Every year, the Florida Gators produce some of the most anticipated prospects for the NFL Draft. It's a school with a pronounced football tradition, playing in some of the biggest SEC games annually, and laying claim to a host of great NFL players who have come through their ranks. There are a ton of former Gators in the league right now, and as always, it's a mixed bag. Some were able to find instant success, and others have flopped completely. For some, it was because of the system they were in, and others simply failed or succeeded on their own merits alone.
As has been proven time and time again, the NFL is a cutthroat league that is difficult to excel in, even for players coming from the top college programs in the country. The former Florida players now in the league are a testament to that fact, and their results are all over the board. Let's see which ones pass the test in the NFL, and which ones peaked in the college game. There are plenty of familiar names on both sides of the aisle.
Ranked below are the 8 best and 7 worst Florida Gators currently in the NFL.
15 Vernon Hargreaves (Best)
One of the most coveted cornerbacks in the 2016 draft, Hargreaves had a very solid rookie season in Tampa Bay. He's found himself as one of the core pieces to rebuild the Buccaneers' defense, and expects to take another big step forward in his second season in 2017. He was forced into a starting role as a rookie--not an ideal situation--and was able to make the most of it overall.
Hargreaves proved his worth while with the Gators, and it's only fair to assume that his interception totals will increase as he gets more experience in the NFL. He's one of the best young corners in the league, and should be a high-quality player for a long time. So far, definitely a success.
14 Jaylen Watkins (Worst)
While he's played both cornerback and safety during his time in the NFL, Watkins has been a pretty big disappointment overall. He was taken in the fourth round by the Eagles in 2014, and he's while he's still on the roster as a depth safety, his play hasn't exactly been stellar when he's been on the field. Watkins is pretty much the definition of a filler body in the secondary, and that's not meeting the high standard for Gators defensive backs.
He'll likely continue playing in the league as a depth player, but beyond that, his career is pretty much a wash. Watkins is average at best, and is unlikely to make a big impact heading into his fourth season in the pros.
13 Maurkice Pouncey (Best)
Pouncey has lived up to the hype of being a first round selection by the Steelers. He's truly been one of the best centers in the league, and one of the best offensive linemen as a whole. Combining proven durability with high-quality play, he's unquestionably one of the most valuable players for Pittsburgh, turning in All-Pro and Pro Bowl seasons seemingly every year. That's impressive at any position, but at a position as physical as center, it's almost remarkable.
There's little reason to think that he won't keep playing up to this standard, as he's definitely the most successful offensive lineman to come out of Florida in the league right now. When it's all said and done, Pouncey could earn himself a Hall Of Fame bid, and the reputation as one of the best players at his position of all-time.
12 Brandon Spikes (Worst)
The Patriots had high hopes for Spikes when they drafted him in the second round in 2010. He was a prolific linebacker while at Florida, and showed that he could potentially excel at ever facet of the position in the pros. Unfortunately, that never really came to fruition, and he's merely a league-average linebacker at best. The Patriots opted not to sign him to a long-term deal after his rookie deal was up, and now he's barely hanging onto Buffalo's roster.
Spikes will have to do a lot at this point to stay in the NFL with any kind of significant role, and even then, he probably won't ascend to the heights that many thought he could reach coming out of college. A great defensive player for the Gators, but in the NFL, his deficiencies are more pronounced.
11 Keanu Neal (Best)
Coming off a fine rookie season for the Falcons, Neal is living up to both the first round hype that he was drafted on, and the high standard of play for Florida defensive backs. He showed the ability to play both the pass and the run well, and should be taking the next step into becoming an elite player in the 2017 season. At the very least, he'll definitely be the starter at safety for Atlanta, giving him more experience playing for a defense that seems to finally be coming into its own.
Overall, Neal's brief career has been a success so far. He showed himself to be the kind of field general that is valuable on a winning team, and the Falcons will be reaping the benefits of such a player for a long time. Consider him one of the premier up-and-coming safeties in the league right now.
10 Matt Jones (Worst)
The Redskins have been trying to find a feature running back for a few years now, and Jones was a definitive swing and a miss. It's kind of suspect as to why he was drafted in the third round, as his career at Florida wasn't as good as the nation's top runners. Since coming into the league, Jones' production has been middling at best for Washington, and he's already fallen out of favor on the depth chart.
There seems to be little recourse for Jones at this point in his career. His best hope is to try and latch on to another team, and win a significant role in training camp once his time in Washington is up. Still, he just doesn't seem to have the ability to excel as a runner at the NFL level. All in all, definitely not the most inspiring player to wear a Florida jersey over the years.
9 Sharrif Floyd (Best)
While Floyd unfortunately suffered an ill-timed injured season last year, which caused him to miss most regular season games, he's still proven his worth during his other three seasons with the Vikings. He's lived up to the first-round hype to say the least, and is one of the best young defensive tackles in the league. If he can overcome his injury problems in 2017, he should regain his ascending status.
Without question, he's been one of the key pieces to the Vikings dominant defense the last few years. He played three seasons at Florida, but excelled all the way through, improving each year, and that was enough to carry him to the 23rd overall selection in the 2012 draft. Assuming he recovers from the injury sustained in 2016, he'll be one of the most feared defensive linemen in the league.
8 Quinton Dunbar (Worst)
It should come as no surprise to anyone that a converted wide receiver has done nothing to quell the fears that the Redskins have about their secondary problems. It was one of the reasons they gave Josh Norman just a monstrous amount of money, after all. Dunbar has been a spot starter and depth player for Washington the past two seasons, and really struggled in the cornerback role.
It's difficult to expect a player who played wide receiver in college to just excel at corner in the NFL, but Dunbar's done very little to prove that this was a successful experiment. I guess it's not so bad, considering that he went undrafted coming into his rookie season, but he's just been so bad that he deserves mention at least. Dunbar will need to do a lot to proves he belongs in the pros as a corner, whether he's on the Redskins or not.
7 Joe Haden (Best)
On the other hand, Joe Haden is a former-Gator cornerback who has succeeded in the NFL. He's been one of the best overall corners since he came into the league in 2010, and he's actually been one of the only successful first round selections the Browns have made in the past 20 years. He's a certified ballhawk, and that was the case at Florida as well, a big reason why he went at 7th overall in the 2010 draft.
Haden probably has a few peak years left in the league, and may even finish out his entire career in Cleveland, a rarity in this day and age. The Browns may be awful, but there's no denying that Haden has been one of the best players in the league, at a position that has had a ton of elite competition come down the pike in recent years. Definitely an elite NFL player.
6 Jelani Jenkins (Worst)
I suppose you could say that as a fourth round pick, Jenkins' production at outside linebacker has been satisfactory for the Dolphins. He spent two years as a full-time starter, but other than one outlier of a season in 2013, he just hasn't excelled in that role. He was a more dynamic player at Florida, and simply isn't a playmaker at the pro level. It's difficult to say whether Miami will retain Jenkins after his rookie deal is up, but there's really no reason to.
Everything considered, Jenkins' career has been really underwhelming. Again, you could argue that a mid-round pick isn't supposed to be one of the best players on any roster, but Jenkins received starting time, and squandered it with inconsistent play. By most criteria, that means that he just can't get it done, and has to be considered a failure in the NFL.
5 Carlos Dunlap (Best)
Dunlap is consistently overlooked when listing the best pass rushers in the game today. Simply put, he's been an absolute force on the Bengals defensive line for the past seven years, and hasn't slowed down. For a second round pick coming out of Florida, Dunlap has been remarkably productive, and arguably overachieved. It helps that the Bengals have a ton of good defensive players around him, but that alone can't discredit what Dunlap has done.
In some way, it isn't surprising. He was a sack monster at Florida, and that has merely transitioned itself into the NFL game. In any event, Dunlap is one of the best defensive players in the league, and one of the best former-Gators in the league right now. When it's all said and done, he should be considered one of the best pass rushers of his era.
4 Dominique Easley (Worst)
Coming out of Florida, Easley was expected to be one of the best defensive tackles in the 2014 draft. After being selected in the first round by the Patriots, he was a disappointment almost immediately. For his two years in New England, he was never a starter on the depth chart, and also suffered some minor injuries.
After a move to the Rams last season, he's currently trying to revitalize his career, and show why he was such a coveted player coming out of college. Indeed, his numbers with the Gators would have indicated that he would do very well at the NFL level, but that just hasn't been the case at all. There's still time for Easley to make a turnaround, but he could also end up being one of the bigger draft busts in recent memory.
3 Jordan Reed (Best)
It's a shame that Reed has had to deal with so many devastating injuries over the length of his pro career, because when he's on the field, he's indisputably one of the best receiving tight ends in the league. It's arguable that he's even a better producer in the NFL than he was with the Gators, a difficult feat considering the learning curve that goes into the pro game.
Without a doubt, Reed is one of the most successful offensive players to ever come out of Florida. If he can just shake the injury bug, than he'll go down as one of the best tight ends of his era, and be an asset to the Redskins for years to come. He's definitely one of the best young receivers in the game right now, and he might not have even hit his statistical peak yet.
2 Dante Fowler (Worst)
Even though Fowler was one of the most anticipated players in the 2015 draft, he's been a big disappointment so far, considering he was the third overall pick. He was a sack monster at Florida, and proved that he could play the run equally effectively from the defensive end position. After a 2015 season that he missed entirely due to injury as a rookie, Fowler was finally pressed into action last season.
It didn't go the way the Jaguars had planned, and Fowler never even worked his way into a starting role on a consistent basis. That's not a good sign for a player that was taken in the top-5 of any draft. Fowler still has time to improve, but if he continues to falter in the NFL, it will unquestionably be one of the biggest draft busts for a defensive player of all-time. We should know whether Fowler is the real deal or not by the end of 2017, but it's not necessarily looking good.
1 Reggie Nelson (Best)
One of the most consistently underrated players of his era, Nelson is a game-breaker at safety that's only recently been starting to get the credit he deserves. For one, he's played for three different teams (Jaguars, Bengals and Raiders), and has been productive and durable with each of them. That's a testament to his ability to adapt to any situation, a rare trait in the NFL. He can play the run and the pass in elite fashion, and to do so for almost a decade-long career so far is remarkable.
So yes, Nelson is definitely the best overall player to come out of Florida in recent memory. He still plays at a high level, despite being an age where many players decide to retire. A consummate professional and elite player like this could only land at the number one spot on this ranking. It's only fair, and Nelson could potentially wind up being a Hall Of Fame-caliber player when his carer is over.
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