NFL DRAFT: No Banner Draft for Gators

Last year was one of the worst NFL drafts ever as far as the Gators were concerned. Florida had just one first-day selection in Channing Crowder who went to the Dolphins in the third round. Things didn't pick up much on day two as Ciatrick Fason was chosen by Minnesota in the fourth round and round seven saw Reynaldo Hill hear his name called by Tennessee.

This weekend will certainly be better for the Gators hoping to launch their pro careers, but maybe not much. I suspect only four Gators will be drafted while another half dozen or so get free agent opportunities.

Chad Jackson Leads the Pack

The only Gator certain to be called on day one is receiver Chad Jackson who seems like a first round lock and could very well be the first receiver chosen. His blazing times at the combine in Indianapolis erased many fears that the solidly built wide-out would not be a big play threat.

Those are legit concerns since Jackson averaged just 10.2 yards per catch last season, and had just two receptions of over 30 yards. But that was more a function of Florida's scheme and the transition into it than Jackson's limitations.

Most projections have Jackson going to the Denver Broncos, but there are other teams like Philadelphia showing interest in acquiring the 6'1" 205 pound speedster. Perhaps the Miami Dolphins, having addressed many concerns in the off-season might try to move into position to grab him. No matter, by the idle of round one, Chad Jackson can start pricing homes.

Dee Webb Looking Like a Bad Move

When cornerback Dee Webb came out for the draft he was immediately pegged as an early-second rounder. After he ran well in Gainesville, some moved him into round one. But further investigation, film study and a little gun play started a Webb slide. Now he's picked by some as a third rounder, others say round four.

Last year Crowder (no interest in school) and Fason (two children) had their reasons for entering the draft that had nothing to do with draft position, but that's not the case with Webb. He left because he was sure he'd be one of the first forty guys chosen and maybe top 30. Instead he may not crack the top 100. There's little doubt he will be exhibit one when the Gator coaches start consulting with this year's very talented group of guys who will have to choose between more time in school and jumping to the next level.

Degory/Mincey Typical NFL Oversights

Sometime later in the day Sunday Mike Degory and Jeremy Mincey will get their names called way too late in the process. To me both guys are typical of the NFL obsession with forty times, the right height and weight and the results of broad jumps and shuttle runs.

These guys don't test great. Degory is not a particularly nimble athlete and Mincey is small for defensive end and a bit slow for a strong side linebacker.

But for crying out loud, they can play!

Mike Degory started 50 games against top flight competition. He earned first or second team All Conference honors in the best football league in America. And he clearly outplayed projected top ten pick Broderick Bunkley in his final regular season game. I know centers generally slide in the draft, but Mike Degory being ranked (by some) as the eighth best center in this draft is lunacy. He's likely to be a fifth-rounder. The New York Jets who have seven picks in the first round rounds would be wise to grab him in the fourth. Maybe it's something about Gator centers. Cal Dixon (1992) and Jeff Mitchell (1997) were also picked in the fifth round.

Jeremy Mincey was just around for two years, but he's convinced me that he can help most NFL teams. While he doesn't have ideal size, his competitive motor lets him battle bigger people play after play. A team with space-eating tackles would find him an ideal fit. I also think he can be a strong side linebacker in a 3-4 front. He had 10.5 tackles for loss and was credit with seven quarterback pressures last season. That shows he has the speed to get to the ball. He'll be a hard guy to cut once he gets into camp.

Others Likely seeking Free Agent Chances

It's very difficult to really project the final two rounds of the draft because teams have such wildly divergent approaches. For some, they simply draft a need position to have an extra body at that spot. Others will choose someone with one great asset (Reynaldo Hill, speed last year) hoping to develop that skill. While still others will make character choices --- picking either a bad apple with significant talent or grabbing a great young man with limited physical skills --- hoping something will pan out.

So it's possible Randy Hand, Lance Butler, Jarvis Herring or Vernell Brown might get a shot in that way. But my guess is Florida gets the top four drafted while the other guys sign somewhere as free agents. Tavares Washington and Todd McCullough will also end up in someone's camp.

Wait Till Next Year

If these last two years have bored you and taken some of the fun out of the NFL draft, I promise you next year will be much more interesting. Ignoring for now the guys who have legit ability to turn pro early, Florida will have its strongest senior class in several years in 2006, making the 2007 a lot more fun from this perspective.

Marcus Thomas, Earl Everett, and Dallas Baker should carry day-one grades as could Chris Leak and Ray McDonald. DeShawn Wynn might be in demand and could Jemalle Cornelius, Reggie Lewis and Eric Wilbur could be as well. That's nine guys right there, though I doubt all will be draft there will certainly be more action for the Gators than we've seen the past two drafts.

Sometime soon we'll evaluate the non-seniors who could also be playing for pay a year from now.

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