The No. 10 Florida Gators are just 11 days out of a matchup with the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines in the Peach Bowl. The NFL combine is just 70 days away with the NFL Draft 128 days and several players have all three dates on their mind.
Despite Dan Mullen warning that more than 100 players have been named first rounders in various mock drafts since the 2018 NFL Draft we took a look and there are two potential first rounders on Florida’s roster. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay recently sent out his first mock draft of the season and he had Florida defensive end Jachai Polite as the No. 20 pick overall to the Tennessee Titans.
Two things: The NFL season isn’t over so the draft order isn’t even officially set. Second, Polite has yet to declare for the NFL Draft, although he is expected to. McShay also said that he believes Polite is one of the most underrated players currently in the draft. Polite had 43 tackles with 18 for a loss and 11 sacks, which was sixth best in the country. Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has more than a decade of NFL coaching experience and believes Polite has the potential to be a big time player in the league.
Grantham also has experience with players like Polite that chose to come back to school and watched their draft stock rise. When it comes to the draft it’s not just how good a singular player is but also how many players are coming out at the same position as well as team needs for those positions.
“Great example, I had (UGA LB) Jarvis Jones and Jarvis had 13 and a half sacks for me and he was coming out the same year as Von Miller. We kind of knew he might not be the first outside ‘backer taken, but he would have been a second-round pick,” Grantham recalled. “Because he stayed, and actually ended up with 14 and a half sacks the next year, he ended up being the 17th pick in the draft. So he went from a second-round pick to a middle-of-the-first-round pick. To give you an example, if you’re in the middle of the third round your guarantee number is probably around $800,000. Everybody thinks that’s a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of things it’s really not, because if you’re a middle pick in the first round your guaranteed money is around $12 million. There’s value in working to come back.”
The general sentiment from all of Florida’s coaches as well as NFL scouts is that if you’re a first round pick you should leave school early. Last year the 20th overall pick in the draft signed for $11,933,932 with a $6,749,623 signing bonus. That’s life changing money and would certainly be enough of a reason to leave school early.
Another prospect is Jawaan Taylor. McShay thinks even higher of Taylor than he does Polite. McShay listed Taylor as the No. 10 overall player in the draft and the No. 2 offensive lineman after Ole Miss’ Greg Little.
Taylor has played in all 25 games he’s been at Florida. He’s a 6-5, 328-pound lineman that has played both tackle and guard. Taylor sent in his paperwork to the NFL to get a draft grade and he’s already had talks with offensive line coach John Hevesy about how he would transition to the NFL if he decides to leave this season.
“I think all-around he’s gotten better at his game with his hands, with his feet just learn to bend, learn to bounce and all those things that he needs to learn to do it,” Hevesy said of Taylor. “No one’s perfected anything, so to me it’s just keep getting better in everything he’s doing and find your weaknesses and correct them.”
Taylor’s size and position versatility will be enticing to NFL teams but he’s never played on the left side. Coming back to Florida and getting the opportunity to put some left tackle film together could help his draft stock, but if he’s going to be a first rounder, which McShay is projecting early on, it would be hard to pass that up.
Both players have sent in paperwork but will wait until after Florida’s bowl game to make a final decision. Players have until January 15 to file paperwork to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft.