The University of Florida football season is almost over, so a bevy of draft-eligible Gators are mulling their future plans.
The No. 19 Gators have as many as nine players considering an early exit to the 2016 NFL Draft, headlined by All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye.
With so many looming decisions, first-year coach Jim McElwain is ready to support his players any way he can.
“It’s exciting when you have players that should be considering that,” he said. “You hope to have those kind of players that have that opportunity.
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“We will assist in any way we can to help them with their decision. We’ll put in whatever we can to see what they come back grade-wise and help them.”
Florida’s surprising 10-3 season helped raise the stock — and visibility — of number of prospects. Hargreaves, recently named a first-team AP All-American, has long been considered a three-year player, but a number of other early entrants could decimate the rest of UF’s dominant defense, too.
“I’ll most likely declare,” Hargreaves said. “It’s not really a secret.”
But who may join the superstar junior is unknown.
The thing I think they don’t understand sometimes is the difference between early rounds and the signing bonuses in the later rounds. It’s all slotted.
Wideout Demarcus Robinson and tailback Kelvin Taylor are considering making the jump, so are Neal, Maye, redshirt junior defensive end Alex McCalister (team-high 6.5 sacks) and others.
It’s a long list, but it doesn’t include standout linebacker Jarrad Davis, who emphatically announced, “I’m coming back. For sure,” following UF’s 29-15 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
“I felt something I never felt before out there in the championship game, and I felt like we can make another run,” said Florida’s second-leading tackler.
McElwain was thrilled with Davis’ decision, saying, “I think we got the best recruit this class could ever have. He’s a special player.”
As are some of Florida’s other players still weighing their options.
McElwain acknowledged the difficulty in the decision-making process for those possibly testing the waters.
Aside from Hargreaves, none of Florida’s draft-eligible prospects are likely to receive first-round grades. And yet, players such as Maye (73 tackles, two INTs, four forced fumbles) and Taylor (985 yards and 13 touchdowns) have seen their stocks rise dramatically this season.
Said McElwain: “I’m a guy that by no means is going to talk them in or out [of a decision]. Everybody is different and has something else going on.
“If they’re in the first round, that’s something you’ve got to look at. The thing I think they don’t understand sometimes is the difference between those early rounds and the signing bonuses in the later rounds. It’s all slotted.”
Last week, players began filling out paperwork to receive feedback from the league, and McElwain used All-American defensive tackle Jon Bullard as an example of how it can pay to return to school.
A year ago, Bullard was viewed as a third-round prospect, but he came back for his senior season and developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the nation, ranking second in the SEC in tackles for loss with 17.5.
Now, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. lists Bullard just outside the first round.
“A guy like Jon, him coming back, he did nothing but strengthen his cause for the next level,” McElwain said. “In some cases, I think its better for them to come back and help their status. But it’s an individual choice, and we’ll do nothing but support and help whatever direction they want to go.”