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Friday, July 01, 2022

Former Gators enter the NFL via undrafted free agency

After not being selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, five players signed contracts with teams nonetheless

<p>Florida&#x27;s Antonio Valentino sets up for a play against Tennessee on Sept. 25, 2021. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants.</p>

Florida's Antonio Valentino sets up for a play against Tennessee on Sept. 25, 2021. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants.

The Florida Gators continued their streak of being one of three schools in the common draft era to have a player selected in every NFL Draft as three Gators were selected in the 2022 Draft. 

However, what about those who never heard their name called and never received  “the call?” While the Gators drafted this year will most likely make an immediate impact next season in the NFL, that doesn’t mean those going undrafted can’t become potential starters. 

As the drafted Florida players, cornerback Kaiir Elam, defensive tackle  Zachary Carter and running back Dameon Pierce make their way to the NFL, five others signed as undrafted free agents. 

Both defensive tackles Antonio Valentino and Tyrone Truesdell are headed to the Big Apple to join the New York Giants.

Valentino, a one-year Gator and graduate transfer previously played at Penn State, signed with the Giants. Despite playing only one season at Florida, he contributed a lot to a position the Gators were extremely thin in due to shallow recruiting of the spot in 2018 and 2019, according to 247sports.com. Valentino ended his 2021 season with 23 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and a sack. 

However, what got the attention of New York was Valentino’s mobility at his size of 6’3 and 312 lbs. 

At UF’s Pro Day, he ran a 5.27 in the 40-yard dash, a 7.67 in the 3-cone drill and benched 25 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press. The Giants, who were in the shopping need of a defensive lineman, will most likely use Valentino as a rotational piece. However, the Giants stayed on the campus grounds in Gainesville for another defensive lineman.

Defensive lineman Tyrone Truesdell also signed with New York as an undrafted free agent according to reports from Pro Football Network’s Aron Wilson. Truesdell, another graduate transfer like Valentino, played only one season with the Gators after transferring from Auburn. Truesdell was mostly seen as a backup piece at nose tackle during the 2021 season at Florida behind Valentino, sophomore Gervon Dexter and fellow Auburn graduate transfer Daquan Newkirk. 

With minimal time on the field, Truesdell recorded 12 tackles in 13 games last season. At 6’2, 326 lbs, Truesdell made himself known  at UF’s Pro Day, but injured himself while running the 40-yard dash. Despite playing in this year’s East-West Shrine Bowl, there are still a lot of question marks that follow Truesdell as he makes his way to New York. Like most undrafted free agents, he will likely find a place on the team's practice squad. 

Another former Florida defenseman signed was Jeremiah Moon, Baltimore Ravens. 

Moon used his final year of eligibility at UF, starting in nine games at linebacker, recording a career high 20 solo tackles, 2 sacks and 29 assisted tackles. The Hoover, Alabama, native showed his best work in Florida’s rivalry game against the Georgia Bulldogs last season as he tallied seven solo tackles and one forced fumble. 

The defenseman has battled multiple injuries and successfully switched from edge rusher to linebacker during his time at Florida, finds himself in a great spot to make an impact in the NFL. A linebacker with an ultra-long wingspan with an athletic build of 6’5 and 249 lbs, he can read running backs with no distractions and doesn’t miss many tackles when he’s in position; that’s exactly the type of linebacker the Ravens will need. According to NFL.com, Moon is projected to be an average backup in the NFL or even a regular on special teams. 

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On offense, former Florida running back Malik Davis signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys according to Endurance Management, which is the group that represents him. Davis, who was not invited to this year's NFL Combine, still had plenty to show scouts as he finished a successful career with the Gators with 284 carries, 1,470 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. 

During his first two years at Florida, Davis battled through ankle and knee injuries. It wasn’t until later on that he’d become a regular piece in the orange and blue offense as he appeared in 36 of 37 games between 2019 to 2021. His triumph over his early-career setbacks wasn’t enough to take away the fear of injury from NFL scouts. However, Davis proved his injuries are behind him after a successful pro-day performance. 

“There’s always questions about my injuries but I rehabbed after each injury hard every day,” Davis said after the Gators Pro Day. “I think today that showed.” 

Davis, the 5’10 running back from Tampa, Florida, wowed the NFL scouts and assistant coaches of the 28 NFL teams at the Gators Pro Day with a 10-foot-7 broad jump, an unofficial 4.71 40-yard dash and 10 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds, according to alligatorarmy.com. This landed a Davis future meeting with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys, who already have pro bowler Ezekiel Elliott as their starter at running back, add Davis to a roster deep with running back depth. Davis will battle for a position on this team during training camp and throughout the preseason. 

Former Florida offensive tackle Jean Delance signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent. Delance, a 6’5 307  offensive lineman from Mesquite, Texas, started 12 games last season for the Gators at right tackle, helping the offense stay in the top-5 in rushing all season and top-10 in total offense in six of the seven weeks according to floridagators.com

Being part of an offensive line that only allowed five sacks in the 2021 season will get you a lot of attention from NFL teams. 

After transferring from Texas in 2017, Delance spent only one year as a reserve before becoming a starter for UFfrom 2019-2021 starting all 37 games during that time as a tackle. With multiple years of experience of battling some of the top-level competition in the Southeastern Conference and signs of potential through his athleticism when healthy, Delance has a real chance with the Chicago Bears. 

“I’m athletic, I'm a freaky guy,” Delance said at UF’s Pro Day. “I can get in the box and just play strong wherever it may be. Guard, tackle, I mean I'm trying to get some snaps, I want to be able to play center eventually. So I tell guys that I’m very valuable, you can put me anywhere. I want to be a plug-and play-guy eventually, a rotational player and work myself into a starter.” 

Delance with a mindset of wanting to be able to be versatile and flexible to any situation perhaps is exactly what the Chicago Bears need as the offensive line currently is ranked as the 22nd best offensive line in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.

As NFL teams begin the process of getting back into the groove as the majority of teams will begin training camps starting in late July, rookies will only have a month and a half from today to mentally prepare for NFL life prior to camp. So drafted or undrafted, everyone will start on the same page of their peers. No matter the start to their careers. 

Contact Brandon Hernandez at bhernandez@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @BranH2001

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Brandon Hernandez

Brandon Hernandez is a student at the University of Florida studying journalism. He is a writer for The Alligator and for PlugTalkSports. You can find most of his work on his Twitter (BranH2001) and on his podcast, “The Courtside Podcast,” on Spotify.


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