Daily Football Fix: The best DBs from DBU

Lexington, Ky--092609--Florida's Joe Haden sacks Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline during the first quarter at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday, September 26, 2009. (Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun)

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.


  1. Hard to imagine that it’s been that long since these guys played in the Swamp and terrorized teams at other SEC stadiums. Seems like just yesterday, at least in this Gator’s memory. Thanks, Kevin….

  2. All good picks, but I’m not really sure how you leave 1st round pick Louis Oliver off this list. 11 interceptions in his 4 years at Florida, and one of the hardest hitting DB’s I’ve ever seen.

  3. I’m with Gator-6, time is flying by. But man, it’s time to pick it up Gators! Real Gators Football this year, please! And Reggie Nelson, in today’s college football rule book, would get thrown-out for his ”boo-ya hits” he so often inflicted on opposing receivers.
    One thing I don’t like now, C.T.E.’s or not, the refs let the D.B.s hang ALL OVER THE W.R.’s running their routes, without throwing a flag. But then they throw a flag, and go to video replay for every hard hit by a D.B. in college football today. Way too inconsistent, in my opinion.

    • GI good point. Hard to get separation when you have 190 plus lbs hanging on you. A friend of mine that played in the leather helmet days says hits wouldn’t be as bad if they took away the helmets. Of course he was missing a few teeth, and his nose was crooked.

  4. Wow, I was am trying to get my head to separate the seasons these guys played. Seems the older I get the more compressed the seasons. It seems like some of those guys were just in Orange and Blue and they are already retired form football. Remember when you couldn’t wait to grow up, drivers license, first legal drink, getting into the adult world? Then you wake up one day and go WTF. The time wanting to be older seemed slow and to take for ever. The time after is/has gone by in the blink of an eye.

  5. I would add Steve Tannen to that list. Superb athlete (track star) with great range and size and played with passion. Eleven interceptions in his 3 years (freshman were not eligible) and was always shutting down the best receivers from the opposing team. He absolutely shut down FSU’s great Ron Sellers in 1968 in a great Gator victory. First round draft choice by the New York Jets.

  6. Anyone notice that the DBs at the Rivals challenge were interviewed as to which school is the real DBU. None of them even mentioned Florida, and several of the recruits they interviewed were from the state of Florida. Most mentioned Alabama, LSU, and Ohio State as the real DBU school. They also mentioned all the really good DBs now playing in the NFL. Again, none mentioned Nelson, Neal, Maye, Hargreaves, Wilson, Tabor, Haden, Jenkins, Watkins, Poole, etc. The message about DB success at Florida and in the NFL is obviously not getting out there to recruits.

  7. hey wait a minute, the jury is still out in my mind, weve got to 2 kids that are now sophomores who looked better than joe hadens first year by far (I know joe was learning the position after having been a qb in high school). so just put an asterisk please!
    all of these guys, what they had we need to remember, they always found a way to be in peak mental fighting shape, never flat, always fighting every play. if we can get all of the program like that all of the time, I like the chances.
    I think of nick saban, who is pretty good coaching dbs too. I don’t think saban has some technique of genius, I think that he refuses to let his players lapse into a condition of anything less that full effort. he reads what players have settled and lets just say they learn to resist the condition of not pushing themselves all of the time. that’s why they beat macs teams badly twice, somehow, a couple of receivers didn’t make a play, whatever, the gators slipped into a hole. happened under champ too (except when he had a real coach like dan Quinn pushing everyone). at least one commenter here likes Keanu Neal, who is coached by? you guessed it, Dan Quinn.
    I think coach Mullen has the same trait, he seems nice and all that but I don’t think he lets anyone slide backwards (for you catholics out there its a sin called acedia that you must resist like any other temptation).

    • mveal2206. Henderson played on offense mostly his senior year in high school and was recruited as an athlete as well, and he quickly transitioned into a good CB last year. But he was still raw. I expect he will make even greater strides this year in improving his overall DB game. He did not appear to go 100 percent all the time last year. He will not be on the field long doing any of that with these coaches. And that goes for any player on the Florida roster. Oh, smell the fresh air.