Earlier this week, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson became the first Florida underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft. There certainly will be others doing the same in the coming days and weeks.
There appear to be at least two other locks for leaving early, and others who could be leaning that way.
Here’s a look at the UF juniors who will have a decision to make between now and the Jan. 14 deadline to declare for the draft:
Jachai Polite, Defensive end/outside linebacker
Reason for leaving: He’s coming off a breakout season in which he led the Gators in sacks (11) and tackles for losses (16) and some draft analysts are projecting him as a first-round pick, maybe even going in the top 10.
Reason for staying: There really isn’t a good one, other than maybe wanting to get a little bigger and stronger with another year under UF’s Director of Football Strength & Conditioning Nick Savage.
Chances he leaves: 100 percent.
Jordan Scarlett, Running back
Reason for leaving: After missing the 2017 season, Scarlett rushed for 717 yards and four touchdowns this season sharing reps with Lamical Perine and true freshman Dameon Pierce. He showed that he’s physically ready for the next level, and with Scarlett likely sharing carries again in 2019, it’s unlikely his draft status would improve significantly if he returns.
Reason for staying: Just like Polite, it’s hard to come up with one for Scarlett. Maybe to try and become a dominant back and possibly play for a championship.
Chances he leaves: 99.9 percent.
Lamical Perine, Running back
Reason for leaving: He’s had a strong junior season, emerging as UF’s leading rusher. He’s rushed for 750 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards a carry. He also showed the NFL coaches and scouts that he’s become a complete back, a guy who can stay on the field in all situations with his ability to protect and catch passes out of the backfield.
Reason for staying: With the likely departure of Scarlett, Perine would have the chance to be the No. 1 back and gain more reps, giving him an opportunity to improve his draft status. Another year under Savage would make him NFL ready physically.
Chances he leaves: 50 percent.
Jawaan Taylor, Offensive tackle
Reason for leaving: He quietly had a breakout season at right tackle, one that has caught the attention of NFL coaches and scouts. His arrow is clearly pointing up with the pros.
Reason for staying: As a true junior, Taylor is still developing physically and would benefit from another year in UF’s strength and conditioning program. One of only two returning starters up front, he would be one of the leaders on the offensive line.
Chances he leaves: 50 percent.
Jabari Zuniga, Defensive line
Reason for leaving: Like Polite, he’s had a breakout junior season, recording 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He’s been dominant in the second half of the season and is physically ready for the NFL.
Reason for staying: He showed considerable improvement between his sophomore and junior season. If he does the same as his senior season, his draft stock likely would be considerably higher than it is now.
Chance he leaves: 50 percent.
Van Jefferson, Wide receiver
Reason for leaving: He’s a polished receiver who runs excellent routes and has sure hands. Since an early age, he’s been getting NFL-like coaching from father, former NFL standout wide receiver Shawn Jefferson, who is an assistant coach for the Miami Dolphins. So, he may be ready to take the next step.
Reason for staying: He led the Gators in receiving, but had only 31 catches for 439 yards and six touchdowns. So, he did not have the kind of breakout season many were expecting. He could if he returns.
Chances he leaves: 45 percent.
David Reese, Linebacker
Reason for leaving: He plays with great instincts and is considered one of the best run-stopping linebackers in the SEC. His consistent production has gotten him noticed by NFL coaches and scouts.
Reason for staying: He probably needs another year to get physically ready for the NFL. Another year would also help him to continue his ongoing progress in pass coverage.
Chances he leaves: 15 percent.
Vosean Joseph, Linebacker
Reason for leaving: Fast and physical, he led the Gators in tackles this season with 87 and may feel it’s time to take the next step in his career.
Reason for staying: His consistency improved in 2018, but he still has a long way to go in that area. A second year in Todd Grantham’s attacking defense likely would improve his draft status.
Chances he leaves: 10 percent.
Between now and the Jan. 14 deadline, the Gators could lose two, three maybe even four more juniors to the draft, which will have an impact on the 2019 recruiting class.
With the departure of Gardner-Johnson, the Gators currently have 68 scholarship players on their roster, 17 below the 85 limit. UF currently has verbal commitments from 16 prospects.
The ultimate size of the recruiting class will be determined by how many juniors leave and what other players decide to transfer.