TAMPA, Fla. — Florida’s roster, particularly on the defensive side, is set to lose a significant number of key cogs between graduating seniors and juniors jumping to the NFL draft.
The only question is just how many significant holes the Gators will have to plug.
Speaking Thursday during an Outback Bowl media event at Raymond James Stadium, Florida coach Jim McElwain said none of those juniors have specifically told him yet that they are leaving and he expects some will wait for feedback from the NFL as to their likely draft round before making any final decision.
“No, not yet, but you guys can figure that out,” McElwain said of the expected departures.
Obviously, the Gators will lose four prominent senior defensive players in linebacker Jarrad Davis, safety Marcus Maye, nose tackle Joey Ivie and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr.
Additionally, junior cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor and redshirt junior defensive tackle Caleb Brantley project as high draft picks, and it would be a surprise if they didn’t leave. Meanwhile, redshirt junior linebacker Alex Anzalone and, more on the fringe, junior left tackle David Sharpe, junior nickel Duke Dawson and possibly redshirt junior punter Johnny Townsend may have decisions to make.
“We’ve got all the stuff into the league so they can get all the information to help their choice and what they decide to do. Obviously after the bowl game we’ll sit down and visit,” McElwain said. “We put the book list together of all the different teams and general managers and the assistance that you get from the league to give them a good informed decision, so they’re able to visit with their representatives and their families and see what they think is best for them. We’d love to have them all back.
“Obviously we know they won’t be, and yet, I think Marcus Maye really helped himself (by returning for his senior season) even though he was hurt. He jumped way up on people’s boards and more importantly got that degree he promised his mother. And the same with JD (Jarrad Davis). I think both those guys really helped themselves, like Jonathan Bullard did the year before.”
Whatever the final number is, it’s clear the Gators will have to rebuild their defense after the unit carried the team this season.
Freshman David Reese and redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson showed strong potential at linebacker as Davis and Anzalone both missed extensive time late in the season because of injury.
Freshman Chauncey Gardner projects for a starting job in the secondary next fall, probably at cornerback. Safeties Nick Washington and Marcell Harris should be back as seniors, and Dawson would be a nice veteran piece to the puzzle assuming he stays. Meanwhile, the Gators have enough returning pieces up front to fill in along the defensive line, though Brantley (if he goes) and Ivie would be hard to replace from a production and impact standpoint.
Beyond that, the Gators will need players to develop and develop quickly, depending on exactly how many spots come open.
McElwain said he won’t push those juniors toward one decision or the other, though.
“I’m there for them. We talk to them. I don’t influence them one way or the other. I try to be very honest,” he said. “And yet one of those things, that’s what those reports give. It’s printed out — strengths, weaknesses, a guess to where they might be, and yet no one ever knows because come draft day you don’t know what the heck it’s going to be, right? So it’s one of those deals where for them I’m there to help and help in any way I can.”