Evaluating decisions facing 5 draft-eligible Florida underclassmen
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With Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan announcing Monday that he will forgo his final season of eligibility and declare for the NFL draft, attention now turns to the Gators’ other draft-eligible underclassmen facing similar decisions.
It’s always a tough balance to weigh between cashing in on a professional future an athlete has been working toward for years, or betting that another season in college would improve their stock.
Former Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis and safety Marcus Maye saw returning for their senior seasons pay off in 2016 as Davis became a first-round draft pick earlier this year while Maye was a high second-round pick.
Conversely, Marcell Harris chose to return for his redshirt senior season after leading Florida in tackles in 2016 and ended up missing the whole fall due to a torn Achilles tendon. He is now facing a similarly tough decision about his future this go-round.
The Gators Mailbag Question of the Day evaluates the best options for the Florida players facing the toughest decisions.
Which draft-eligible Florida players would be best served to leave now and which should return for another season?
Kicker Eddy Pineiro: There’s nothing more Pineiro can do to showcase his ability and upside. He made 17 of 18 field-goal attempts this season, leading the country with a 99.4-percent conversion rate. He made his final 16 field goals, including a 5-for-5 performance that included a pair of 50-yard kicks. And he’s 38 for 43 over his two seasons with the Gators for a program-record success rate of 88.4 percent. He is an NFL-caliber talent who should find his way onto a roster next season.
Left tackle Martez Ivey: Offensive linemen are always coveted commodities and Ivey’s athletic, 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame and the fact that he was a three-year starter in the SEC, garnering accolades along the way, will be enticing for teams even if his long-term upside might be more at guard than tackle. Under different circumstances there would seem to be more value in returning, but Ivey would be learning a new offense with his third different offensive line coach in as many years. He’s probably best to make the jump now.
Defensive end CeCe Jefferson: This depends on the draft grade he receives from the league. Jefferson will get his shot in the NFL, whether it’s this year or next. He’s had some big moments and finished his junior season this fall leading the Gators with 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and tying for second with 6 quarterback hurries. But he could be a really intriguing fit in new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense as a pass-rushing outside linebacker and could boost his stock by staying.
Defensive end Jabari Zuniga: A draft-eligible redshirt sophomore, Zuniga has shown potential but not enough top-end production to truly consider jumping to the NFL. After emerging with a team-best 5 sacks in 2016, he tallied 4 this season with 8 tackles for loss. It’s hard to forecast how he’s going to fit in Florida’s new 3-4 defense, but his stock just doesn’t seem high enough yet to cash in and turn pro.
Safety Marcell Harris: A strong case can be made either way here, and given that Harris participated in Senior Day it’s probably likely he’s played his last snap at Florida. He had a breakout 2016 season with a team-best 73 tackles and 4 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions and a sack before the Achilles injury wiped out his plans for an encore. It stands to reason he could boost his stock by petitioning the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver and return for a healthy season to prove he’s still a dynamic player. But returning would also carry a major risk. If he got hurt again, that would only further cloud his future.
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