When the Florida Gators take the field in 2015 they will be without their leading rusher from this season as junior running back Matt Jones has decided to leave school early for the NFL, Gator Country has learned through multiple sources.
Jones carried the ball 166 times for 817 yards in 2014 — both team highs — and scored six touchdowns. Over three seasons Jones rushed 297 times for 1,431 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Will Muschamp and the Gators coaching staff maintains that they advise players who will not be first round draft picks to return to school and try to improve their draft stock. However, with the new rules in the NFL leading to pass happy offenses, most teams are choosing not to invest a first round pick in a running back, choosing to go with a stable of adequate backs rather than one bell cow in the backfield.
In 2014, Washington running back Bishop Sankey was the first back selected in the NFL Draft when the Tennessee Titans selected him with the 54th overall selection. It was the latest that the first running back has come off the board in NFL Draft history — breaking the mark that was set just one year earlier when Giovanni Bernard was selected with the 37th overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Making the decision easier for Jones are two factors that cannot be ignored. First, he has a young daughter and the opportunity to start making money and being able to financially provide for her was a big factor that played into his decision. Second, Jones has already had two knee surgeries (one in high school) and has battled injures throughout his career at Florida. He is mostly healthy now after splitting reps with Kelvin Taylor and being on a “pitch count” for reps in practice.
Jones is likely to be picked in the middle rounds of the draft.
Gator Country has learned that Jones is currently working on lining up an agent and a facility to train at in preparation for the NFL combine and draft.