornelius Ingram in the fifth. The core of that team came back and turned out a second-consecutive 13-1 record.

Fans like to boast of high numbers of draft picks for understandable and obvious reasons, but lower draft counts can be portents of good things in the upcoming season. That was the case with the drafts after the ten-plus win campaigns of 2000 and 2008. It was not the case after the 2013 team had four draftees, as the 2014 Gators went all of 7-5. When you have a low number of draft picks, you want that to happen after a good year.

Winning ten games is not a required threshold either. The 2005 team went 9-3 and only had three players drafted. The 2007 team went 9-4 and had just two players drafted. Those teams preceded national titles.

This all brings us back to the 2018 team that won ten games and will probably have five draftees. Five is more than the 2000, 2005, 2007, and 2008 teams each produced, but it’s not up to the territory of the 2015 and 2016 teams. UF getting nearly a drop-in replacement for soon-to-be draftee Jachai Polite in Louisville graduate transfer Jonathan Greenard ameliorates one of the draft losses too. Greenard is a different kind of player and won’t rack up as many sacks as Polite did, but he’s skilled enough and knows Todd Grantham’s scheme well enough that the overall defensive line play won’t drop off from him being there this season.

Florida should get a slight bump this upcoming season from being in the second year of Dan Mullen’s tenure. I’m not willing to take that and these draft numbers and say that we should expect next year to be like 2001, 2006, or 2008 though.

Last year’s team finished higher in the polls than the 2000 Gators did, but Feleipe Franks hasn’t shown yet that he can be on the level of Rex Grossman. The 2018 team was better than the 2005 team was, but the 2019 Gators won’t have a unit as dominant as the 2006 defense was. It’s debatable whether last year’s squad was as good as 2007’s was — the ’07 Gators, for their defensive faults, lost to the eventual No. 1, No. 2, No. 15, and No. 18 teams in the AP Poll, none by more than 12, and had nothing like the blowout loss to unranked Missouri — but the ’19 team doesn’t have the tailwind of several years of Meyer’s elite recruiting like the ’08 team did.

Still, having a fairly low number of players taken in the NFL Draft is not bad for the Florida program. It won’t win any bragging rights with four to six players taken across the seven rounds, but that’ll work in service to striving for much bigger bragging rights in the fall.