Despite some long waits and anxious moments over the past three days, Florida’s underclassmen were a perfect five-for-five in the NFL draft.
All five juniors who declared for the draft were taken in the draft.
After offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor (Jacksonville Jaguars) and outside linebacker/defensive end Jachai Polite (New York Jets) got the call Friday night (rounds 2-3), three more Gators heard their names called Saturday — defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, linebacker Vosean Joseph and running back Jordan Scarlett.
Gardner-Johnson was selected by the New Orleans Saints with the third pick in the fourth round with the 105 overall selection, while Joseph and Scarlett were scooped up in the fifth round — Joseph by the Buffalo Bills with the 147 overall pick and Scarlett by the Carolina Panthers with the 154 pick.
There were no UF seniors selected, including two former five-star recruits, offensive tackle Martez Ivey and defensive end Cece Jefferson.
As for the underclassmen, five is the UF record for declaring for the NFL draft. And they’ve all made it.
Like Taylor and Polite, the versatile Gardner-Johnson had to wait longer than anticipated to get the call. He was expecting to get drafted in the second or third round Friday, but had to settle for going early in the fourth.
“It’s been a long weekend. Yeah, (I was expecting to go a lot higher),” Gardner-Johnson said. “But it’s all in God’s plan. I’m not worried about it now. I got drafted, my name got called and now it’s time to go out there and put my head down and work.
“I appreciate coach (Sean) Payton and coach AG (secondary coach Aaron Glenn) believing in me, making me their first defensive player taken in the draft. I’m ready to go out there and compete and work.”
Gardner-Johnson has only been to New Orleans once — a few weeks ago to interview with the Saints — and knows only one player on the team (former UF linebacker Alex Anzalone), but he already has a close tie with the man who will be coaching him, Glenn.
Glenn coached Gardner-Johnson at The Opening in Oregon before his senior season at Cocoa High School and the two have remained in touch.
“He coached me out there, and since then he’s always talked to me, making sure I was on track,” Gardner-Johnson said. “My last visit (in New Orleans recently) was with him. I was like, ‘Dang, I could play for you.’ Now, I will be.”
In his three-year career at Florida, Gardner-Johnson showed he could excel at cornerback and both safety positions. He also was stellar on special teams in his freshman and junior seasons.
The Saints secondary is a team strength, led by standout cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple, but there is only one player listed at strong safety on the current depth chart, Vonn Bell.
“I play both safety positions, and on special teams,” Gardner-Johnson said. “I’m just ready to go out there and compete.
“I’ve got to get ready to come to a team that’s one of the best in the NFL, that’s established, whose coaches are established. I’m proud to be a part of it. I’ve got to come in and live up to that standard.”
Gardner-Johnson said he’s looking forward to going against quarterback Drew Brees and one of the NFL’s most potent passing offenses in practice.
“I’ll get real game experience in practice,” he said. “Then when I get to the games, I can just relax and play my game and fit in the defense.”
Less than two hours after Gardner-Johnson went to the Saints, Joseph was drafted by the Bills, who are looking to improve their depth at linebacker.
Joseph played both inside and outside linebacker for the Gators and likely will start out on the outside at the next level.
“Whatever they want me to play, I’ll be up to the challenge to go out there and do what I can to help the team win,” Joseph said. “I’m somebody who’s going to come in and compete at every level, try to give my all and contribute to the team in any way I can. They’re getting someone who really loves the game and wants to be exceptional in everything he does on and off the field.”
Not long after Joseph was drafted, Scarlett got the call from the Panthers. He will have a chance to back up starting running back Christian McCaffrey.
“I can get those tough yards in between the trenches and take some of the wear and tear off his body, because I’m a very physical runner and I like to run downhill,” Scarlett said. “I’m also a great pass protector and run blocker, too.”
In just two seasons, Scarlett rushed for 1,846 yards for the Gators. He missed the 2017 season after getting suspended for credit card fraud.
“It was just a terrible, long year,” Scarlett said. “I had been playing football since I was six or seven years old and never missed a year. So when I had to miss a year due to suspension, it just hurt me and it kind of made me reflect on how much football really meant to me and who I am. Definitely a learning experience.”
NOTE: Senior defensive tackle Khairi Clark has signed an undrafted rookie free agent contract with the Jaguars, he announced on Twitter. … Senior offensive lineman Tyler Jordan has been invited to the Atlanta Falcons rookie minicamp for a tryout. … Jefferson has been invited to a Seattle Seahawks rookie mini-camp next week and might have a chance to sign a free-agent contract. … Offensive guard Fred Johnson signed a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.