Gators go from slim pickings to NFL Draft haul


Linebacker Jon Bostic is one of about nine Gators who could be drafted by NFL teams next year.

Doug Finger/Staff Photographer
Published: Monday, May 14, 2012 at 2:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 14, 2012 at 2:47 p.m.

For the first time in many years, the University of Florida was basically irrelevant in the 2012 NFL Draft.

No Gator was taken on the first day. Or the second.




The first Florida player selected (defensive tackle Jaye Howard) did not hear his name called until the fourth round on Saturday.

The only other Gator drafted was running back Chris Rainey, who went in the fifth round.

It was the first time since 2006 that the Gators didn't have a player drafted in the first round, and the first time since 1996 that UF didn't have a player taken in the first or second round.

The Gators had only two players drafted in 2008, but Derrick Harvey was a first-round pick and wide receiver Andre Caldwell went in the third round.

The 2012 UF draft was the most irrelevant since 1993, when the only two players drafted (defensive backs Lawrence Hatch and Will White) were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds.

The poor draft reflects a disappointing six-loss season.

The Gators may or may not improve their record on the field in 2012. Either way, UF figures to be a much bigger factor in next year's draft, with as many as nine players having a chance to get drafted, including four juniors.

Here's a very early look at the Florida players who could get drafted next spring:

Seniors

Jon Bostic, linebacker — He's been a productive player throughout his career and finally will be playing for the same defensive coordinator for the second year in a row. He has all the physical attributes of an NFL inside linebacker.

Omar Hunter, defensive tackle — In one year under Dan Quinn and Bryant Young, Howard went from an average (and inconsistent) college player to a fourth-round draft pick. With two seasons learning from Quinn and Young, Hunter should be NFL-ready a year from now.

Xavier Nixon, offensive tackle — Nixon struggled with illness and injuries in a disappointing 2011 season, but he appears primed to make a major comeback in 2012. His weight and strength are back up, and he had an excellent spring. A strong senior season could vault him pretty high on someone's draft board.

Lerentee McCray, outside linebacker — One of UF's most tenacious defensive players, McCray will have a chance to emerge as a major playmaker taking over the Buck position for the injured Ronald Powell. The NFL will be watching.

Caleb Sturgis, place-kicker — If the Jacksonville Jaguars can select a punter in the third round, there's a chance someone will use a draft pick on a player who should be one of college football's best field-goal kickers in 2012.

Juniors

Sharrif Floyd, defensive tackle — If he gets to move back inside to tackle, his more natural position, Floyd has a chance to be a dominant player — and dominant defensive tackles in the SEC usually go high (sometimes very high) in the NFL Draft.

Jelani Jenkins, outside linebacker — He's always had the speed of an NFL outside linebacker. Now, he has the size to go with it after adding about 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason. He's a guy who can make plays from sideline to sideline.

Matt Elam, strong safety — He was, arguably, UF's best defensive player last season. He's got the talent and the bloodlines to be a fairly high draft pick if he has a big junior season.

Dominique Easley, defensive tackle/end — By all accounts, he's well on his way to making a full recovery from ACL surgery. He's expected to get some playing time at end this season, where his lightning first step could make him a devastating outside pass rusher. His physical skills and versatility make him a prime pro prospect.

Two more to watch

James Wilson, offensive guard — His knees held up for one of the few times in his UF career and he had an excellent spring. If he stays healthy (yes, it's a big if), he has a chance to catch the attention of the NFL scouts this fall.

Josh Evans, safety — He has great speed for a safety and he really started coming on late last season and in the spring.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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