Projecting Gators in NFL draft


Former Florida defender Dominique Easley runs drills during a workout on Florida Field with various NFL scouts on April 17 ahead of the NFL Draft.

Rob C. Witzel/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at 5:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at 5:07 p.m.

Barring a late surprise Thursday night, the first round of the NFL draft figures to be quiet and uneventful for Florida, a school that has been a major player in round one over the past several years.

Facts

Projecting Gators in the NFL draft

Dominique Easley - DT - 2nd or 3rd round

Marcus Roberson - CB - 2nd or 3rd round

Loucheiz Purifoy - CB - 3rd or 4th round

Jaylen Watkins - CB - 3rd or 4th round

Trey Burton - WR - 5th or 6th round

Ronald Powell - OLB/DE - 5th or 6th round

Jon Halapio - OG - 5th or 6th round

Jon Harrison - C - 6th or 7th round

Solomon Patton - WR - 6th or 7th round

Damien Jacobs - DT - 7th round or free agent

No Gators are expected to hear their name called in the first round Thursday, although there has been recent speculation that defensive tackle Dominique Easley, still recovering from his second ACL surgery in three years, could be a surprise pick late in the round.

If that unexpected twist does not occur, Florida will be shut out in the first round for only the second time in the past eight drafts.

The Gators had two first-round picks a year ago (Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam) — and have had 10 over the past seven years. Dating back to 2007, UF has had a first-round pick in every year except 2012, when the highest Gator pick (defensive tackle Jaye Howard) wasn’t selected until the fourth round.

Easley is considered a first-round talent by many, but with ACL surgery on both his knees, the most recent being seven months ago, teams likely will be reluctant to use a first-round pick on him.

“Dominique Easley probably could have been a second-round pick, maybe even a late first had it not been for the injuries he had at Florida,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said. “I think there’s a number of players unfortunately that got hurt that would have been early-round picks. He’s one of that group. I’d say third- to fourth-round area is where you could consider Easley.”

In a workout for NFL coaches and scouts three weeks ago in The Swamp, Easley showed his explosive quickness and power in drills, and has since passed the medical exams of several teams. Easley said he’s on track to be 100 percent by the time NFL camps open in July.

“I don’t know exactly where he is because I haven’t done the individual workout circuit,” ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Jon Gruden said. “I like him a lot before the injury. For a 4-3 defense, if you’re looking for an under tackle, a pass rusher, a run defender, an all-around inside presence with a good factor grade that can rush the quarterback, read and react, I think Easley is a very good prospect.

“I thought he was certainly a top-50 player in the draft prior to the injury.”

Easley said he would like to be a first-round pick, but that’s not a priority. He just wants an opportunity to get with a team and show what type of player he is once he gets in camp.

“Hopefully (I regain my earlier draft projection), but I’m only worried about what I’m going to do when I get to the team I’m going to be at,” he said. “I don’t really pay any attention to that. I’ve shown that I can move, that I’ve still got the quickness and get-up and the tenacity in everything I do.

“Everybody knows how I play. Everybody has seen my love for the game. Everybody has seen my passion for it.”

Florida coach Will Muschamp certainly has seen it, and he’s been sharing his feelings about Easley with the NFL coaches and scouts over the past few months.

“You want him in your locker room,” Muschamp said. “He’s a really good player, but I think his competitive edge is a huge talent he has, probably his No. 1 talent.

“He’s got a great ceiling. He’s a guy who hasn’t played his best football yet. He’s going to continue to get better and work at the game. He has great passion for the game. He loves competition, he loves playing.”

Most are projecting Easley to get drafted in the second round or early in the third.

While that would lead to an uneventful first round for the Gators on Thursday night, the draft figures to have plenty of Florida flavor over the following two days (and six rounds).

Overall, as many as eight or nine UF players could get drafted.

If Easley is not the first Gator off the board, it could be cornerback Marcus Roberson, who could go late in the second round or early in the third.

The other two UF cornerbacks in the draft — Jaylen Watkins and Loucheiz Purifoy — also could go on the second day (rounds two and three), although some are projecting Purifoy to fall to the fourth round or even later.

Roberson and Purifoy were considered possible high draft picks at one point, but damaged their chances of going in the first two rounds when they recorded the same poor time (4.61 seconds) in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

“Roberson and Purifoy looked like first or second-rounders at one point,” Kiper said. “Then they ran those slow 40s (at the Combine and at UF’s Pro Day) and didn’t test out well. I would say Roberson goes in the third round; Purifoy in the third or fourth round.”

Muschamp said the NFL coaches and scouts know Roberson and Purifoy can play.

“Those guys play a lot faster than their 40 time,” Muschamp said. “A lot of the coaches and scouts commented that they play faster than their times. At the end of the day, they’re going to watch tape. That’s what matters.”

Muschamp said wide receiver Solomon Patton is another Gator who has shown he can play at the next level.

“No question, he’s going to find a role (in the NFL),” Muschamp said. “He can play slot receiver, he can return kicks. He’s one of the best kick cover guys I’ve been around. He’s a guy who is going to make a team.”

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

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