As the NFL Draft looms, the Gators looking to make it at the next level are putting forth their best effort.
The pressure is immense when a room full of eyes gaze at a single athlete on the field, every minute detail being scrutinized. Through the stress of the pre-draft process, Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter said it best, every opportunity is a blessing.
Carter was one of 15 UF football players to workout during Pro Day Monday. Representatives from all but a few NFL teams were on site in Gainesville, getting an up-close look at the Gators’ prospects.
The morning began with measurables, as height and weight was recorded from each player. Then, their strength and agility was put to the test.
Cornerback Kaiir Elam, who had just been at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis a few weeks prior, was the prospect no one could look away from. He impressed with a 37.5-inch vertical jump, which would have been good enough to tie him for fourth at the Combine. Elam moved on to record 10 bench-press reps and a 4.21-second time in the 20-yard shuttle.
The Riviera Beach, Florida, product is the lone Gator expected to land in the first round. In the latest mock draft from Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, he has Elam landing with the Pittsburgh Steelers at pick No. 20. The corner's athleticism and ball skills were on full display during individual drills at Pro Day.
Elam was Florida’s lock-down guy on the outside in 2021 and quarterbacks would rarely even think to throw his way. He tallied just one interception and five pass breakups on the season, but it's Elam’s football IQ and elite man-to-man coverage skills that ultimately make him a first-round prospect.
Contrary to common practice, Elam did say Monday that he is entering the draft without an agent, and instead has a team of family and friends supporting him.
“I just rely on them,” Elam said. “They have done right by me my whole life.”
Elam has set up multiple interviews with NFL franchises but opted not to get into the specifics.
Beyond the Gators’ star corner, Carter is the other big name from the Florida defense entering this year's draft.
In 2021, he was second on the team in two categories, totaling eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss. The redshirt senior was a dominant force on the defensive line and a notable veteran presence in the locker room.
On Monday, Carter had a chip on his shoulder. He is currently projected as a day-two pick, but believes he is better.
“I wanted to come out here and show that I’m one of the top defensive linemen in the draft,” Carter said.
The Tampa, Florida, native ran a 5.06-second 40-yard dash, just a hair slower than his effort at the Combine. Carter really started to shine once position-specific drills began. He and his teammates worked with coaches from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals to demonstrate their burst off the line and tackling abilities.
Carter is a big defensive end, standing 6-foot-4-inches and weighing in at 285 pounds. His size mixed with his athleticism makes him a unique prospect and a steal if he does end up in the round two-to-three range.
On the offensive side of things, it was all about the running backs.
Prospects Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis were electrifying as always. Both backs are fresh off seasons with over 500 yards on the ground, an especially impressive task in an offensive that had plenty of mouths to feed.
The tandem combined for 18 touchdowns, but both runners were held back by the split workload. Yet, Pierce always stood above his teammate and still does heading into the draft.
Currently the third-best half back according to PFF, Pierce wields a lethal combination of quickness and power. He showed this off in drills Monday, making quick cuts and accelerating to top speed with ease. The Bainbridge, Georgia, product sits in the same conversation as Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III and Iowa State’s Breece Hall. Depending on team fit, Pierce could realistically be the first running back off the board and shapes up to be a day-two selection.
Pierce’s backfield partner, Davis, doesn’t have the same buzz, but did impress at Pro Day. His 39.5-inch vertical jump and 10.7-inch broad jump caught scouts’ attention early. Davis’ 4.71 second 40-yard dash did leave something to be desired, it would have been the slowest time among running backs at the Combine.
Davis does have opportunities lined up, though, having multiple conversations with NFL teams. He also has a meeting set up with the Dallas Cowboys soon.
Flipping back to the defensive side, defensive lineman Antonio Valentino felt he had a good day Monday. As more of an interior player, Valentino thought he showed that he does have good athleticism.
He ran a 5.28 second 40-yard dash, jumped 29.5 inches in the vertical and bench pressed 25 reps. In position drills Valentino was the standout, alongside Carter. The Columbus, Ohio, native has a workout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scheduled in the upcoming weeks.
Another performance of note came from defensive tackle Daquan Newkirk. He led all participants with 29 reps on the bench press.
The NFL Draft in Las Vegas begins April 28 and will wrap up April 30. The Alligator Sports desk will have updates whenever Gators get selected and all rounds of the draft will be broadcast on ESPN and NFL Network.
Contact Joseph Henry at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.
Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper.