Florida has earned the name DBU for a reason. Since 2000, the Gators have sent 22 defensive backs to the NFL, with several going on to long, productive careers.
Here’s a look at the five best defensive backs to come out of Florida this century:
1. Joe Haden: Haden played at UF from 2007-09, starting his first game as a true freshman and earning freshman All-America honors in starting 12 games that season. As a sophomore in 2008, Haden added 3 interceptions, including an 88-yard pick returned for a TD, and helped lead UF to its third national title in school history. Haden finished his Florida career with 7 interceptions, earning All-American honors as a junior in 2009, before foregoing his senior year to enter the NFL draft. Haden has had a successful NFL career with 20 career interceptions and two Pro Bowl appearances (2013, 2014) in eight seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.
2. Janoris Jenkins: Yes, Jenkins finished his career at North Alabama. Yes, Jenkins was kicked off the Florida team following his junior year by incoming coach Will Muschamp after multiple arrests and disciplinary issues. But that doesn’t discount what Jenkins accomplished in three years wearing a Gator uniform, beginning with starting as a true freshman in 2008 and teaming with Haden to form the best cornerback duo in college football. Jenkins and Haden were the Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin of UF’s defense, helping lead the Gators to a 2008 national title. Jenkins also was a first-team All-SEC corner in 2010 and has gone on to a successful NFL career. In six seasons with the former St. Louis Rams and New York Giants, Jenkins has 16 career interceptions and 9 TDs.
3. Reggie Nelson: When Nelson starred at Florida in 2006, the phrase was coined, “two-thirds of the earth is covered by water, the rest is covered by Reggie Nelson.” Nelson was a complete safety in two seasons at Florida, a hard-hitter who could also cover the field sideline-to-sideline. Nelson had six interceptions for the Gators in 2006, including two returned for TDs, earning All-American and first-team All-SEC honors in helping lead Florida to a national title. Nelson is entering his 11th year in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders and has 36 career interceptions.
4. Lito Sheppard: Sheppard was a two-time, All-SEC first team selection (2000 and 2001) and earned first-team All-American honors as a sophomore in 2000. Sheppard had 8 career interceptions in three seasons with the Gators before being taken in the first round of the NFL draft in 2002 by the Philadelphia Eagles. Sheppard went on to play 9 years in the NFL with the Eagles, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders, finishing his career with two Pro Bowl appearances (2004, 2006) and 19 interceptions.
5. Keiwan Ratliff: Ratliff, who played at Florida from 2000-03, still holds school records for interceptions in a season (9) and game (3). A consensus All-American in 2003 and first-team, All-SEC standout in 2002 and 2003, Ratliff was taken in the second round of the NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2004. Ratliff had 5 career interceptions in six NFL seasons with the Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Honorable Mention: Vernon Hargreaves III, Jalen Tabor, Matt Elam, Major Wright, Quincy Wilson.