Regardless of whose rankings you go by, or which mock draft you look at, the Florida Gators will have their best NFL Draft class in years this April, with multiple first-round picks and could have as many as 10 total selections.
So who will go when? Even though there are important hurdles for these Gators to conquer, such as a good Senior Bowl performance or a good combine, it’s still possible to get a rough projection of where the players should be chosen, assuming they don’t disappoint athletically or do something stupid like fail a drug test.
I’ve summarized and ranked each player’s draft prospects, and listed them below.
1. Joe Haden, CB (Jr, 5’11” 190 lbs)
Haden could possibly be the first Gator taken overall, and probably in the first 10 picks. Haden is the 4th ranked player overall according to Scouts, Inc, and he is widely considered the top cornerback prospect in this year’s draft. An All-American and finalist for the 2009 Thorpe Award, Haden was a freshman starter and has started every game he’s played. A WR recruit out of high school, UF coaches quickly switched him to the defensive side out of necessity, and Haden has increased his abilities every year since. He finished his three-year career with eight interceptions, despite covering the opposition’s best WR and despite the opposing QB’s rarely throwing in his direction. Haden has decent size for an NFL corner, and has all of the athletic ability and intangibles to become a good corner at the next level. If he runs in the low 4.4s as expected for his 40-yard dash time, he will probably be a top-10 draft pick.
2. Carlos Dunlap, DE (Jr, 6’6″ 290 lbs)
When Carlos Dunlap was arrrested in early December for DUI he probably thought–like many others, that it would really hurt him in the 2010 draft. Getting reinstated by Urban Meyer for the Sugar Bowl was a big step to moving past his transgression and getting the focus back on his ability. Because finding players who can succeed at a position like defensive end in the NFL is such a hard task, Dunlap still has a great opportunity to be drafted with a high selection (probably 15th or higher). Dunlap is an All-SEC selection and lead the Gators each of the last two seasons in sacks. For his career, he finishes with 19.5 sacks even though he didn’t play much as a freshman. Dunlap has the size, length (wingspan), and athleticism that NFL teams drool over when considering DEs, and he is usually regarded as the 2nd or 3rd best DE in the draft by most scouts.
3. Brandon Spikes, LB (Sr, 6’3″ 258 lbs)
Although he didn’t improve his draft stock by returning for his senior season, Brandon Spikes is still one of the two best inside linebackers available in 2010 (along with Alabama’s Rolando McClain), and should still be at least a middle to late first round pick. With prototypical LB size and 4.7 speed, Spikes has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. Rarely playing out of position, his football smarts and heady disciplined play might be what separates him from other MLBs, however. Spikes was a two-time All-American, and three-year starter for the Gators.
4. Tim Tebow, QB (Sr, 6’3″ 245 lbs)
Who would think that one of the greatest players in college football history might only be the fourth player selected from his team in the draft? This previous article about Tebow sums up his career highlights, but opinions on his draft prospects vary widely. Depending on who you talk to, Tebow is either the second coming of Steve Young or the second coming of Byron Leftwich. That said, it’s hard to imagine at least one NFL team not being interested enough in him to gamble a first-round selection on him. Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen are both higher rated QBs on most scouts’ boards, but Tebow obviously brings other intangibles and bonuses to whoever drafts him (e.g, increased ticket sales in say the Jacksonville market). Tebow tremendously helped his draft status with his amazing performance in the Sugar Bowl. In my opinion, however, he will still need a good Senior Bowl and good individual workout to solidify himself as a first-round choice. His accuracy isn’t overwhelming and his delivery is very long and slow, but he does have good arm strength and is virtually unstoppable on the ground in short yardage. At worst, Tebow might slip into the middle of the second round.
5. Maurkice Pouncey, C/OG (Jr, 6’5″ 318 lbs)
A three-year starter, Maurkice Pouncey originally started his UF career playing offensive guard his freshman year. He later would switch to center and excel, capping his Gator career with the 2009 Rimington Trophy, given annually to the best center in the nation. He is rated as the first or second center prospect in this draft by scouts, but interior lineman aren’t frequently selected in the first round, meaning Pouncey is likely going to be an early to mid second round choice.
6. Aaron Hernandez, TE (Jr, 6’2″ 250 lbs)
Somewhat undersized for a tight end, Hernandez will likely continue to play as an H-back to utilize his athleticism and receiving skills. A bit reminiscent of a Shannon Sharpe type player, Hernandez continues the tradition of athletic Gator tight ends in the NFL that includes Cornelius Ingram and Ben Troupe. He finishes his career with 111 catches for 1382 yards and 12 TDs, and will likely be a second to late third round selection. Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham and USC’s Anthony McCoy are tight ends that could go before Hernandez. A good combine performance will be critical to keep him in this position, otherwise I could see him slipping a little.
7. Jermaine Cunningham, DE (Sr, 6’3″ 252 lbs)
Cunningham has been a solid player for Florida over his four-year career, and garnered All-SEC honors his senior season. He has been very consistent over his three years as a starter, tallying 18.5 sacks over his career, at least 6 in each season as a starter. Cunningham doesn’t have Dunlap’s speed off the edge or as much power as his teammate, and he is slightly on the small side of NFL DEs, but Cunningham is still a top 10 prospect at his position. This should be enough to guarantee a third or early fourth round draft selection.
8. Riley Cooper, WR (Sr, 6’3″ 215 lbs)
While he has the size that NFL teams look for in wideouts, Riley Cooper has not shown great ability in running routes or in pass catching. He does have good speed, and if he can turn in a 40-yard dash time in the upper 4.4 range he should put himself in a position to be a middle round draft choice. He led the Gators his senior season with 961 yards and 9 TDs receiving, although both numbers could have been much higher if he had surer hands. Riley Cooper seems dedicated to an NFL future, inspite of his MLB contract, and is considered by most scouts to be in the top 10 or 12 at his position. A lot will hinge on his 40 time. Anything above 4.5 will hurt his draft stock, while a low 4.4 time could position him higher than the late 3rd or early 4th round that I see him currently being drafted.
Possible late round selections
Should junior safety Major Wright decide to enter the 2010 draft, he would likely be somewhere around a 5th round selection. He’s not among most scouts top 10 safeties, and safety isn’t a huge position of need for most NFL teams. Another player that might hear his name called even later in the draft is senior linebacker Dustin Doe.
Trying for a free agent contract
Running back / special teams specialist Brandon James, and LB Dustin Doe (if he’s not drafted) will likely get an opportunity to make a roster as an undrafted free agent. Senior WR David Nelson and senior LB Ryan Stamper have likely played their last football games, unless they wish to play in a semi-pro or arena league.
For more info about the 2010 Draft visit the NFL Draft Examiner, Josh Lobdell
Who will be the first Florida Gator drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft?(opinion) When will QB Tim Tebow be drafted?(polls)