The Next NFL Gators?

With eight Gators selected in the first six rounds of the NFL draft this past weekend, we can take a look ahead at what the 2014 draft may have to offer up in terms of Florida Gators. It is a pretty small senior class, but still several players that very well could and should be playing ball beyond their last year on the Florida squad. With third year players eligible, we can look at them too.

There are only 11 seniors on the Florida roster, yet most of them possess some ability that might make them wanted by the NFL in 2014. A junior class with exactly double that number (22) will likely see 2-3 guys jump early to the league as well. Let's get an early take on this group.

For Florida, the bulk of the draft talent in the senior class may very well come from the line of scrimmage. The one at the front of that pack should be defensive lineman Dominique Easley. The 6-2, 290 pounder will likely slide back inside this year, a more natural position for him. But, he did show that he can play as a big defensive end and he has the size to play the 3-technique tackle position. His numbers aren't great and penalties have hurt him in the past, but there is no denying Easley's physical abilities with his strength and quickness on the line of scrimmage. These are the two thins NFL clamor for in linemen. His body of work suggests second day draftee at this point, but his physical ability and a chance to shine as a senior probably projects him in the first two rounds.


The other senior on the line is fellow tackle Damien Jacobs (6-3, 290). He is a bit of an unknown right now, but came on strong in the last two games of the season. His limited playing time right now wouldn't put him in the draft, but he has shown the ability. He is a projected starter right now, so the opportunity is there. He needs to take advantage of it.

On the offensive line there are three veteran guys that have played at least a fair amount of football. Guard Jon Halapio (6-3, 317) has already started two and a half years for Florida along the line. Not blessed with the greatest quickness, Halapio has the strength of an NFL lineman and the durability having started in 27 straight games now. A mid to late round projection is in order for Halapio who with a good senior year could move up.

At center Florida will field the ever elusive three year starter in Jonotthan Harrison (6-3, 303). Harrison has made line calls for two years now and that won't stop in his senior year. He is consistent with his snaps and a bull, with a bit of intelligence as well. I believe Harrison looks like a possible 3-5 round pick at this point.

The thing that Kyle Koehne (6-5, 314) brings to the table is versatility. He has played every spot along the line for Florida and is currently listed as the backup at center. The thing he doesn't bring is consistency enough to start very often at Florida. As a backup with the Gators it is hard to imagine he would get drafted, but a free-agent contract is not out of the question and a possibility at this time. The chance to go pro is a lot about opportunity and that has to be there for Koehne if he is going to take that step.

At the skill positions there are a trio of guys that have skill sets that could put them in the league if in the right place. The first would be H-back Trey Burton (6-2, 224). We have seen Burton do some terrific things as a Gator and show some flash with speed like in the Tennessee game that we didn't know he had. Still, he is a bit of an enigma because he is a kind of a "jack of all trades and master of none". Burton isn't quite fast enough to play tailback in the NFL full time, maybe not big and angry enough to play fullback full time, not tall enough to play tight end full time, but he can be a very nice H-back for a New England or someone like that. He is heady and skilled. Someone in need of a player like him will be willing to go on him in the late rounds in my opinion.


The last two possibilities on offense will have to have breakout years. Receivers Solomon Patton (5-9, 168) is all about speed but lacks the size to be considered draftable right now. Andre Debose (6-0, 187) has all the physical tools, but will he be given the chance to show his skills enough for pro scouts to like him. Both are listed as back-ups to a sophomore on the roster at the moment. Both have the ability and could blow up on special teams and be drafted for that. At this point neither would be considered to be drafted in my opinion.

The Gators have two more possible draft picks as seniors on defense. Linebacker Darrin Kitchens has decent size at 6-2 and 230 pounds and is pretty fast for the position. He brings versatility after playing all three linebacker positions on the field. He has started to pick up his game according to the staff and playing time will be huge for Kitchens this season. Right now he would be considered an undrafted guy, so he needs to cease his opportunity.

The last senior we should talk about for the draft is defensive back Jaylen Watkins. Again, he is another guy that has shown the intelligence to be multiple in the positions he can play on the field. This opens up the opportunities for him to play at the next level. He was second on the team in interceptions and pass break ups in 2012 and has always been an unselfish player at Florida, playing wherever the staff wanted him. He is currently listed as a starting safety but will certainly see time at nickel and cornerback in 2013. He has shown mid-round draft ability in my opinion.


The Junior Class possibilities…

On offense it comes down to two junior players in my opinion and neither seem likely. The best player on offense may very well be fullback Hunter Joyer (5-11, 233). He is everything you are looking for at the position with size, decent speed, power, great blocking ability, good pass catcher, etc. If we were saying this about a tailback, quarterback, receiver, tight end, or even a left tackle this would likely be the farewell tour. Instead, we are talking about a fullback and according to, only three players designated as fullbacks were selected in the entire draft and none before the 4th round. If he left early we would have to put him in those mid to late rounds.


The other option offense is somewhat in the same boat. If you ask in private a lot of the defensive players on the roster, they would tell you that the best offensive lineman on the squad is junior guard Max Garcia (6-4, 307). A couple of issues with Garcia is the Maryland transfer has never played a down of football for Florida and is on somewhat of a learning curve with knowing the offense, playing alongside his teammates, and playing in the SEC. Even if he is the best it is hard to say he will look the best come every Saturday in the fall. The other issue is that offensive guard is another position that is usually drafted later in the draft. 2013 was somewhat of a misnomer in that three were drafted in the first round, still only 13 were drafted in the entire draft.

On defense barring some real surprise it looks like three possibilities, with one less likely and two very likely to jump.

On the less likely side we have to consider junior BUCK/ SAM linebacker Ronald Powell (6-4, 240). Powell will be in his fourth year on campus, but missed the entire season rehabbing from a spring 2012 ACL tear and re-injured the knee during the season while still rehabbing. Powell led the team in sacks as a sophomore in 2011even after a slow start. He came to the Gators in the heralded 2010 class with Easley and 2013 first round picks Matt Elam and Sharrif Floyd. Powell was the most decorated player of them all coming out of high school and the consensus number one high school player in America. The itch to play three years and turn pro has been there for a while, so as unlikely as it is that he will be ready to go pro after all this injury recovery time, he could just as well decide to do it anyway. I couldn't even guess on a draft position at this point with Powell given his injury status.

Finally, in the secondary, Florida will start two junior cornerbacks that have a real chance to be stars in 2013 and turn that into monetary gain for the 2014 draft. Marcus Roberson (6-0, 195) and Loucheiz Purifoy (6-0, 190) are likely the top cornerback tandem in America next year and with Jaylen Watkins in that mix they are certainly the best trio around.

Roberson played a lot as a freshman and took his lumps. He played less than the other two last year yet finished leading the team and third in the conference in pass break ups with 12. He definitely has the size and physical play that teams are looking for at the next level. The belief here is that he personally wants to take that next step as well. He has made a few missteps along the way and doesn't have elite speed. I would put him in the second to third round with a chance to move up with a strong junior season.


Purifoy is the one that will really intrigue pro scouts. He is likely to have more stats this year because he will be on the field more. At the same time, he will playing on offense because of his terrific speed. If you ask the receivers, they will tell you he is the one guy they hate to go against in practice because he can run step for step and harass the receiver the entire time during a route. He is explosive and just has the making of a big time player when he is full developed. He played little in his freshman year until the bowl game against Ohio State where he played tough but got burnt with his aggressive play. That changed in 2012 and he was a menace for opposing offenses and special teams. I think Purifoy is a first or second rounder and could move up high in the first with a terrific junior year and an NFL combine he would likely dominate at.

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