University of Florida

Jarrad Davis was the heart and soul of Florida’s defense. Now, he’s a first-round draft pick.

Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly (10) is sacked by Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla. Davis is an athletic outside linebacker who needs to be better working his way through traffic to ball carriers. Strong pro day could push him into the first round.
Mississippi quarterback Chad Kelly (10) is sacked by Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Gainesville, Fla. Davis is an athletic outside linebacker who needs to be better working his way through traffic to ball carriers. Strong pro day could push him into the first round. AP

Making it to the NFL has been Jarrad Davis’ dream since he started playing football.

Late Thursday night, that dream became a reality.

Davis became Florida’s 12th first-round pick since 2010 when the Detroit Lions selected him with the 21st overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Davis’ selection marks the fifth straight year a UF player was taken in the first round.

“I never would have really thought I would have been in this place at this point,” Davis said at Florida’s Pro Day on March 28. “I really can only attest it to my parents and god. They really brought me up to be a great person and a hard worker and I’ll never leave anything to chance.”

A former three-star linebacker prospect out of Kingsland, Georgia, Davis played right away for Florida as a freshman and worked his way into the starting lineup as a junior. He has 205 career tackles during his four seasons with the Gators, including 20 for loss.

Davis finished second on the Gators’ defense last season with 60 tackles despite missing four games and was named a finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker.

At 6-1, 238 pounds, Davis is a natural run stopper with the ability to work in pass coverage when needed. He’s able to get into the backfield and brush off blockers with ease and has the instincts to sniff out a play before it’s fully developed.

But beyond the stats, it has been Davis’ grit, his determination, his want-to throughout his career that has pushed him to the level where he has been producing.

He was Florida’s emotional leader for the last two seasons, the one who gave everyone around him. UF head coach Jim McElwain called Davis the “heart and soul” of Florida’s defense. Look no further than Florida’s 24-10 win over Georgia on Oct. 29 as evidence of that.

Two weeks after suffering a left ankle injury against Missouri, Davis stepped off the bus with his teammates at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, hugged his mom Amy before entering the stadium and started at middle linebacker on the opening snap. He finished with a team-high seven tackles, including four in the fourth quarter and and 2.5 total stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also played in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama despite nursing the hurt ankle.

“[It’s] just the warrior mentality,” Davis said. “You got to go out there and just show that you’re still a dog and you’re going to impose your will any chance you get.”

But with the injury keeping him out for four of Florida’s final five games, Davis had to put in work elsewhere during his final season. He served as a pseudo-student coach while limited to the sidelines and polished the mental side of the game when he physically wasn’t able to take the field.

At Florida’s Pro Day, Davis gave scouts one final look at his physical talents. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds, recorded a vertical leap of 38.5 inches and had a standing broad jump of 10 feet, nine inches.

Now, he’s a first-round draft pick.

“You never know when you time is. You can never take anything for granted,” Davis said. “You have to make sure you’re at the top of your game every single day and you don’t get bored, you don’t get complacent with your progress.”

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