NFL potential on display as former players participate in Florida Gators Pro Day

Graham Hall
Gator Sports
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The Florida football program hosted its annual Pro Day in the Gary Condron Family indoor practice facility Monday, giving 15 draft-eligible Gators from the 2021 roster an opportunity to perform in front of either NFL assistant coaches, general managers and scouts from 28 of the league’s 32 teams.

NFL head coaches, who typically have been seen scouring Gainesville for talent at the yearly showcase, were unable to attend due to the spring meetings in Palm Beach

The coaches who did make the trip to Gainesville were witness to, among other performances, the completion of Kaiir Elam’s pre-NFL Draft evaluation. 

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Teams anxious to see Kaiir Elam

Florida Gators defensive back Kaiir Elam does the vertical jump during the University of Florida Pro Day held at the indoor practice facility, in Gainesville, March 28, 2022.

In the building where he blossomed into a potential first-round pick in next month’s NFL Draft, Elam didn’t run the 40-yard dash, nor did he need to. 

Less than a month prior, Elam clocked a 4.39-second 40 at the NFL Combine, good for eighth-fastest in the event amongst draft-eligible cornerbacks. But that was the only event Elam participated in at Indianapolis, so there was a great deal of intrigue when it came to how he would fare in the remaining drills. 

Elam benched 225 pounds 10 times, posted an unofficial 37.5-inch vertical and ran the pro shuttle in 4.21 seconds, measurements that should make it hard for teams with a pick in the first round to pass on him, but shoring up his stock wasn’t Elam’s primary motivation for participating in Pro Day. 

“I just wanted to show my athleticism, but first and foremost I just wanted to be out here with my guys, my brothers, strap it up one last time,” Elam said. “So that's really why I wanted to come out here, and just make sure I motivated those guys and just help them out as much as I could.”

Prior to last season, it was almost a foregone conclusion Elam would depart for the professional level. But newly hired UF coach Billy Napier couldn’t let Elam head out and forgo his senior season of collegiate football without at least attempting to change his mind. It almost worked. 

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“I sat down with my parents after the season, and we discussed it — my pros and cons of staying and going. Obviously, there were more pros and less cons going. But Coach Napier made it hard for me,” Elam said. “He's just telling me I can prove everything I want to if I came back, another year to improve, just taking that next step. I think, and I just feel, like his plan, I feel like could help us win.”

Considering the consensus is that Elam possesses the highest amount of professional potential of those participating, he had the least to prove — the rest of the group had far more to gain from UF's Pro Day.

Zachary Carter coming off good NFL Combine

Defensive lineman Zachary Carter, having performed well at the NFL Combine, pointed to his versatility in multiple schemes and three-down capability as two of the many attributes that should result in him being one of the first Gators drafted after Elam in the final weekend of April.

Carter has already spoken with double-digit teams since completing his UF career, with more interviews already scheduled over the final month of the NFL Draft's assessment process.

“They see me as a puzzle piece to move around. I was talking to the Bills the other day (and) they said they like me at defensive end, first and second down,” he said. “They liked that I can slide inside on pass-rushing downs, third down. That’s what a lot of teams view me as right now.”

It was an affirmation of a message from Carter's former position coach, David Turner. 

“That’s one thing Coach Turner used to tell me, he was like, ‘Zach, just trust me, being flexible is only going to work out for you in the long run,’,” Carter said. “I listened to him.”

Running backs get help from Anthony Richardson

Gators running back Dameon Pierce performs a drill during Pro Day at the indoor practice facility in Gainesville, on Monday, March 28, 2022.

In addition to participating in individual drills, Florida running backs Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce took hand-offs and caught passes out of the backfield from current UF quarterback Anthony Richardson as coaches and scouts offered feedback. 

With his parents seated on the adjacent sideline, Davis, who overcame season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons at Florida, didn’t necessarily wow with his unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.71, though he did show plenty of explosiveness when it came to his leap, posting an unofficial vertical of 39.5 inches. His teammates may have been audibly impressed but they were hardly surprised. 

See the video:RB Malik Davis runs the 40 at Florida Gators Pro Day

“We all knew he was going to jump pretty high. He’s always been doing that,” defensive lineman Daquan Newkirk said of Davis. “He did 40 (inches) before.”

Regardless of his display of athleticism, Davis knew the injury questions were inevitable, from both the media and from those tasked with turning career aspirations into a reality — the NFL's 32 general managers.

"It’s always questions about my injuries. I rehabbed after each injury, hard and every day. I think today that showed," Davis said. "I came out there, and I gave it my all. I think that was good enough.”

Daquan Newkirk: 'It's great being back with my brothers'

Now fully healthy, Newkirk was one of the players with something to prove. The transfer from Auburn benched 225 pounds 29 times, the most among the 15 participants (Rick Wells wasn't present).

Newkirk attests he would have hit 30 if it weren’t for a miscalculation. 

“I asked them, I said ‘let me know when I get to 15’ so I could chunk out five, five, five and then ones. So, Once I got to 15, I chunked out five, I chunked out five, so I got to 25, then I really lost count,” Newkirk said. “So I can’t think ... I’m asking them ‘what am I at, what am I at’, they wouldn’t tell me, so I just tried to keep going. But that pause kind of messed me up.”

He may not be as coveted of a draft prospect as Elam, but Newkirk echoed his former teammate’s sentiment: Monday’s showcase brought out the competitive side.

“We’re all competitive, so we’re all coming out here just wanting to do good. So I think that competitive edge is really what drives us,” Newkirk said. “It was great being back with my brothers for one last time.”

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