The 2019 NFL Draft has just ended, but I want to take a moment to look ahead to the 2020 draft.
Last Thursday, I told you about how the relatively low number of projected draft picks on a ten-win team boded well for the 2019 season. If the Gators are going to follow up last year’s ten wins with a similar amount, then there should be a bumper crop of prospects for next year’s draft.
I think there will be, and here’s how I see them shaking out right now.
Locks: Van Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, Jonathan Greenard, David Reese
Jefferson won’t rack up huge numbers because the pass catching ranks are almost overloaded with good options. Still, he’s the most polished and best route runner among that ridiculously deep unit, so he should be drafted.
Zuniga is poised for a monster year. He made the leap a year ago from a guy who dominated bad teams but was quiet against good ones to a consistent top performer. He’d have been drafted if he’d declared this cycle, but by staying in school one more year he might work his way into the first round.
Greenard put up a ridiculous 15.5 tackles for loss in Todd Grantham’s scheme at Louisville 2017, so if he can return to that form before he lost his 2018 season to injury, he’ll easily be drafted too. He’s less of a sack master than Jachai Polite was, which will allow Zuniga to boost his stock some by racking up some sacks of his own.
I don’t think Reese has the speed to be a high round pick, but he’s played a ton of snaps and has been too reliable for too long not to have someone take him at some point. If he can improve his pass defense, I could see him going in about the fifth round or so.
Probables: Freddie Swain, Lamical Perine
Swain was Florida’s best playmaker early on in the year before he got nicked up, and his ability to shine in the return game makes him the best senior receiver prospect after Jefferson. He’s also a fearless blocker, so he should get picked up somewhere if he stays healthy.
It’s hard to gauge running backs anymore. The NFL has been transitioning away from the run for the pass for years now, and it’s not hard to find decent tailbacks for those diminishing roles. Perine’s value as a pass catcher means he may get drafted. If the newfound explosiveness he showed against FSU and Michigan is a real Nick Savage-induced change and not an aberration, he will get drafted.
Maybes: Josh Hammond, Tyrie Cleveland, Adam Shuler
Hammond was able to come up with some big catches, but he doesn’t have the extra things Swain does to set himself apart. He might be taken, but I could also see him ending up an undrafted free agent steal. Cleveland did not distinguish himself last year with a low catch rate. He earned a lot of good reviews in the spring and is taller than Hammond, so he could play himself into the draft. I suspect their stock will suffer from the crowded unit, though.
Shuler has been intermittently good and fine, and he may progress with another year as a tackle after playing end at West Virginia. I’m not sure if he has the physical traits to catch the NFL’s eye where he’s at, though.
Draft Eligible Players
Locks: CJ Henderson, Marco Wilson
Henderson is already being pegged as a first rounder in the way-too-early mock drafts for 2020. If Wilson comes back 100% after his injury and plays as well as we’d expect based on his freshman year, then he will be a high draft pick as well.
Locks when they come out: Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney, Jeremiah Moon
The loaded receiver corps strikes again. Grimes has the size and speed and Toney has the moves to be sure draft picks. I just don’t know if they will get enough touches to declare this year. They might be better served to come back to school and be the clear top receivers for a season.
Moon has the physical traits to play on Sundays and looked good, if a bit raw, last year. He’ll get there, but it may not be this fall.
Probables when they come out: Feleipe Franks, Kyree Campbell, Brad Stewart
Franks has all the physical traits the NFL loves in a quarterback. If he progresses as expected, the pro success of past Mullen-tutored quarterbacks will probably get him a spot on the draft board in the next two years.
Campbell emerged as the best nose tackle last year, and being the best interior lineman on a defense as good as UF’s should get a guy drafted somewhere. Stewart has the highest ceiling of the safeties, so he’ll get drafted if he continues on schedule for someone at his stage of development.
Wait and see: Malik Davis, Stone Forsythe, Brett Heggie, Zachary Carter
With Davis and Heggie, it’s all about being able to get truly healthy. They have the tools to make it in the draft, but they won’t get there if they can’t stay on the field.
Forsythe hasn’t played much, but he’s an enormous human being who’ll play the prized left tackle position. If he has a monster year — a big if — he’s got the physical tools to impress the scouts.
Carter got a lot of buzz in spring practice and might have a breakout season. If he truly has the versatility to play inside and outside without sacrificing speed, the NFL will be all over that. He might take the Jachai Polite route of developing two years and then going pro after one great season.
Add It Up
I have six locks: Jefferson, Zuniga, Greenard, Reese, Henderson, and Wilson. Two more are probables in Swain and Perine. All of them being drafted would put the Gators at eight draft picks, which is what they had following the 2001 and 2012 seasons. They’d only need one more from the maybes and the “when they come out” crowd to tie the nine that UF produced following the 2006 and 2009 seasons.
The 2020 draft Gators will have a later average round taken than those past instances, but that’s still a lot of future pro talent on the roster. It doesn’t even count guys who project to get there among the underclassmen like Kyle Pitts, Trey Dean, and Amari Burney or older players who have the physical tools get drafted if the light really turns on for them (e.g. Gamble, Slaton, Conliffe, Stiner, Houston, Miller).
I am not a pro scout and could have some of this wrong, but nonetheless Florida should have a big presence in the 2020 draft.