Florida football: Which draft-eligible underclassmen will finish their Gators careers Saturday?
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Mostly, everybody just wants to know who is going to be Florida’s coach next season, as the latest Yahoo report Friday was the strongest yet that it might not be Chip Kelly.
If true, that’s sure to leave Gators fans more frustrated than the lines at Best Buy on Black Friday.
Again, only athletic director Scott Stricklin and his team of University Athletic Association officials know where the process stands. Same now as it’s been since Jim McElwain was fired Oct. 29.
Meanwhile, there are other questions about Florida’s 2018 roster worth evaluating as the Gators head into their season finale against rival Florida State on Saturday.
Florida put out its list of 19 players who will be honored before the game as part of senior day.
They are: Duke Dawson, Luke Del Rio, Brian Fallace, Ryan Ferguson, Cristian Garcia, Eddie Giles, DeAndre Goolsby, Marcell Harris, Jacob Mesenger, Brandon Powell, R.J. Raymond, Antonio Riles, Jordan Sherit, Garrett Stephens, Mark Thompson, Cameron Town, Johnny Townsend, Nick Washington and Malik Zaire.
But there also are some other players with decisions to make about their futures.
The latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day is a combination of questions received about the draft-eligible underclassmen:
What are the likely outcomes for the Florida players facing decisions whether to declare for the NFL Draft or return in 2018?
Here’s a guess at the odds of each of the relevant potential draft selection choosing to wrap up their collegiate careers Saturday and pursue professional opportunities:
DT Taven Bryan — 100 percent
Taven Bryan is one Florida player who lived up to the lofty preseason hype, proving to be a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line.
He has 36 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 3 quarterback hurries this season, but as is usually the case with that defensive tackle spot, his value goes beyond the tangible numbers. Like Caleb Brantley before him, Bryan has created the kind of pressure up the middle that sets up teammates for big plays as well.
And with his combination of size, strength and speed, he only will further boost his stock at the NFL Scouting Combine. Expect to hear Bryan’s name called in the early rounds of the draft this spring.
DE CeCe Jefferson — 90 percent
CeCe Jefferson hasn’t turned into quite the defensive star many envisioned when he was recruited, but he’s been a strong contributor for the Gators up front nonetheless.
With 10.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks this season, he’s moved his career totals to 25.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. NFL talent evaluators likely will see further untapped potential when analyzing Jefferson.
He could boost his stock with an even bigger senior season, but it’s more likely he receives an encouraging enough draft grade from the NFL and cashes in on his opportunity.
K Eddy Pineiro — 85 percent
Kickers don’t usually leave early, but it’s hard to imagine Eddy Pineiro’s stock getting any higher than it is right now.
He’s made 16 of 17 field goals this season, including two 50-yard kicks last week, and 28 of his last 29 attempts dating back to last season.
Pineiro, who is in his second year at Florida but officially classified as a redshirt junior, holds the program record for field-goal percentage at 88 percent (37 of 42) and leads the country in that category this season (94.1 percent).
He was coy about his postseason plans while speaking after the game last week, but it’s hard to imagine a better rookie kicker in this draft class. NFL teams always are looking for a cheaper replacement at the specialist positions.
LT Martez Ivey — 75 percent
NFL teams are always searching for help on the offensive line in the draft, too, and Martez Ivey’s size (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) and performance as a three-year starter in the SEC will give him strong enough options to consider making the jump.
The coaching transition could provide further motivation with the potential that Ivey could be getting to know his third offensive line coach in four years if he chooses to return.
Losing Ivey would be a big blow to Florida’s still-thin offensive line, so if there’s one player on this list Florida fans should hope decides to return in 2018, Ivey is it.
DE Jabari Zuniga — 25 percent
Jabari Zuniga should return for his redshirt junior season. He has 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and 6 quarterback hurries in nine games, but he hasn’t really taken the next-level leap many projected after his 5-sack debut last season.
Zuniga is another player with still-untapped potential who could be in line for even more snaps next season without Sherit and Jefferson in the mix. He likely would boost his draft stock by returning, and that remains the most likely outcome.
RB Jordan Scarlett/WR Antonio Callaway
No percentage here as these players are in a different situation. It stands to reason that either by choice or by lack of alternate option both players will move on after their season-long suspensions following allegations of credit card fraud.
There would seem to be a little more potential for Scarlett to return if he is granted reinstatement. He doesn’t carry the same baggage as Callaway, but Florida will have a deep stable of running backs next season (especially whenever Malik Davis returns from injury) and it’s not likely he’d be in line for the same workload he would have enjoyed this fall if not for the suspension. The credit card fraud matter will no doubt ding his draft stock, but Scarlett is still an intriguing enough prospect that he should find an opportunity in the NFL if he decides to pursue it this year.
As for Callaway, it just doesn’t make sense for a new coach to take the public relations hit of giving the talented but troublesome receiver yet another chance at Florida.
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