The Swamp is home to to the real DBU, no matter what delirious LSU fans say, but, realistically, the Gators have produced NFL talent at every position over the last few decades. From linebackers (Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis, Brandon Spikes) to defensive linemen (Dante Fowler, Taven Bryan and Carlos Dunlap) and, yes, even quarterbacks like Tim Tebow and Rex Grossman, the orange and blue has been well-represented professionally.
Now we can add another crop of talented Gators to those names. Defensive end Jachai Polite, running back Jordan Scarlett, defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor and linebacker Vosean Joseph have all opted to forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft.
I know what you’re thinking. Florida just went 10-3 under first-year head coach Dan Mullen. UF pounded Michigan in the Peach Bowl and will finish inside the top-10 for the first time in what feels like an eternity. What will UF do without all this talent?
Polite was the Gators’ top edge rusher and havoc creator, as evidenced by his 11 sacks and six forced fumbles. He’s a first-rounder on virtually every mock draft you’ll find.
Gardner-Johnson led UF’s secondary with four interceptions — two for pick-sixes — and vastly improved from last season. He might be taken in the first two rounds.
Everyone else could hear their names called on the first or second day but are viewed by many as Florida’s best at their respective positions. Replacing them might be hard, but UF has the current and incoming talent to replace them.
For example, Jabari Zuniga posted 6.5 sacks and will anchor a Polite-less pass-rushing unit if he decides to return. Running back La’mical Perine split snaps with Scarlett and out-gained him in rushing and receiving yards, so a drop-off seems unlikely. Perine announced he’d be returning for his senior year.
Like every year after losing starters, younger players will have to step up as well. Florida’s secondary will be fine under C.J. Henderson, Marco Wilson, Trey Dean, Brad Stewart and Donovan Stiner. UF posted a top-20 team passing efficiency under them despite losing Duke Dawson and Marcell Harris to the NFL a year ago.
The linebacking corps will also be strengthened by Florida’s current recruiting class, which is quietly on its way to the top-10 under Mullen.
Wide receivers Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain should all be back as well. Cleveland already announced he’d be returning for his senior year in 2019 after a down 2018 campaign. Jefferson may be the closest thing Florida has to another Antonio Callaway, Demarcus Robinson or Percy Harvin.
Assuming the much-improved Feleipe Franks — who threw 15 more touchdowns and two less interceptions than last season — opens the season under center next year with Emory Jones on his heels, the Florida Gators have little to worry about.
As always, trust Dan Mullen.