Unlike his former teammates Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal, Florida’s star defensive lineman Jon Bullard will not attend Thursday’s NFL Draft in Chicago.
“Na,” said Bullard, who’s one of nine ex-Gators awaiting his professional future.
“I’m kind of a late-first, early-second [round] guy, and I don’t want to be that guy sitting there [in the green room].”
But a year ago, Bullard didn’t even have that choice to make.
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In 2014, Bullard was a stalwart on one of the best defenses in the country. The 6-3, 284-pound versatile lineman seriously thought about going pro, but the league’s wary scouts and evaluators told Bullard he wasn’t ready.
“When the NFL comes and tells you that you’re not good enough to be what you want to do for the rest of your life — that puts a chip on your shoulder,” said Bullard, who hopes to become Florida’s fourth-straight defensive line prospect to get drafted in round one since 2013.
“So I used that chip, went in, worked hard and just proved that I’m one of the best defensive linemen in the country.”
He certainly did.
Bullard earned All-American honors after recording 17.5 tackles for loss (third-best in the SEC) and 6.5 sacks in 2015. The senior improved his draft stock by excelling as a blue-collar workhorse and playing through multiple injuries to lead Florida to the conference championship game.
Bullard positioned himself as a fringe first-round prospect despite not possessing ideal size or offering the highest ceiling of some of the other defensive linemen in the draft.
“Last year the NFL told me to come back. That’s all that matters,” Bullard said.
“Every team has their opinion. I’m going to have some first-round grades, some second-round grades, maybe even a third-round grade. But it just takes one team to like you.”
Meanwhile, Hargreaves and Neal will both be in Chicago, as Hargreaves is a consensus first-round pick and is eyeing a potential hometown reunion with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 9 overall.
“That would be amazing,” the former Wharton High standout said.
“My mom would be right down the street.”
The three-time All-American cornerback was considered a surefire Top 10 pick before the draft’s recent blockbuster trades and some nitpicking from scouts and analysts.
Although the former five-star recruit was a ballhawk in college (10 career interceptions, 38 passes defended), many people have raised concerns about the cornerback’s overall size (5-10), speed (4.52) and ability to be a No.1 shutdown guy.
“I don’t think he’s an elite corner,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said.
“I think he’s a No. 2 corner. I don’t think he can be a lockdown corner. I don’t think he’s a guy you want on the best receiver all the time, but I think he’s a good football player.”
Still, Hargreaves remains a safe Day 1 pick, and Neal hopes to join him on stage, too.
The 6-1, 211-pound safety has rocketed up draft boards over the past few months, as teams are intrigued by the hard-hitting safety’s explosiveness (38-inch vertical jump, 4.52 40-yard dash), smarts and star potential.
Longtime NFL evaluator Gil Brandt listed Neal as one of the draft’s 10-most underrated players, and the safety accepted an invite to the draft after so much recent buzz.
“Sitting in front of John Elway and sitting right in front of him and talking ball with him. It’s a dream come true,” Neal said.
“You’ve got this Hall of Famer and you’re sitting right in front of him talking ball just chatting it up. It’s still surreal to me honestly. I’m really humbled and blessed to have this opportunity.”
Vernon Hargreaves III
1 or 2
1 or 2
5 or 6
6 or 7
6 or 7
* All projections via NFL.com