2021 NFL draft preview: Gators could match school record for most selections

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

Florida hasn’t had any offensive skill players drafted in the first round since 2009, but a pair of Gators could hear their names called Thursday. 

Tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receiver Kadarius Toney are both projected as first-round picks in the 2021 NFL draft, which begins at 8 p.m. Thursday in Cleveland, Ohio. Pitts won’t make it out of the top 10, with Atlanta (No. 4) and Miami (No. 6) considered his most likely destinations, while Toney has a mid-to-late first round grade. 

More:First Kyle Pitts, then what? Where will these five Florida Gators land in this week's NFL draft?

In case you missed it:Whitley: Kyle Trask would be good fit for Tampa Bay Bucs

Draft haul:Florida's Slaton, Wilson have chance at history with former American Heritage teammates

Plenty of Florida Gators draft eligible

Pitts and Toney are two of 14 draft-eligible UF scholarship players, and at least half of them will be selected. The Gators could tie or break the school record for most picks, which is nine from the 2007 and 2010 draft classes. 

“I’m more than happy even to get the invitation to go to the draft,” said Pitts, who will be in attendance. “It’s something that a lot of people didn’t get to do. Being able to get that invitation is kind of special to me. Wherever the chips fall is where they fall. If I do go top five, that would be something crazy for me and my family.”

The Gators have never had a first-round pick at tight end, while Toney is looking to become Florida’s first receiver to get selected in the first round since Percy Harvin. Toney plans to spend draft night with his family. 

“That's who was with me the whole process,” Toney said. “But, draft night to me is just a start to my journey. It's a celebration, but it's just the start of my journey because I'm always hungry. I'm always looking for the next step. So, after that, it’s official. 

“I'm just looking forward to the opportunity that's being presented by any team, whoever takes a chance on me. I'm ready to do whatever they want me to do.” 

Wideout Trevon Grimes is expected to be a mid-round pick, giving the Gators a trio of pass-catchers drafted for the second consecutive year. Their quarterback, Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask, projects as a second- or third-round selection, with Chicago, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Washington showing the most interest.

“My accuracy and ball placement and just consistency. Anticipation,” Trask said when asked what NFL teams like about him most. “Whenever I play, even if it’s a 50-50 ball, I can make it an 80-20 ball. I can put it where our guys can go make a play on it. Our ability as an offense just to have such a presence with the vertical game and so many vertical routes and still have a solid completion percentage. That’s something that really stands out.

“And just my resiliency, really. All the hurdles that I had to face over the past couple years. Never getting discouraged and just being able to still take advantage of my opportunity when it came is something that they really like.”

Both Pitts and Toney impressed at Florida’s Pro Day with their 40-yard dashes (4.44 and 4.39 seconds, respectively), but cornerback Marco Wilson stole the show with his 4.37 time and a jaw-dropping 43.5 vertical jump. He improved his draft stock with his workout and could be a Day 2 selection like his older brother, former UF cornerback and second-round pick Quincy Wilson. 

“I honestly don’t care about where I get drafted,” Wilson said. “I just know I need a foot in the door for the NFL. I know once I get in the NFL, I can show the ability I have. 

“I know I can start on an NFL team. I know I can make plays. I’m not worried about being CB1. Everybody gets caught up in that. I’m just here to work. I’m just here to elevate my game, elevate my mental approach.” 

How to watch:2021 NFL Draft — all three days of it — on TV, live stream

These Gators looking for a chance

Wilson is one of four UF defensive backs in this year’s draft class, along with safeties Shawn Davis, Brad Stewart and Donovan Stiner. Florida’s other prospects include offensive linemen Stone Forsythe and Brett Heggie, defensive linemen Kyree Campbell, Tedarrell Slaton and Marlon Dunlap and kicker Evan McPherson. 

Davis, Forsythe and Slaton are all included in several mock drafts, with Forsythe moving up OL boards after testing well at Pro Day. 

“I feel like the Pro Day kind of helped me show them what I can do, so we’ll see if it boosted my stock,” he said. “I just know that whatever team takes a chance on me I’ll be one of the best out there.”

NFL draft

Round 1: Today, 8 p.m.

Rounds 2-3: Friday, 7 p.m.

Rounds 4-7: Saturday, noon

Coverage will be available on ESPN, ABC and NFL Network. Click to Gatorsports.com to see were UF players landed