University of Florida

Florida Gators look to continue tradition of feeding NFL Draft’s first round

Dante Fowler Jr. runs through drills during Pro Scout Day at the University of Florida NFL Combine in Gainesville on April 7.
Dante Fowler Jr. runs through drills during Pro Scout Day at the University of Florida NFL Combine in Gainesville on April 7. AP

The Florida Gators haven’t won many games the last several seasons, but the school continues to operate as a first-round factory for the NFL Draft.

The Gators have produced at least one first-round selection in seven of the last eight drafts, and their 11 first-round picks over the last decade is good for fourth nationally.

Next week, Florida appears poised to add another duo to its list.

Hybrid defensive end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries are regarded as sure-fire, first-round talents, and both players will be in Chicago for Day One of the NFL Draft on April 30.

Fowler, a 6-3, 263-pounder with the frame to line up as a 3-4 linebacker or a traditional rush end, is a consensus top-10 pick and projected to be the first pass rusher taken off the board.

NFL Draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr., Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock all consider the explosive athlete one of the best two defensive players in the entire draft, with Kiper calling Fowler “a total freak” with “star potential.”

Fowler wasn’t overly productive at Florida, but he flashed his elite athleticism, versatility and raw talent often enough. He finished his junior season with 15.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks and later showcased his freakish ability at the NFL Combine, running a 4.61 40-yard dash at 265 pounds.

“I’m the No. 1 guy defensively because of how complete I am,” Fowler said, confidently.

“Complete pass rusher, complete linebacker. I can do it all. … I want to be one of the great ones when it’s all said and done.”

Fowler, who has also been praised for his natural leadership skills and infectious personality, is crossing his fingers that Jacksonville will select him No. 3 overall. He wants to stay in his home state and be the first person to hug NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, as quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta will reportedly not attend the draft.

“I’ll feel like I’m the first guy taken in the draft because I’ll go on the stage first,” he said, laughing.

“Whatever pans out, I’m just happy to go there, to be in that environment, to be a part of the first draft in Chicago. It’ll be something special.”

Meanwhile, Humphries ignored advice to return to school, and now the former five-star recruit has skyrocketed up teams’ draft boards. Florida’s former left tackle lacks polish, but at 6-foot-5, 307 pounds, he oozes athleticism and possesses plenty of potential, especially for a draft class with limited high-ceiling linemen.

Humphries has gained roughly 25 pounds since declaring in January, and most importantly, he has maintained his weight thanks to improved dietary habits.

“It’s been an awesome process,” Humphries said.

“An amazing experience. From being told I need to go back to school to being projected in the first round. That was my goal.”

Detroit, Carolina and Denver are all reportedly targeting Humphries, who could be Florida’s first offensive player drafted in Round 1 since the Dolphins selected center Mike Pouncey 15th overall in 2011.

A number of other former Gators hope to hear their names called during the three-day event, too, with tailback Matt Jones, who impressed at UF’s Pro Day in early April, offensive guard Trenton Brown and versatile offensive lineman Max Garcia projected as Day 3 selections.

Former Booker T. Washington star wideout Quinton Dunbar, outside linebacker Neiron Ball, kick returner Andre Debose, offensive tackle Chaz Green and defensive tackle Leon Orr are unlikely to be drafted but stand as priority free agents.

UF’s NFL Draft prospects

Player

Position

Ht., wt.

Projected

Dante Fowler Jr.

DE/LB

6-3, 263

Round 1

D.J. Humphries

OT

6-5, 307

Round 1

Max Garcia

OL

6-4, 309

Rounds 3-6

Matt Jones

RB

6-2, 231

Rounds 5-6

Trenton Brown

OL

6-8, 355

Rounds 6-7

Note: Round projections via NFL.com.

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