An anticlimactic NFL Draft for the Gators concluded on Saturday. UF only had three players selected, the program’s fewest since they only had two players taken in the 2012 draft.
There are several explanations for the lighter-than-usual draft class. First, the 2021 Gators obviously weren’t very good, finishing with a 6-7 record and getting their coaching staff fired. Good players on bad teams sometimes don’t get the recognition that they deserve. Perhaps guys like Malik Davis and Jeremiah Moon would’ve been drafted if the Gators had been in the national spotlight more often as a team.
Then there’s the fact that they had eight players taken in the 2021 draft, which left last year’s team younger and more inexperienced than usual, especially on offense.
There were also several players who might’ve been drafted this year who chose to return to school and try to improve their draft stock under the new staff.
Whatever the reasons were, the 2023 draft is shaping up to be a much better year for the Gators in the draft.
As usual, guys will play themselves into and out of the draft picture during the 2022 season, but here are 10 Gators who would have a chance at being selected as of now. Players are listed in no particular order.
1. Quarterback Anthony Richardson
Fox Sports analyst Bruce Feldman mentioned Richardson as someone that NFL front offices are watching closely to see if he blows up into a top prospect heading into the 2023 draft.
That’s a lot of hype for a guy who’s made one career start, and that one start was an absolute trainwreck.
There’s a lot to like from a physical standpoint. He has the size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds), arm strength and athleticism that everybody covets, and he’s also a very instinctual player.
He’s displayed an ability to make breathtaking plays in spurts, but becoming more consistent as a passer is the next step in his development. His decision-making looked much better in the spring game, but who knows how a glorified practice will translate to an SEC game?
If Richardson cuts down on the turnovers and stays healthy, he could play himself into Heisman Trophy and first-round pick contention.
2. Wide Receiver Justin Shorter
Shorter is big (6-foot-5, 228 pounds), physical and has good speed for a receiver that size. When he’s at his best, he’s almost uncoverable because of the height difference between him and most defensive backs and his ability to high-point the ball.
However, his production at UF hasn’t matched that potential yet. He played third fiddle to Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney in 2020, catching 25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. He made 12 starts in 2021 and had a decent year with 41 receptions for 550 yards and three scores.
Those numbers probably would’ve gotten him drafted in the later rounds this year, but he opted to come back to college.
Better quarterback play is part of the equation for Shorter, but he also needs to do a better job of creating separation at the top of his routes. It seemed like every ball thrown his way last year was tightly contested.
If he improves his route-running this season, he could sneak into the second day of the 2023 draft.
3. Offensive Lineman Richard Gouraige
Gouraige has been one of the Gators’ most consistent linemen over the last three years, and he’s entering his second season as the starting left tackle.
A former defensive lineman and basketball player in high school, he moves his feet well, which allows him to stay in front of speedy edge rushers and rarely get blown by. He’s also strong enough to be an effective run blocker.
He played left guard during his first two years on campus, which will give him increased value in the eyes of scouts.
If he turns in another solid season this fall, he’ll get drafted, probably in the middle rounds.
4. Offensive Lineman O’Cyrus Torrence
Torrence being on this list is based off of projection. He was a two-time All-Sun Belt performer at Louisiana who is showing up on some of the experts’ early preseason All-America lists.
Still, you never know how someone is going to handle the transition to a higher level of football.
If the spring is any indication, Torrence will fit in just fine at UF. He exited the spring as the starting right guard, and he was one of the most impressive players on the field in the spring game. He’s a massive (6-foot-5, 335 pounds) and tenacious run blocker who also has the athleticism to slide out to right tackle if needed.
He has early round potential.
5. Outside Linebacker Brenton Cox
It’s hard to know what to make of Cox. Is he the guy who made seven sacks in the final four games of the 2021 season or the guy who made just 1 ½ sacks and looked lost against the run at times in the first nine games?
Whether Cox becomes more consistent or not will determine how high he goes in the 2023 draft. If he harasses quarterbacks on a regular basis and looks competent against the run, he could go in the first round. If not, he could slide all the way to the later rounds.
This is a make-or-break year for him.
6. Defensive Tackle Gervon Dexter
Dexter is going to blow people away with how he performs at Pro Day and the NFL Combine if he’s invited. He’s a ginormous human being with a rare combination of strength and athleticism.
Now he has to get his fundamentals to catch up to his raw ability, which is a focus of his this offseason. If he plays more technically sound this season, he should drastically improve his career stats of 2 ½ sacks and 5 ½ tackles-for-loss.
If that happens, he’s another potential first-rounder. If not, he’ll be back at UF for his senior season.
7. Linebacker Ventrell Miller
He won’t be a high draft pick, but he might be the safest bet to get drafted on the roster. He’s as steady as they come as a run stopper, and he’s made 166 career tackles. He’s also a threat as a blitzer, as he’s made 7 ½ sacks in his career.
Perhaps his best attribute is his ability to communicate and get everybody around him on the same page. The leadership void was evident after he suffered a season-ending arm injury in week two last year.
He’s not super quick, and he can be a liability in coverage at times, but there’s still a demand for fundamentally sound middle linebackers in the NFL.
Barring another medical setback, it would be a shock to see Miller do something to hurt his draft stock this season. You can safely predict him to go on day three.
8. Linebacker Amari Burney
Burney is an enigma. He has the tools that you look for in a modern SEC linebacker. He’s big, strong, fast and has a strong coverage background as a high school defensive back. And yet, the results have been uneven at best in his four years at Florida.
Burney has underachieved during his career. He’s looked lost far too many times for an older player, taking poor angles against the run and getting beat too easily through the air. His best season statistically came in 2020 when he made 52 tackles, two sacks and three pass breakups.
If he plays more consistently this season, NFL teams will likely view him as a jack-of-all-trades type of player that they can move around the field and use in different ways.
Right now, he’s probably on the outside looking in as far as the draft, but he’ll have a chance to change that.
9. Safety Trey Dean
Dean can play every position in the secondary, which will boost his draft stock, though he’s found a home at safety over the past two years.
He’s a physical player who will make a few bone-jarring hits every season, and he’s also vastly improved in coverage throughout his career. The only real concern with him is tackling. He doesn’t always take the best angles, and wrapping up in the open field has been an issue at times, though he was much better last season. He led the Gators in both tackles (92) and pass breakups (nine) in 2021.
If he improves even further this fall, he should comfortably position himself in the middle rounds.
10. Safety Rashad Torrence
At times, Torrence has looked really good. Like, All-American level good.
He finished third on the team with 87 tackles last year. He amassed a career-high 15 stops against Vanderbilt, with a whopping 13 of them coming in the first half. He became the first Gator in the last 25 years to intercept two passes and recover a fumble in the same game, and he did so against the eventual national champions in Georgia.
He seemed to improve a lot in coverage between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
As is the case with much of the defense, though, he needs to be more consistent. Making the huge impact plays and accomplishing things that haven’t been done in a long time are great, but he needs to make the routine plays on a more regular basis.
If he does that, he could shoot all the way up into the top-3 rounds. As things stand now, he’s probably a late round pick or an undrafted player.