This won’t surprise those who were watching the Gators in 2015, but all their top draft-eligible players are likely to be from that outstanding defense. Despite losing a number of stars such as Bullard, Hargreaves and Neal, there are plenty more prospects equally as talented.
THE TOP 5
Jarrad Davis, Sr, LB, #40 – 6ft 1, 234 lbs
A senior year like his last, and Davis ought to be a sure thing to be a first round pick in the 2017 draft. His junior season was so good he had to give serious consideration into leaving for the pros a year early. As good as his year was though, it was wise to return, as that was his first season of significant play time, having only started one game in each of the previous two years with the Gators – a second season of experience under his belt will help his stock further. He is an absolute stud of a linebacker though, no question. Davis fell just short of triple digit tackles with 98 plus a forced fumble, as a force against the run, got in the backfield plenty with 11 tackles for loss (TFLs), 3.5 sacks and a further 7 quarterback hurries, and showed his all-round game with production in coverage too with 4 pass break up and an interception. Davis’ game can be summed up in one word: intensity. He is ultra-physical delivering thumping hits, but is also a fantastic athlete with hugely impressive closing speed that sees him fly around the field covering a great range. His game film is just sensational, and for now at least sits at the very top of my pre-season linebacker rankings.
Jalen Tabor, Jr, CB, #31 – 6ft 0, 192 lbs
While the majority of the media attention focused much more on Hargreaves out of the Gators’ cornerbacks, Tabor in fact played just as well in 2015. The big defensive back was targeted a lot early last year as teams looked to stay away from his ex-teammate’s side of the field but they quickly got punished for thinking that was a good idea, as Tabor is an outstanding defender and big-time playmaker in his own right. Tabor was a game changer in coverage totalling 14 pass breakups and 4 interceptions, 2 of which he took back the other way for touchdowns. While overall he is a different sort of player and prospect, there is none-the-less a little bit of Jalen Ramsey about the way he plays, in terms of his fantastic range of coverage he provides around the field with his excellent speed and athleticism, with a long frame and the ability to come up with big plays at key moments as a defensive weapon. His movement around the field is just so easy and fluid, whether it be in his backpedal, running deep or moving forward downfield. He’s not without his negatives. He doesn’t always keep the tightest of coverage, and though his effort in supporting the run is very good, he can get outmuscled and controlled that prevents him from being as good as some in helping out against the run game. Like Davis atop the linebacker board right now, Tabor arguably enters the 2016 season as the top cornerback prospect at this very early stage too.
Caleb Brantley, rJr, DL, #57 – 6ft 2, 314 lbs
Brantley was another who announced his return to Florida rather than entering the draft, but unlike Davis, he added that it was never even a legitimate consideration and he was always going to be staying put. The defensive lineman, who is clearly not lacking in any self-confidence in his abilities, also declared that he believes himself to be the best D-lineman in the country and that it is up to him to prove that, which he is intending to attempt to do in 2016. He might not quite be that, but he certainly has a lot of ability, and a lot to like about his style of play. Brantley doesn’t have ideal length, but has fantastic initial quickness off the snap, followed by aggressive and violent hand use to make himself a real handful to keep in check snap in and snap out. Though his motor is very good and has the potential to be disruptive on any given play, he certainly needs to finish more plays when in position to do so, something right now he doesn’t achieve regularly enough. His final backfield stats of 6.5 TFLs and 3 sacks isn’t too bad, but ought to be a lot higher had he finished the job on a bunch of others that he let slip by. There’s potential for Brantley to put himself in the discussion as one of the top pass rushing interior linemen with a more consistent year, and to provide better evidence to back up his earlier claims.
Marcus Maye, rSr, S, #20 – 5ft 11, 207 lbs
It’s ridiculous just how good the Gators’ secondary was last year – Tabor and Hargreaves at corner, then Keanu Neal and Maye at safety. Maye is the other to return for 2016 after giving consideration to joining the NFL ranks, and is now looking to build on a very promising junior year. Maye flashed some brilliant playmaking at times, including forcing 5 fumbles, and showed all-round ability versus both the run and pass, looking adept in all facets of playing the position. The key for improving his stock is consistency. The flashes of great play are balanced out by some errors as well, with the tendency to sometimes misread the situation and bust a coverage where he should be in position to prevent. His instincts can let him down a little bit occasionally, but hopefully over another year of experience that will show improvement. Though he’s certainly at his best playing safety, he has been seeing some work at both corner and nickel during 2016 spring practices, and the added versatility to cover elsewhere can only be a good thing. Between Tabor and Maye, the Florida Gators will continue to provide the NFL with talented defensive backs.
Bryan Cox Jr., Sr, EDGE, #94 – 6ft 3, 268 lbs
With Bullard and McAllister moving on, the Gators need Cox to make another step up as one of the leaders on the defensive line this coming season. He improved greatly in 2015, starting all but one game and putting up solid all-round numbers including 45 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and a pair of force fumbles. He even made his presence known on the offensive side of the ball too, making some appearances as a lead blocking full back on some short yardage and goal line runs for a bit of added impact. It speaks to two of his good traits on offer, his good athleticism and high motor. Those areas will benefit his prospects as he doesn’t have the ideal build and probably won’t ever be a double digit sack guy. He capable of becoming a solid part of a rotation though at the next level, and could be a day 3 pick-up in the next draft. He has some bloodlines on his side, as the son of former 12-year NFL linebacker Bryan Cox.
OTHER PROSPECTS TO WATCH
Joey Ivie, Sr, DL, #91 – 6ft 3, 295 lbs
It speaks to the strength in depth throughout Florida’s defense that Ivie doesn’t generate much discussion. He did earn 5 starts during 2015 though and has a lot to like about his game. His size is pretty average, but he has solid strength in him and an excellent motor that helps him create some good disruption while being tricky to deal with for opposing offensive linemen. He looks to be aware, smart and reliable, all of which gives him a chance to make a roster once he leaves college. In a limited role, he chipped in with 27 tackles, 4 TFLs, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble last season.
Alex Anzalone, Sr, LB, #34 – 6ft 3, 244 lbs
Injuries have prevented the former 5-star recruit from showing what he can do and limiting his development. He was poised to have his breakout year as a starter in 2015 before a shoulder injury ended his season after two games; perhaps 2016 will finally be his year. He has outstanding physical abilities with his combination of size and speed, and so if Anzalone can stay healthy, he and Davis have the potential to form a fantastic duo in the middle of the Gators’ defense.
Daniel McMillian, Sr, LB, #13 – 6ft 1, 220 lbs
McMillian has been a career backup throughout his time in college, but plays a key role in special teams. Though a decent athlete, he is undersized for the position, and having failed to make much of an impact at this level, he’s a bit of a long shot to suddenly find a way to do so at the NFL level. He contributed 23 tackles, a couple of pass breakups and a forced fumble in limited action on defense last season.
JUNIORS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Quincy Wilson, Jr, CB, #6 – 6ft 1, 209 lbs
Yet more talent at corner, Wilson was in the mix too with 9 starts last season. Though he plays outside, he’s a big defensive back who could offer depth inside at safety as well. Though he rarely makes mistakes, his game is a little too conservative, offering plenty of cushion underneath to prevent getting beat over the top, but in doing so allows some easy completions. He’s not really a game changing playmaker in the way his teammates in the secondary are, though he has come up with 3 picks over the last couple years.
Cameron Dillard, rJr, C, #54 – 6ft 3, 308 lbs
Finally, an offensive player! There’s not a lot to shout about on this side of the ball, something that held back the Gators. Dillard provides some continuity as the anchor in the middle of the line, returning for his second year as a starter after having to wait his turn behind Harrison then Garcia. He’s not much of an athlete, which is exposed when looking for blocks on the second level, but holds up well in pass protection.
David Sharpe, Jr, OT/OG, #78 – 6ft 5, 355 lbs
Also returning at left tackle is the mammoth Sharpe. For over 350 pounds he actually moves really well, and that combination of physical abilities is undoubtedly intriguing for NFL scouts. However, he is technically very poor, with his footwork in particular letting him down regularly. The hands aren’t much better, being fairly easily brushed aside and the overall co-ordination between upper and lower body isn’t great either. He looks like a big project, in more ways than one.
Deandre Goolsby, Jr, TE, #30 – 6ft 4, 243 lbs
With the graduating Jake McGee moving on, Goolsby has a chance to take on a bigger role after some very useful contributions in his first season of production last year. Despite a modest-looking 17 catches and 1 touchdown, those receptions went for over 16 yards on average. He looks a little smaller on film than his listed size, and isn’t much of a blocker despite that being his duty on the majority of snaps played in 2015, so his future is certainly as a receiving tight end.
Brandon Powell, Jr, WR, #4 – 5ft 9, 185 lbs
He may be small but Powell is a very good athlete, with quick-twitch movement that makes him dangerous in space with the ball in his hands. The versatile receiver converted from running back, but still gets some snaps in the backfield as well as in the slot. His best shot for the NFL though could be as a returner on special teams, averaging over 21 yards per return last year.