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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Column: UF’s 2015 secondary was one of best of this century

<p>UF safety Keanu Neal prepares to tackle Derrick Henry during the 2015 Southeastern Conference Championship Game</p>

UF safety Keanu Neal prepares to tackle Derrick Henry during the 2015 Southeastern Conference Championship Game

When Fox Sports’ Peter Schrager likened Keanu Neal to the surefire NFL Hall-of-Fame safety Ed Reed last week, it got me thinking.

Was Neal, the former Gators safety set to lead the Atlanta Falcons defense against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, part of the best college football secondary of the 21st century at Florida?

The answer: Possibly.

UF’s 2015 edition of DBU featured two first-rounders in Neal and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, along with undrafted free agent Brian Poole, who now starts alongside Neal on the Falcons.

But wait, it gets better.

Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor are near locks to be two of the first few corners taken in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft, and safety Marcus Maye could also go in the early rounds.

If all this plays out according to many mock drafts, that would mark four first-rounders and two more NFL-quality defensive backs all on the field at one time in 2015.

That’s more than rare.

That’s almost unheard of.

Except, maybe, if you’re the aforementioned Ed Reed.

Reed was the key piece in Miami’s 2001 secondary that featured five first-rounders (Reed, Antrel Rolle, Sean Taylor, Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph) that went on to win the National Championship that same year.

SB Nation compiled a list of the best secondaries of the 2000s two years ago and ranked that Hurricanes group first — and rightfully so, as the Canes allowed just 9.75 points per game that year.

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If updated now, though, that list would almost have to slide Florida’s 2015 secondary in the No. 2 slot.

Keep in mind, however, I’m basing this all on talent.

Statistically, UF’s secondary was actually a lot better this past season. The Gators were one of just two teams to limit opposing quarterbacks to under 150 yards per game, while they surrendered just north of 180 a game in ’15.

So sure, Tyrann Mathieu (3rd round), Eric Reid (1st) and Morris Claiborne (1st) made LSU’s 2011 defensive backfield pretty special.

And Florida State’s 2013 squad consisting of Jalen Ramsey (1st), Ronald Darby (2nd), LaMarcus Joyner (2nd) and PJ Williams (3rd) was pretty loaded.

Heck, even Florida in 2008 had some pretty darn good DBs in Joe Haden (1st), Janoris Jenkins (2nd) and Major Wright (3rd).

But to feature four first-round talents and more?

Hopefully Gator fans savored that while it lasted, because Florida may never boast a secondary of that caliber again.

Now think of what could have been had UF actually been able to score points.

Patrick Pinak is the online sports editor. His columns appear on Thursdays. Contact him at, or follow him on Twitter @pinakk12.

UF safety Keanu Neal prepares to tackle Derrick Henry during the 2015 Southeastern Conference Championship Game

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