Perfect First Round for Florida

It's hard to imagine how the first round of the NFL Draft could have turned out any better for Florida. Three Gators went on day one of the draft, all to teams where they'll have great opportunities to produce.

While Tim Tebow going to Denver will be the national headline story of the day, Joe Haden and Maurkice Pouncey did very well for themselves too. Having three first rounders ties this draft class with 1989's for the most in a single season in school history.

Tebow was the second quarterback chosen, selected by Denver at pick 25 after a series of trades by the Broncos positioning themselves to take him in the latter part of the round before Buffalo or Minnesota did. After relentless criticism that he wasn't a viable NFL quarterback prospect from supposed "draft gurus" Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, Tebow got to celebrate a team coached by a respected offensive mind taking him in the first round. Without even the "they're just trying to sell tickets" excuse to fall back on, Kiper looked like he'd eaten an entire bowl of bad clams as he sat next to Jon Gruden on the ESPN set while the former Bucs coach sang Tebow's praises.

It's hard to understand why some people were so surprised that the Broncos took Tebow. They had met with him twice in the week prior to the draft, and Denver coach Josh McDaniels points out he "stole a lot of Florida's plays" a few years ago and made them part of his offensive scheme. He's confident Tebow can handle playing the quarterback position as a pro.

"What he's been asked to do in terms of reading defenses and progressions and those types of things is similar to what he'll have to do in the National Football League," said McDaniels. "He's been well coached – I have a great deal of respect for Coach Meyer. I have a good relationship with (Meyer), known him for a long time and understand what (Tebow) has had to do and what he's had to learn."

"I'm thankful to Coach McDaniels for having the strength and the voice in me, to choose me and to believe in me," said Tebow. "I'm just thankful for that and obviously I want to.. repay him for what he did for me and believing in me."

Tebow may see time on the field as a situational player early, but will have some time to develop before anyone will expect him to take on a lead role. Kyle Orton is in place as Denver's current starting quarterback, and the Broncos acquired Brady Quinn in a trade during the offseason to potentially compete for the job. In an ironic twist Tebow's first regular season game as a pro will be in his home area, as the Broncos will be visiting Jacksonville for their season opener.

Haden was the first of the three Gators off the board, selected by the Cleveland Browns at the 7th spot. That makes him the highest drafted cornerback in school history. The emotion of the moment showed, as Haden teared up while taking the phone call from the Browns letting him know he was their choice.

"It was just joy, tears of joy, just to finally been able to arrive and know that I'm playing for a team and know where I'm going to be because I just knew it was going to happen," said Haden.

"(Haden)'s a bigger corner that can really play the run. He's got good cover ability, he's a smart kid, and he's tough," said Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert.

Haden may have a chance to start right away with the Browns. According to Cleveland coach Eric Mangini he will compete with recently acquired cornerback Sheldon Brown, but the former Eagle could shift to safety if the team believes Haden is ready to go when the season starts.

It was no secret Pittsburgh was interested in Maurkice Pouncey, and it did not take long for them to make him their selection at the 18th spot of the draft. He's the first center the Steelers have drafted in round one since 1941, but Pittsburgh's Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert explained, "He was that good."

Pouncey's excitement was clear in a conference call with the media after his selection.

"I just like the Steelers so much. All the fans, and the city. That's the team I met with at the combine and I fell in love with it."

Pouncey will begin his NFL career as the Steelers right guard, with them hoping he'll be a starter and eventually move to center.

"He's a finisher, a physical football player. He likes to play the game," said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin.

Round two of the draft begins at 6 this evening, with the third round to follow. The draft concludes with rounds 4-7 on Saturday.

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