Florida skill players highlight day three of NFL draft

Florida running back La'Mical Perine should complement Le'Veon Bell in the Jets backfield. He's a bruising back at 5-foot-11 and 216 pounds. Perine had 2,485 career yards rushing, the eighth-most in program history, and 30 touchdowns.. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

 In his four years at Florida, running back Lamical Perine developed into a quiet team leader, a player of few words who always managed to succinctly and firmly get his point across.

 Well, it was more of the same Saturday afternoon, when the New York Jets — team owner Christopher Johnson and head coach Adam Gase — called to let Perine know they were selecting him in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

 Here’s how the conversation went:

 Gase — “We’re about to put this card in. We would like to put your name in. Are you excited to be a Jet?”

 Perine — “Yes, sir.”

 Johnson — “We’re so happy to have you on this team. You’re going to love being a Jet. We can’t wait to see you up here, OK.”

 Perine — “I’m pumped.”

 Gase — “Lamical, you fired up or what?”

 Perine — “Yes, sir, I’m excited, coach.”

 Gase — “We’re pumped we got you, man. I know it’s been a long wait, but enjoy the rest of the day. This thing is over for you. We’ll have you here before you know it.”

 Perine — “I promise you won’t regret it.”

 And just like that, with few words from Perine, the draft process came to a happy end for him — selected by the Jets in the fourth round with the 120th overall pick.

 The payoff delivered for all the work he’s been putting in as a Gator to become a complete running back.

 “I feel like this has just come with hard work and dedication, honestly,” Perine said. “I’ve always been a hard worker in everything I’ve done, and I feel like it just carried over in college. Just me being able to get an offer from Florida carried over to me having an opportunity now.”

 UF coach Dan Mullen responded to Perine’s selection on Twitter, posting the following:  “Congrats @LP_deucedeuce. The @jets are getting a leader on and off the field. Versatile playmaker, built for today’s NFL. Always pushing to get better and improve. Proud of you.”

 Perine was one of three Gators selected Saturday. The others were wide receiver Freddie Swain, who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the sixth round with the 214th overall pick, and wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, selected by the Denver Broncos in the seventh round with the 252 overall pick.

 Overall, the Gators had seven players drafted — Perine, Swain, Cleveland, cornerback CJ Henderson (Jaguars, first round Thursday), wide receiver Van Jefferson (Rams, second round Friday), defensive end Jabari Zuniga (Jets, third round) and rush end/outside linebacker Jonathan Greenard (third round, Texans).

 Despite playing behind an inexperienced and struggling offensive line in his senior season, Perine was still a major factor in the UF offense in 2019, rushing for 676 yards and six touchdowns and catching 40 passes for 262 yards and five touchdowns.

 For his UF career, he rushed for 2,485 yards and 22 touchdowns and caught 72 passes for 674 yards and eight touchdowns.

 Running back was a need for the Jets, and Perine could have an immediate impact backing up veteran starter Le’Veon Bell.

  “This is a powerful runner at 5-10, 216 pounds, ran 4.62 at the Combine,” ESPN draft analyst and former NFL safety Louis Riddick said. “He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and he’s a guy who has real good vision, has good lateral quickness and he’s a guy who can really accelerate to top-end speed very quickly. He had 41 receptions out of the backfield. 

 “He’s a much different style than Le’Veon Bell. He’s more of a bruiser, he’s more of a guy, when he sees the hole, he’s going to hit it. He has long speed. He has the ability to rip off plus 20, plus 30, plus 40-yard runs. He is a good combination of power and speed and again, makes a very formidable punch with Le’Veon Bell, considering the fact he can run it and catch it out of the backfield.”

 Throughout his UF career, Perine showed he could make plays as a runner and a receiver coming out of the backfield. He’s also been sound in pass protection, another important aspect required to be a complete back.

 Perine’s overall game seems to translate well to the NFL.

 “Perine isn’t a flashy runner, but he has a ton of the same traits that you see from consistent, productive NFL runners,” NFL.com analyst Mark Dulgerian said. “Don’t be surprised if he’s one of the longer-lasting backs from this class when we look back years from now.”

 Perine is already familiar with two of his new teammates, who aren’t actually new — Zuniga and former UF cornerback Quincy Wilson, who was traded from the Colts to the Jets on Saturday

 Perine did not have to wait too long before he received the call from the Jets on Saturday.

 It was a different story for Swain, who did not get the call from the Seahawks late in the sixth round, and Cleveland.

 Mullen congratulated Swain on Twitter, posting, “The @Seahawks are getting a playmaker and the ultimate teammate. Keep working hard. Proud of you.”

 Swain is coming off a big senior season in which he had 38 receptions for 517 yards and a team-leading seven touchdown catches. For his career, he had 68 receptions for 996 yards and 12 TDs. He also has value as a punt returner.

 Cleveland was the third UF wide receiver selected, taken by the Broncos with the fourth to the last pick in the draft. It was the first time three Gator wideouts were selected in the same draft since 1978 (Wes Chandler, Terry LeCount and Derrick Gaffney).

 Cleveland had 25 receptions for 351 yards and one touchdown this past season. For his career, he caught 79 passes for 1,271 yards and eight touchdowns.

 “He’s got great talent,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He’s got that size, 4.46 speed, a brilliant athlete. Kind of an underachiever considering the ability he has.

 “(longtime NFL general manager) Bill Polian always said take the athlete, take the talented guy and develop. You have the talent to work with. With Cleveland, that’s what you see there, a ton of ability. Try and get it out of him and he has a chance to make it in the NFL.”

 NOTES: Defensive tackle Adam Shuler indicated on Twitter that he will be signing with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. Punter Tommy Townsend wrote on his social media account, “Proud to announce that I will be joining the Kansas City Chiefs! So excited to be starting the next chapter with the Chiefs organization!” … Wide receiver Josh Hammond is signing with the Jaguars. … Undrafted free agent linebacker David Reese is also expected to sign with a team in the next few days. … The Jets now have six Gators on their roster (the two draft picks this weekend, Wilson, and veterans Brian Poole, Marcus Maye and Jonotthan Harrison).