The No. 20 Gators are in the process of preparing for their Jan. 2 Outback Bowl matchup against No. 21 Iowa, but UF’s juniors and redshirt juniors are also preparing for another decision that will need to be made in the coming weeks.
The Gators have 17 players who realistically could opt to forgo their final year of collegiate eligibility and declare early for the NFL Draft. The deadline to do so is Jan. 16.
UF coach Jim McElwain said Thursday that none of the draft-eligible juniors has given him a definitive answer, adding that the players are opting to wait until after the season is over to make their decisions.
“We’d love to have them all back,” McElwain said. “Obviously we know they won’t be.”
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And with that, here’s a look at which UF players will most likely make the jump and test out the NFL waters.
Cornerback Jalen Tabor: A two-time All-Southeastern Conference cornerback and potential All-American this season, Tabor has proven time and time again that he’s ready for the NFL. The junior leads UF with four interceptions this year, has defended 36 passes in his career (nine interceptions, 27 pass breakups) and is being tabbed as a first-round draft pick. His only knock is his off-the-field issues. Tabor was suspended twice during his UF career — once this year for fighting with teammate C’yontai Lewis in practice, and once as a sophomore for a violation of team rules.
Cornerback Quincy Wilson: Like Tabor, Wilson is being projected as a high draft pick, between the late first and early second rounds. Over the last two seasons, the junior and former University School standout has tallied five interceptions and has defended 16 passes overall. He has proven to be a valiant lockdown corner and has the size (6-1, 213 pounds) and speed for his position that would make NFL scouts salivate. Barring an injury or change of heart, Wilson is likely going pro.
Defensive lineman Caleb Brantley: Brantley’s production doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but the redshirt junior had arguably his best season this year. The defensive tackle has paced Florida with 8.5 tackles for loss and is known for disruptive plays at the line of scrimmage, which allows his teammates to make the final stop. He’s projected as ESPN analyst Todd McShay’s 14th-best draft prospect.
Offensive lineman David Sharpe: The 6-6, 357-pound Sharpe would benefit from an extra year of college football. He had some bright spots throughout the season, but was nowhere near consistent enough in his pass blocking to be a high draft pick this year. However, after seeing the Arizona Cardinals select teammate D.J. Humphries, a lineman of comparable size (6-5, 295 pounds) and talent, with the 21st overall pick two years ago, Sharpe might decide to take the gamble and try his luck in the NFL Draft roulette.
Cornerback Duke Dawson: While a long shot, Dawson strung together a three-game stretch against Georgia, Arkansas and South Carolina that gave scouts a glimpse at what he could do at the next level.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone: Anzalone was in the midst of a breakout season (53 tackles, three sacks, six quarterback hurries) before suffering a season-ending arm injury against Arkansas. For the injury-prone redshirt junior, his decision will come down to whether to risk another enduring injury in order to put more production on tape for NFL scouts.
THE REST OF THE GROUP
Whether it was a lack of playing time, inconsistent performances, injuries or a chance for more playing time next season, the following group of juniors is likely to return to school for their final year:
▪ Cornerback Joseph Putu
▪ Defensive lineman Jordan Sherit
▪ Offensive lineman Cam Dillard
▪ Punter Johnny Townsend
▪ Running back Mark Thompson
▪ Safeties Nick Washington and Marcell Harris
▪ Tight end DeAndre Goolsby
▪ Wide receivers Brandon Powell, CJ Worton and Dre Massey