GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard could have turned pro last year, but the former five-star recruit didn’t like his feedback from the NFL.
He was projected to go in the third or fourth round, so he came back for his senior season and had seemingly improved his draft grade.
Analysts expected Bullard to be an early second-round pick, but he slipped to the third round Friday and was selected by the Chicago Bears with the No. 72 overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft.
At Florida’s Pro Day, Bullard said not being able to declare as a junior motivated him.
“When the NFL comes and tells you you’re not good enough to be what you want to do for the rest of your life, that puts a chip on your shoulder,” Bullard said. “So I used that chip, went in, worked hard and just proved that I’m one of the best D-linemen in the country.
“But the NFL told me to come back, and that’s all that matters. Every team has their opinion, just like this year I had some first-round grades, some second-, maybe third-round grades. It just takes one team to like you.”
There was a lot for the Bears to like about Bullard. In 2015, he was a unanimous first team All-SEC selection and earned first team All-American honors from CBSSports.com and Pro Football Focus.
Bullard led the Gators with 17.5 tackles for loss, the most by a Florida player since Alex Brown had 18 in 1999. He also tied for the team-high in sacks (6.5).
“What is there to say, the guy’s a great player,” UF coach Jim McElwain said of Bullard. “Obviously had a great year for us.”
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound finished his Florida career with 178 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks in 50 games played (36 starts). As a senior, Bullard figured out the 3-technique is his best position for the next level and also developed as a player and person off the field.
“It helped a lot,” Bullard said of his senior season. “I matured as a person. I matured as a football player. I learned different habits. I studied more. Just sometimes it’s must a maturity thing.
“I watched more film this year than ever, and that just helped me. I think it’s something that’s going to help me in the long run. Now I don’t have to do it in the NFL, I know how to do it.”