A rush of emotions will hit senior left tackle Xavier Nixon when he and UF’s 18 other seniors run out of the tunnel in The Swamp for the last time on Saturday, but they may not be the only ones.
Nixon is looking forward to his last hoorah and sees a door opening to a possible professional career, and the NFL may come calling for Florida’s draft-eligible juniors, as well.
While the seniors will have their day on Saturday, a number of juniors on Florida’s roster could be the first to hear their names called at the NFL Draft in April.
Junior defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd headlines a potential Gators draft class that could be the largest since 2010, when the team had nine players selected.
“We are pleased with where [Floyd] is heading, and he is working really hard at his skills to keep improving throughout the year,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “He and a number of other guys are showing that they are getting better and better as the season is going on.”
Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected Floyd as a first-round pick.
Before last season, when UF produced only fourth-round pick Jaye Howard and fifth-round selection Chris Rainey, a Florida player had been selected in the first round for five straight years.
Kiper said Floyd, junior safety Matt Elam and junior tight end Jordan Reed are Florida’s best draft prospects.
Floyd leads the Gators with 10 tackles for loss.
Kiper said Floyd’s ability to fit multiple defensive schemes is a valuable asset for NFL teams.
Elam is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, and Reed tops all Gators pass catchers in receptions and yards.
Floyd entered headlines on Tuesday afternoon when a USA Today article revealed lavish benefits given to Floyd by his adopted father, Kevin Lahn, which exposed a loophole within NCAA rules.
The NCAA suspended Floyd for two games last season for receiving impermissible benefits from Lahn, who had not yet adopted him.
“I knew everything,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Absolutely not ever worried about any eligibility issues. Sharrif is a fine young man.”
Muschamp has been pleased with the character of Elam, a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist safety, who has helped younger defensive backs like sophomore Loucheiz Purifoy develop into playmakers.
Kiper rated Elam as his top strong safety.
CBSSports.com has Elam as its 34th-ranked player overall.
Quinn said Elam has become a more explosive tackler as his career has progressed. Quinn struggles to imagine the defense without the safety next year.
“Hopefully I’m not having that discussion,” Quinn said. “I don’t think I will, but he brings a lot to us in terms of toughness and finishing.”
Florida’s coaching staff has built the team into a stronger unit this season, which the players feel has prepared them for professional football.
As a group, the staff has 33 years of NFL experience.
“All of them played in the NFL and coached in the NFL,” senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. “It helps us out a lot from our standpoint of them being able to let us know this is what it takes to get to the next level and these are the things you need to work on.”
Contact Adam Pincus at [email protected].