GAINESVILLE -- Each year, Florida, like most major college football teams across the nation, holds a Pro Day for teams to get a good look at its players in advance of the NFL Draft.
This year, all 32 teams had a representative in attendance, and coach Will Muschamp was pleased with the turnout as scouts and coaches descended on Gainesville to get a firsthand look at potential picks such as defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam.
“That’s how a Pro Day is supposed to look at Florida,” he said. “If we continue to do a good job evaluating, recruiting and developing our players, which we will, our Pro Days will continue to look that way.”
That wasn’t the case in 2012, when former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey remarked that he was surprised at the low turnout. What followed in the draft was not a surprise, as UF’s streak of five years with a first-round pick came to a close following a disappointing 7-6 season. The first Florida player off the board in 2012 was defensive tackle Jaye Howard, a fourth-round selection by Seattle.
For the first time since 2006, no former Gator was selected in the first 32 picks, and for the first time since 1993, no former Gator was selected in the first three rounds.
That should change this year. When the eyes of the football nation turn to the NFL Draft on April 25, Florida will again have a presence on the first day as Floyd is projected as a top-10 pick and Elam will be an attractive option late in the first round for teams in need of help in the secondary.
New Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and several other prominent names were in attendance at UF’s Pro Day this year, and Bradley had quite a different message from his predecessor.
“I’m impressed with the number, the amount of guys that have the potential and athleticism to get drafted,” Bradley said.
Most analysts have Floyd being selected as the first defensive tackle chosen and as early as the second overall pick. At 6-3, 297 pounds, Floyd ran the 40-yard dash in 4.92 seconds and recorded a vertical jump of 30 inches and a broad jump of 8-10 at the Combine in February. Those numbers were deemed eye-popping for a man his size, drawing comparisons to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
Sapp was a physical marvel, racking up more than 100 sacks in 13 NFL seasons. While Floyd never put up huge numbers at Florida, Muschamp said he has the game to excel at the next level.
“Turn on the tape. I mean, the guy can anchor, he can play the run, he’s got great initial quickness, he can rush the passer,” Muschamp said. “He’s everything you want for an inside player.”
In a stellar junior season, Floyd recorded 13 tackles for a loss with three sacks and a forced fumble. He also blocked two kicks on special teams. Although Florida got manhandled by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, Floyd was a force in his final collegiate game, racking up five tackles, two sacks and a blocked kick, capping a season in which he was First-Team All-Southeastern Conference and a Sporting News All-American.
Floyd also played multiple positions and techniques for Florida, including both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, increasing his value to general managers seeking a versatile selection that high in the draft.
“He commands respect from opposing offenses,” Jaguars general manager David Caldwell said. “He may not have the so-called sack production, but he disrupts a lot of plays.”
The Dolphins could be a potential suitor for Floyd if he slides a bit from projections or general manager Jeff Ireland trades up. However, should the Dolphins choose to move up in the draft, they would likely move up for a player they covet at a position of bigger need than defensive tackle.
A Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer alum and standout safety who played the role of enforcer on the Gators’ defense, Elam visited the Dolphins facility recently and is also an option for Miami if he slides into the second round.
Beyond Floyd and Elam, who could be gone on the first day of the draft, Florida also has several players who will be coveted on the second and third days of the draft, including linebackers Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray, tight end Jordan Reed, safety Josh Evans, running back Mike Gillislee and offensive tackle Xavier Nixon. Defensive linemen Omar Hunter and Earl Okine will be considered in the later rounds, and offensive lineman James Wilson and running back/tight end Omarius Hines could be taken late.