Gators in the NFL: Overall Rankings and Guys Livin’ on a Prayer

This weekend, the dream dies for almost 1,200 of the best football players on the planet. NFL teams will cut their rosters down from 90 to 53 through a series of releases and injury moves. Unlike most people who lose their jobs, this news will be on every sports ticker and social media platform for all to see. It’s heart-breaking and gut-wrenching stuff and it happens every year. The life of a professional football player is dangerous and short, and compared to other sports, tragically underpaid as well.

This is my annual look at former Florida Gators in the NFL. The University of Florida was sixth among all colleges and universities with 43 active players in 2018. If you include practice squads, the number jumps to 50. Every single one of them, whether they practiced once or finished with a Super Bowl ring, defied the odds.

As is always the case, some of those guys have played their last snaps in the National Football League. A whole bunch more are hoping to take their first. NFL rosters must be trimmed by Saturday, August 31 at 4:00 pm ET. It’s going to be a tough 48 hours for many. Until then, everyone is Livin’ On A Prayer.

LET’S GET IT STARTED

The slide endured by most former Gators in the draft was as tired as the Black Eyed Peas. In the end, five Gators were drafted but they should all have big chips on their shoulders.

JAWAAN TAYLOR
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Position: OT
Draft: 2nd round, 35th overall
Taylor was the surprise fall in this year’s draft due to lingering knee injury concerns. That knee kept him out of action early in training camp, but he’s healthy now and appears penciled in as the starter at right tackle from day one. He should have a long career as the next great offensive lineman from Florida.

JACHAI POLITE
Team: New York Jets
Position: DE
Draft: 3rd round, 68th overall
The NFL can be fickle. Just take a look at the reports out of New Jersey on Polite. Three weeks ago, he was really coming on after a slow start to training camp, running with the 2s, and looking to be a big part of the rebuilt Gang Green defense. For the past few weeks though, his play has trended down and all the questions about attitude and fire that dogged him before the draft have returned. Some say he’ll even be cut before the season starts. He did little to impress in the preseason finale, but I’d expect him to make the roster and get a chance to prove all his doubters wrong.
UPDATE: The Jets surprisingly cut bait on their third-round draft pick. Not many teams would give up that fast after such an investment. Polite immediately signed with the Seahawks and will join their practice squad. He’ll have to chance to develop under Pete Carroll and with Jadeveon Clowney serving as a mentor.

CHAUNCEY GARDNER-JOHNSON
Team: New Orleans Saints
Position: DB
Draft: 4th round, 105th overall
Another guy who feels like he should have been drafted much earlier. The Saints certainly felt like they got a steal, trading up to draft Gardner-Johnson. Sean Payton has spoken highly of him and he’s in the mix for the slot corner spot in a strong Saints secondary. Payton loves his versatility and that should earn him a lot of playing time regardless of position.

VOSEAN JOSEPH
Team: Buffalo Bills
Position: LB
Draft: 5th round, 147th overall
Fifth-round picks are not guaranteed a roster spot and Joseph is smart enough to know that his path to making the Bills goes through special teams. He had four tackles in his first preseason game but has been quiet since. He had one tackle in the preseason finale so he better have had a big week of practice to make a final impression before cuts.
UPDATE: The Bills placed Joseph on injured reserve. He could return in the second half of the season, but this feels like a redshirt season for him.

JORDAN SCARLETT
Team: Carolina Panthers
Position: RB
Draft: 5th round, 154th overall
Scarlett is locked in a battle to serve as backup to Christian McCaffrey with among others former Georgia RB Elijah Holyfield. He missed time early in camp with a back injury and Holyfield took advantage, scoring twice in the preseason opener. Since though, Scarlett has received more playing time and impressed Ron Rivera and the staff. Special teams and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield will determine his fate in making the team. And he caught a touchdown in the preseason finale.
UPDATE: Scarlett beat out Holyfield and Cameron Artis-Payne to make the Panthers roster. He’s listed as the third-team back so he’s not likely to get a lot of playing time barring injuries.

I’M GONNA RIDE TIL I CAN’T NO MORE

Some former Gators slid all the way down the Old Town Road and out of the draft. The list is led by two former five-star recruits. Their football careers are on life support, while a less heralded former Gator appears to have a lock on a job.

MARTEZ IVEY
Team: New England Patriots
Position: OL
After a tryout with the Seahawks failed to net him a contract, it was a long summer for Ivey. But in late July, the Patriots came calling. He has had some moments but realistically, it’ll be hard for him to make anything beyond a practice squad for this upcoming season.
UPDATE: Ivey was released by the Patriots. New England traded for three offensive linemen the week before the season started. They also kept three linemen on their practice squad. Ivey was passed over for all of that, though so he obviously didn’t impress Belichick very much.

CECE JEFFERSON
Team: None
Position: DL
He had a tryout with the Seahawks after going undrafted but ultimately was not signed. It is shocking that the former five-star might not get a crack at the NFL.

FRED JOHNSON
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Position: OL
The Steelers have a long history of rolling with former Gators on the offensive line. Max Starks, Marcus Gilbert, and Maurkice Pouncey all sported the black and yellow over the past decade. Fred Johnson could be next. It’s a long uphill battle for undrafted guys, but the Steelers have given Johnson a long look. Johnson was a tackle in college, but the Steelers wanted to give the man Mike Tomlin calls “Big Gainesville” reps at guard, a surprise given Johnson’s enormous stature. Now, he’s running with the second team and appears a lock to make the team.
UPDATE: Johnson defied the odds and made the active roster after going undrafted. He’ll backup both guard positions and can fill in at tackle as well.

Fred Johnson is a gigantic human being

MORAL STEPHENS
Team: Denver Broncos
Position: TE
Stephens was a late addition to Broncos training camp, signing in the last week of July. He’s a camp body and doesn’t have much of a chance to make the roster. Hopefully he can show enough to draw practice squad interest.
UPDATE: Stephens had three catches for 12 yards in the preseason and was waived by the Broncos as expected. He hasn’t drawn any practice squad interest yet.

TYLER JORDAN
Team: None
Position: OL
After a failed tryout with Falcons, Jordan has moved on and is the offensive line coach at Bishop Kenny in Jacksonville.

R.J. RAYMOND
Team: None
Position: FB
The Titans gave him a tryout at rookie camp and that in itself was an accomplishment to celebrate.

MR. TELEPHONE MAN, THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH MY LINE

The New Edition of this list in 2019 features one of my favorite players of all time. I’m going to miss watching him on the football field.

REGGIE NELSON
Team: None
Position: S
2018: 11 games, 29 tackles, 2 INT
If this is the end of the road for the Eraser, and it almost assuredly is, he can retire knowing he was one of the best safeties of the past decade. He is the NFL’s active interceptions leader with 38. The two-time Pro Bowler is first all-time among former Gators in picks, second in passes defended, and third in tackles. His two seasons in Gainesville were electric, and unlike so many of his peers from that era, he lived up to his potential in the NFL. Following Nelson’s career was a joy and his many accomplishments make him one of the best football players ever to step foot on campus.

The Eraser is an all-time Gators great

DOMINIQUE EASLEY
Team: None
Position: DL
2018: 3 games, 4 tackles
A career that should have been so much better is now likely over. Easley blew out his left knee in training camp in 2017, his fourth such injury. He rehabbed hard and made it back to the Rams for the start of the 2018 season. He played in the team’s first three games as a backup and was finding his niche as an outside linebacker and pass rush specialist. Then another cruel blow to his left knee again landed him on injured reserve. Adding to the disappointment, Easley then watched as his teammates won the NFC and made the Super Bowl, coincidentally against his first team, the Patriots. Easley was fearsome when healthy, but his body betrayed him and shortchanged any shot at NFL success.

MIKE GILLISLEE
Team: None
Position: RB
2018: 16 carries, 43 yards, 1 rec, 9 yards
Gillislee had a brief, unproductive stint with the Saints at the beginning of 2018. He went the rest of the season without getting signed by another team. Early in training camp this year, Gilly worked out for the Raiders and Colts but neither team was interested.

ANTONIO MORRISON
Team: None
Position: LB
2018: 48 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL
Morrison spent 2018 with the Packers, starting eight games and collecting his first career sack (against Tom Brady). But after Green Bay released him in March, Morrison is a free agent in search of a job. The Packers are among many teams dealing with injuries as the preseason winds down and Morrison could be receiving a call soon.

IAN SILBERMAN
Team: None
Position: OL
2018: 2 games
Silberman is a journeyman. He has spent time with seven teams, including three stints with the Raiders and two with the Colts. He was recently waived by the Colts after suffering an apparent burst appendix. Given how he’s found a way to stick around for so long with so many teams, don’t be surprised if he shows up someplace else.

GOT A REAL GOOD FEELIN’ SOMETHIN’ BAD ABOUT TO HAPPEN

Stand on the box. Stomp your feet. Start clapping with Miranda and Carrie. It’s not going to matter one bit once teams make up their mind and pick up that phone. These guys are going to be sweating like crazy the next 48 hours.

MACK BROWN
Team: Oakland Raiders
Position: RB
2018: Redskins Practice Squad
Brown spent part of 2018 on the Redskins practice squad. He last played in a regular season game in 2017. The Raiders signed him early in training camp and have given him plenty of run in the preseason. He has 39 carries for 161 yards and three catches for 16 yards. Pedestrian numbers but he did finish strong in the preseason finale. The Raiders did cut Doug Martin last week, giving Brown a sliver of hope he could make the roster.
UPDATE: The Raiders released Brown. He has not signed with another team.

JEFF DRISKEL
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Position: QB
2018: 1,003 pass, 6 TD, 2 INT, 60% Comp, 130 rush, 2 TD
Numbers don’t tell the story for Driskel’s first playing time in the NFL. The Bengals went 1-4 in his five starts after Andy Dalton’s injury and the offense was abysmal. In fairness, he only had AJ Green for a small part of one of those games. Still the Bengals and new coach Zac Taylor drafted Ryan Finley out of N.C. State to compete with Driskel. Finley has look great in training camp and the preseason and Driskel missed the final two preseason games with a hamstring injury. Knowing he is fighting for his NFL life, Driskel asked to work at wide receiver in camp. Despite the effort, Driskel is going to be cut and will be looking to latch on with another team.
UPDATE: Instead of cutting Driskel, the Bengals placed him on injured reserve. An injury settlement could eventually be worked out once Driskel is healthy, allowing him to pursue an active roster spot with another team.

CHAZ GREEN
Team: Denver Broncos
Position: OT
2018: 4 games, 1 start
Green has never recovered from the beatdown Adrian Clayborn gave him a few years ago. The Broncos signed him to compete for the backup left tackle job, but it looks like he will surely be a cut casualty. Like he did last season, he’ll be waiting for injuries to thin the offensive line ranks before he gets another crack at a job.
UPDATE: The Broncos released Green. He has not signed with another team.

DAVID SHARPE
Team: Oakland Raiders
Position: OT
2018: 10 games, 0 starts
Drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round in 2017, Sharpe played in five games with two starts before getting cut before the start of the season in 2018. The Texans signed him, then cut him, and he boomeranged back to Oakland. Jon Gruden says he’s had a nice camp and he’s in a real battle to be the swing tackle backing up the right and left sides.
UPDATE: Sharpe has made the Raiders opening-day roster. He’s officially the backup at RT to fellow Gator Trent Brown.

CHRIS THOMPSON
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Position: WR
2018: cut by Texans before season
Thompson surprisingly made the Texans back in 2017 and showed some value as a special teams gunner and occasional return man. He couldn’t stick in 2018 and never received a call from another NFL team. He played in the AAF with Steve Spurrier and the Apollos in the spring before the league disbanded, catching eight balls for 153 yards. The 49ers brought him in for training camp, cut him, and then re-signed him again. He has almost zero chance of making the final roster.
UPDATE: The Niners released Thompson. He has not signed with a practice squad at this time.

DEONTE THOMPSON
Team: New York Jets
Position: WR
2018: 17 rec, 161 yards, 6 kick returns, 24.5 avg
Last season, Thompson started the year with the Cowboys before ending it with the Bills, his third stint in Buffalo. Now he’s trying to cling onto his NFL dream in New York and make the Jets the fifth team to employ him in eight seasons. However, he is firmly on the cutdown bubble with the odds stacked against him. Thompson only has nine targets in the preseason and six catches. Coincidentally, he needs six more catches in the regular season to become the 35th former Gator with 100 or more in the NFL.
UPDATE: The Jets released Thompson. He is no stranger to free agency and he’ll look to catch again during the season.

MARK THOMPSON
Team: Detroit Lions
Position: RB
2018: Ravens and Jets Practice Squads
Thompson bounced between the Ravens and Jets’ practice squads in 2018. In January, he signed a contract with the Lions but faced long odds of making the team. But then training camp and the preseason saw the Lions cut both Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner. Thompson has impressed in practices and in four preseason games, he has 28 carries for 115 yards and four catches for 31. It would be quite a story if he earns a roster spot and even being in the discussion at this point is impressive.
UPDATE: The NFL is just cruel at times. The Lions waived Thompson on Saturday and then immediately signed him to their practice squad. Three days later, they signed another player to the practice squad and released Thompson again.

JOEY IVIE IV
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Position: DL
2018: Chiefs Practice Squad
Ivie is with his third team for the preseason in three years since being drafted by the Cowboys in 2017. He spent time with the Chiefs practice squad last season and hopes to latch on in Kansas City as they try to rebuild their shaky defense. He’s played well at times this preseason but still faces long odds of finally making an active roster.
UPDATE: Perseverance pays off! After the disappointment of being cut right before the season in 2017 and 2018, Ivie has to be elated to be staying in Kansas City. He’s the backup nose tackle and should some decent playing time.

I WILL SURVIVE, HEY HEY

If these guys get cut, at first they’ll be afraid, they’ll be petrified. But they won’t crumble. They won’t lay down and die. They’ll be back in the league with another team if the one they’re with now doesn’t want them.

EDDY PINEIRO
Team: Chicago Bears
Position: K
2018: Injured Reserve
Pineiro has been involved in one of the craziest NFL situations ever. The Bears and head coach Matt Nagy were clearly driven mad by the infamous double doink game in the playoffs last year. At the end of this insane process stands Pineiro. For two weeks now, he’s been the only kicker on the Bears roster… and he’s taken advantage of it, making a 58-yard field goal last weekend. On Thursday, he missed an extra point but followed it up with three perfect field goals. Still the Bears aren’t committed and many feel they’ll grab a kicker off waivers rather than turn to their strong-legged rookie. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: Pineiro will kick for the Bears in the season opener. All eyes will be on the Bears and the Packers opening up the NFL’s 100th season. And certainly one of the bigger storylines will be how Eddy Pineiro performs. No pressure, kid. ED-DIE!

Pineiro is the last man standing after the Bears crazy kicking search

BRANDON POWELL
Team: Detroit Lions
Position: WR
2018: 11 rec, 129 yards
Powell was a surprise to make the Lions out of camp last year. Undrafted and undersized, he used his trademark speed and elusiveness to make enough of an impression. He didn’t see much action but flashed some potential when given a chance late in the year. Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL and Powell is once again fighting for a roster spot. He is not expected to survive cutdown day in Detroit, but his skillset as a slot receiver is valuable and I’m guessing he’ll land a role with some team in 2019.
UPDATE: The Lions released Powell. He was quickly signed to the Falcons practice squad. If he eventually makes the active roster, he’ll get a chance to make some plays in one of the league’s better passing attacks.

JOHNNY TOWNSEND
Team: New York Giants
Position: P
2018: 31st in punt avg, 29th in net punting
Townsend seemed like as much of a sure-thing NFL starter as Florida produced in many years. But an abysmal rookie campaign followed by a lackluster training camp sealed his fate in Oakland, despite the Raiders investing a fifth round pick in him in 2018. Townsend quickly found a second chance in New York as the Giants picked him up to compete with their incumbent. It’s a longshot for him but at least it’s another shot. Even if he doesn’t stick in north Jersey, he’s clearly in demand as the Patriots also claimed him after the Raiders cut him.
UPDATE: The Giants released Townsend. No one is signing a punter to a practice squad spot so Townsend will have to wait and hope for a call from a team that sours on its kicking game.

I HURT MYSELF TODAY… TO SEE IF I STILL FEEL

Injuries are part of the game, whether it is pulling a hamstring or stepping on Nine Inch Nails. These guys are fathers, brothers, sons, and friends more than they are football players. And all we want for them is their health.

JORDAN REED
Team: Washington Redskins
Position: TE
2018: 54 rec, 558 yards, 2 TD
At some point, someone close to Reed has to convince him that he cannot play football anymore. Reed suffered what was at least his seventh concussion this past weekend. The hit by Keanu Neal was scary as hell. I no longer care about what kind of production Reed could have if he stayed healthy or if he’s capable of being the best tight end in the game. I just want him to find peace and happiness when his playing days are over. And I fear that it may already be too late for that.

CALEB BRANTLEY
Team: Washington Redskins
Position: DL
2018: 7 games, 1 tackle
Brantley has battled shoulder and foot injuries this preseason and has yet to see game action. The Redskins and coach Jay Gruden have been high on him, but you have to wonder if all the missed time is threatening his role as Jonathan Allen’s backup at end.
UPDATE: Brantley made the Redskins and will serve as Allen’s backup.

MAX GARCIA
Team: Arizona Cardinals
Position: G
2018: 9 games, 4 starts
A torn ACL ended Garcia’s 2018 early and ended his run in Denver. Garcia had been productive and durable for three seasons before the injury-shortened season. He’s in Arizona now, but he’s still trying to get back on the field. He’s going to start the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and will hopefully be back sometime in October.

DUKE DAWSON
Team: New England Patriots
Position: DB
2018: Injured
Dawson was basically a redshirt with the Patriots in 2018. He spent the majority of the season on injured reserve with a hammy. And although he was activated late and practiced with the team all the way through the Super Bowl, he was never active on game day. While Dawson sat, a couple of rookies made plays for the Pats in the secondary. Plus, they drafted a corner in April. Dawson is clearly on the bubble, but he had a fantastic final game with a pick and three passes defended.
UPDATE: The Patriots have traded Dawson to Denver for a sixth-round pick. He’ll be able to learn from Chris Harris and should immediately compete for the starting nickel spot.

JOSH SHAW
Team: Arizona Cardinals
Position: DB
2018: 8 games, 12 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Shaw has bounced around between four teams in the past two seasons. His latest team, the Cardinals, placed him on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. He could return in the second half of the season.

ONE MORE TIME AROUND MIGHT DO IT

This could be the season for these guys to finally reach their potential and seize their opportunities, just like Soundgarden did as grunge rose to prominence.

JAYLEN WATKINS
Team: Los Angeles Chargers
Position: DB
2018: Injured Reserve
Watkins joined a very good team and had a chance to be a solid contributor before a torn ACL in the preseason ended his 2018 before it began. Watkins rehabbed on his own in Florida, thousands of miles away from his teammates. It was a tough situation, and the Chargers could have given up on him. Watkins showed up to training camp healthy and ready to go and he’s impressed. His versatility to play corner, safety, nickel, and special teams has made him very valuable, especially with the Chargers losing Derwin James for some time.
UPDATE: In a surprise, Watkins was cut on Saturday. But it turns out, that was just a procedural move. They had to wait 24 hours before placing Derwin James on IR. After that, they quickly resigned Watkins. He’ll have a big role in the Chargers depleted secondary.

D.J. HUMPHRIES
Team: Arizona Cardinals
Position: LT
2018: 9 games, 3 starts
Humphries has been labeled an enigma in Arizona, but much of his inconsistency has been due to injuries. He’s played only 14 of a possible 32 games the past two seasons. Humphries is in the final year of his rookie deal and needs to stay healthy and produce like he can. He spent the offseason doing Pilates with Julie and looks to be in the best shape of his career. The Cardinals trust that means he can protect Kyler Murray’s blindside.

JONATHAN BULLARD
Team: Chicago Bears
Position: DL
2018: 18 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 passes defended
Bullard is one of the great disappointments in my time doing this column. I really thought he would be a solid professional for many years after his dominant senior year in Gainesville. Others have failed to reach their potential but it has almost always been because of injury. Bullard has stayed healthy in Chicago but has consistently underachieved. He appears to be safe in making the Bears 53-man, which is surprising. He better start producing or he could be playing his final season in the league.
UPDATE: Turns out, Bullard wasn’t safe in Chicago. The Bears tired of his lack of productivity and released him. Arizona quickly snatched him and he heads to the desert to try to turn his career around. He’s buried on the depth chart so he better perform or he’ll be released again.

MARCELL HARRIS
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Position: SS
2018: 8 games, 34 tackles, 4 TFL
Harris missed half of his rookie campaign recovering from the torn achilles he suffered in Gainesville. He finished strong, though, with five starts down the stretch. He’s carried that momentum over and had an excellent training camp with the Niners, tallying 13 tackles and a sack in the preseason. In fact, he could push for the starting strong safety position once again.
UPDATE: Harris’s play wasn’t enough to keep him on the Niners’ active roster. He was released before signing with their practice squad.

TAVEN BRYAN
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Position: DL
2018: 16 games, 1 start, 1 sack, 20 tackles, 3 TFL
The Jags drafted Bryan in the first round knowing he might be a bit of a project. Given the strength of the team up front, it was a surprise they’d invest in another weapon on the defensive line. After what was a very limited role in his rookie season, Bryan started the 2019 training camp off well. Early in camp, Jacksonville felt Bryan was making progress and expected him to be a regular contributor in their defensive line rotation. But as the preseason has worn on, Bryan has struggled once again, although he did notch a sack and tackle for loss in the preseason finale. If he can’t become more consistent, Bryan is going to spend a second season watching from the sidelines more than playing.

TEEZ TABOR
Team: Detroit Lions
Position: CB
2018: 12 games, 28 tackles
Since being taken in the second round of the 2017 draft, Tabor has earned the “bust” label from more than one pundit. He’s started only five games and has yet to notch an official pass breakup in 22 total games. This is an absolute make-or-break season and Tabor knows it. He had a tremendous offseason and was running with the first-team defense at the start of training camp. Then he went down with a leg injury and missed four weeks. He’s back now but time is running out for him to prove himself.
UPDATE: The Lions have released Tabor. That leg injury was just devastating after the progress he made this offseason and at the start of camp. I can’t imagine he’ll be unemployed very long, although he is not on a roster to start the season. The uncertain future and eventual change of scenery will hopefully bring out the best in him when he gets his second chance.

OH MOMMA, I SHOT MYSELF DOWN

Self-destructive behavior is common among musicians like Iggy Pop and professional athletes.

ANTONIO CALLAWAY
Team: Cleveland Browns
Position: WR
2018: 43 rec, 586 yds, 5 TD
After a sordid history in Gainesville, Callaway moved onto the NFL and promptly rewarded the Browns with an arrest for marijuana possession and driving with a suspended license in the first week of training camp in 2018. Nevermind that pot is now legal in many places and will and should undoubtedly be legal everywhere. If it’s a rule, you must follow it or risk punishment. Callaway wasn’t suspended and went on to have a decent rookie season, flashing the tremendous potential he’s always had. Baker Mayfield’s emergence as a dynamic QB combined with weapons in Callaway, Nick Chubb, and Jarvis Landry made the Browns one of the most exciting teams by the end of 2018. The addition of Odell Beckham, Jr., only increased the hype around the team, with some even mentioning Super Bowl. But bad choices during the 2018 season led to a failed drug test. The Browns organization was incredibly disappointed, but since that time, they’ve praised how Callaway has responded. The suspension has him way down the depth chart so once he returns, he’ll have his work cut out for him finding a role with what is likely going to be an explosive offense.

BRYAN COX JR.
Team: Carolina Panthers
Position: DL
2018: 11 games, 10 tackles
After Bruce Irvin said Cox reminded him of a young version of himself, Cox entered his third season with the highest expectations yet. His versatilty to play inside and out gives him an edge over others battling for a roster spot. He got off to a good start with four tackles in the Panthers first preseason game. However, a citation for speeding and marijuana possession has since clouded Cox’s future with the team. Here’s hoping something so minor (and that should be legal, at least in the case of the weed) doesn’t derail his career.
UPDATE: The Panthers released Cox before resigning him to the practice squad. With 18 career games played, he’ll be one of the more experienced practice squad players in the entire NFL.

GONNA STAND MY GROUND, AND I WON’T BACK DOWN

Tom Petty’s anthem is now a staple in the Swamp, much like these players are now staples in the NFL. Reliable, steady, inspiring, and something to get fired up about.

JONOTTHAN HARRISON
Team: New York Jets
Position: OL
2018: 16 games, 8 starts
An unremarkable career in Gainesville. An undrafted free agent with the Colts in 2014. Never did Jonotthan Harrison stop working, or stop believing. He’s found a role and a home with the Jets, where he was set to be the starting center before they signed Ryan Kalil. Now he’ll serve as the swing guy all along the interior of the line. His steady progression in the NFL has even earned him one of the best compliments you can get from his current offensive line coach.

QUINCY WILSON
Team: Indianapolis Colts
Position: CB
2018: 13 games, 28 tackles, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery
It look Wilson a while to find his footing in the league, but after a slow start he really came on at the end of last season. Now he enters year three as the likely nickel starter for a young, up-and-coming Colts defense.

LERENTEE McCRAY
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Position: DE/LB
2018: 9 tackles, 1 sack
Year after year, McCray continues to be one of the leaders of the Jags special teams unit. His role appears secure even after battling an undisclosed injury this preseason.

DEMARCUS ROBINSON
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Position: WR
2018: 22 rec, 288 yards, 4 TD
The Chiefs have so many offensive weapons capable of putting up explosive numbers, mostly because Patrick Mahomes is a once-in-a-generation talent. Robinson fills the role of fourth receiver while contributing on special teams. He appears to be a roster lock but with many other receivers in camp, there is speculation Robinson could be traded. More than likely though, he’ll be back playing with the league’s most dynamic offense.

YOU CAN COUNT ON ME LIKE ONE, TWO, THREE… I’LL BE THERE

There is not a more reliable hit maker today than Bruno Mars. Consider these guys the Bruno of their teams. They aren’t going to get the headlines, but they deliver every time out.

ALEX ANZALONE
Team: New Orleans Saints
Position: LB
2018: 59 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 INT
Anzalone finally threw off the shackles of injury and emerged as a playmaker with the Saints in 2018. He logged eight starts, including one in the postseason, and at times was all over the field. But once injury-prone, always injury-prone? Anzalone is currently out and might have a small fracture in his shoulder, the same one he hurt at Florida and again in his rookie season in New Orleans. Hopefully it’s a minor thing and he’s back on the field soon.

JON BOSTIC
Team: Washington Redskins
Position: LB
2018: 73 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 TFL, 3 passes defended
Bostic’s game has limitations certainly, but it is hard to understand how someone who is a productive, two-down, middle linebacker is now with his sixth team in six years. He’s coming off maybe his best season, he’s healthy, and he’s being counted on to be a leader for what should be a pretty good Skins defense. Hopefully he finds a home for more than one season.

JACOBY BRISSETT
Team: Indianapolis Colts
Position: QB
2018: 2/4, 4 yards
What a difference a week makes. Brissett went from cushy backup for one of the game’s best quarterbacks to the pressure of being the guy who has to replace a legend. Brissett was decent in 2017 when he last stepped in for Luck, completing 59% of his passes for over 3,000 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That was behind an awful offensive line that has been transformed. The buzz is building for Brissett and some think he’s primed for a huge season. At the very least, he has a Twitter parody account already that can rival Captain Luck.

JON HALAPIO
Team: New York Giants
Position: C
2018: 2 games, 2 starts
Halapio was on the precipice of finally becoming a regular starter in the NFL. He finished 2017 strong, starting the final six games of the season at right guard. He locked down the center job in 2018 with a great offseason and strong camp and headed into the season looking like a key cog in a recharged Giants offense with Saquon Barkley. A broken leg in week 2 derailed everything. Halapio is back and looking to hold onto his job manning the ball for New York. He has had a tremendous camp and took every first-team snap from the second week on. Not only is he playing great, Halapio has become a leader off the field, exemplifying everything the Giants want to be.

MARCUS GILBERT
Team: Arizona Cardinals
Position: RT
2018: 5 games, 5 starts
Gilbert has only played 12 games the past two seasons. The Cardinals traded for the 31-year-old in hopes he can kick the injury bug and help shore up a porous offensive line to protect Kyler Murray. If Gilbert stays healthy, he could bookend the Cardinals line with fellow Gator D.J. Humphries. A third Gator, Max Garcia could join the mix later in the season.

THE WORLD IS MINE FOR THE TAKING, MAKE ME KING

These guys are trying to move toward a new world order and once and for all make Florida THE DBU. This year might be the shot with so many high level corners and safeties. Lose Yourself in the moment.

KEANU NEAL
Team: Atlanta Falcons
Position: SS
2018: 1 game, 2 tackles, 1 torn ACL
Neal’s 2018 season was over before the end of the third quarter of the first game. A torn ACL derailed his ascension to the title of the game’s best safety. In his first two seasons, Neal recorded 222 tackles, 15 passes defended, eight forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and one interception. His return to the field took place last weekend – and unfortunately he committed a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit on fellow Gator Jordan Reed. Hard to believe there won’t a suspension coming. Neal is a big hitter and his fearlessness and power are huge reasons for his success. He doesn’t have a history of dirty personal foul penalties so hopefully this was just some rust after not playing for a year. The game has no place for the kind of hit he put on Reed.

MARCUS MAYE
Team: New York Jets
Position: S
2018: 6 games, 34 tackles, 1 INT, 0.5 sack
Maye suffered through ankle, thumb, and shoulder injuries in what was a disappointing and frustrating sophomore season. He’s healthy now and just appeared in his first preseason game, notching two tackles and displaying some of the same chemistry that made him and Jamal Adams one of the best rookie safety combinations in NFL history in 2017. The Jets expect big things from Maye this year. And despite all the injuries in 2018, he showed he can deliver on those expectations – like when he set the NFL record for the longest non-touchdown interception return in NFL history.

QUINTON DUNBAR
Team: Washington Redskins
Position: CB
2018: 7 games, 39 tackles, 2 INT, 9 passes defended
Despite playing only seven games, the former wide receiver Dunbar had his best season ever as a cornerback. He became a regular starter for the first time and was having a breakout season. Then a nerve disorder in his leg blindsided him and ended his year. He’s back healthy and poised to once again start in the Skins’ secondary. If he stays on the field, he’s headed for a flashy season, although maybe not as flashy his ride.

This poor Mercedes

VERNON HARGREAVES III
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Position: CB
2018: 1 game, 7 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 passes defended
VH3 might have been having the best game of his short career in the 2018 season opener before injuring his shoulder. The way his professional luck has gone, it was no surprise the injury turned out to be season-ending. Now three years in, Hargreaves is determined to finally live up to the potential he flashed at Florida when he was one of the best corners ever to wear orange and blue. He has thrived so far under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and has become a leader in the Bucs secondary.

YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, NOTHING’S GONNA EVER KEEP YOU DOWN

Our annual top 10 celebrates the best right now from Gainesville in the NFL. They’ve proven it in the ring. Try your best to win them all and one day time will tell. When you’re the one that’s standing there, you’ll reach the final bell!

#10
TREY BURTON
Team: Chicago Bears
Position: TE
2018: 54 rec, 569 yards, 6 TD
Many expected a breakout season for Burton last year. He delivered career highs in catches, yards, and touchdowns, but given Matt Nagy’s track record in Kansas City with Travis Kelce, the numbers fell short of those expectations. That said, Burton is still one of the game’s better pass-catching tight ends and should continue to get better.

#9
JANORIS JENKINS
Team: New York Giants
Position: CB
2018: 70 tackles, 2 INT, 15 passes defended
Jenkins had a nice bounceback season in 2018. The eight-year veteran is now the unquestioned leader of the Giants secondary with Landon Collins gone and he’s embraced his mentorship role. He turns 31 this year and corners tend to start to decline around then, but don’t count out “Jackrabbit” just yet.

#8
BRIAN POOLE
Team: New York Jets
Position: DB
2018: 74 tackles, 3 INT, 3 sacks
After the Falcons surprisingly let him walk, Poole signed a one-year, $3-million deal to become the Jets’ starting nickel. In three seasons, Poole has established himself as one of the best slot corners in the league, due in part to a toughness that has impressed the Jets. In Gregg Williams’ defense, expect big things – and big hits – from Poole this season.

#7
DANTE FOWLER JR.
Team: Los Angeles Rams
Position: DE/OLB
2018: 30 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries
Fowler cracks the top-10 based solely on his postseason production. In the past two seasons, he’s played in six playoff games and recorded 17 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Fowler signed a one-year deal to return to the Rams and has been an absolute menace in training camp. Expect a monster season finally for the former #3 overall pick. Of course, Fowler made the biggest play of the NFC championship game when he hit Drew Brees and forced an interception that set up the winning field goal. Well, it was the biggest play that wasn’t a national controversy…

#6
JARRAD DAVIS
Team: Detroit Lions
Position: LB
2018: 100 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 10 TFL
According to Pro Football Focus’s metrics, Jarrad Davis is not an elite middle linebacker. Their evaluation says he has struggled stopping both the run and the pass in his first two seasons. A lot of people take PFF’s grades with a grain of salt, but there is certainly no debating Davis can step up his game even more. That said, Davis has been a rock for the Lions and has improved in pass coverage and as a blitzer. In fact, only two players had at least 100 tackles and six sacks in 2018 – Davis and Colts’ rookie of the year Darius Leonard. Unfortunately, a high ankle sprain suffered last weekend means Davis will miss the start of the season and a least a few games.

#5
JOE HADEN
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Position: CB
2018: 63 tackles, 2 INT, 12 passes defended
Haden’s two Pro Bowl seasons are well in the rearview mirror and before last season, there were whispers around the league that his play was declining fast. Haden is 30 years old now and has certainly slowed down some from his prime. At the same time, his experience and knowledge have more than made up for the athletic decline. He was a top-15 corner last season and still one of the game’s premier 1-on-1 defenders. He’s helped turn Pittsburgh’s secondary around in the two seasons since they signed him. In fact, the Steelers are looking to lock him up to a contract extension soon.

#4
CARLOS DUNLAP
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Position: DE
2018: 47 tackles, 8 sacks, 8 TFL, 8 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles
Dunlap is the epitome of consistency. He’s played in every game for six years running. In the last three seasons, he’s had 8-7.5-8 sacks and 49-46-47 tackles. He’s 10th among active players with 72.5 career sacks. Entering his 10th season, all in Cincinnati, he is a pillar in the community. That consistency has made Dunlap one of the premier defensive ends in football for the past decade and his numbers keep climbing in the history books. At some point Father Time is coming, but don’t expect him to catch Dunlap anytime soon.

#3
MIKE POUNCEY
Team: Los Angeles Chargers
Position: C
2018: 16 starts, Pro Bowl selection
Pouncey earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection after stabilizing the Chargers offensive line in 2018. The Chargers still had issues up front and part of Pouncey’s challenge in 2019 will be to help his younger teammates develop. Pouncey isn’t nearly the player he was earlier in his career, but he’s still playing a high level. The fact that he’s played two straight 16-game seasons is encouraging and shows he might have a few more good-to-great seasons left, something that wasn’t a guarantee just a few years ago.

Mike and Maurkice played together in the Pro Bowl for the second time

#2
TRENT BROWN
Team: Oakland Raiders
Position: LT
2018: 16 starts, Super Bowl champion
Brown fulfilled his massive potential last season as the anchor of the Patriots offensive line, the blindside stopper for Tom Brady, and a Super Bowl champion. But as is the Patriots way, rather than sign him to a huge contract, they let him leave in free agency. Brown returned to the Bay Area, this time in Oakland, and is now the highest-paid offensive lineman in football. He should be a Pro Bowler this season and a staple with the Raiders through their move to Las Vegas.

Brown became the most recent Gator to win a Super Bowl

#1
MAURKICE POUNCEY
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Position: C
2018: 16 starts, Pro Bowl
Pouncey just keeps cranking out the Pro Bowl seasons. He’s had seven of them, second most to Emmitt Smith’s eight among former Gators. His two first-team Pro-Bowl selections are behind only Smith and Jack Youngblood (he’s been second-team three times, including last year). The Steelers rewarded Pouncey with a contract extension that makes him the highest-paid center in the league. Pouncey is unquestionably the best former Gator in the NFL right now, he repeats from last year, in fact he has been for a decade… and he might be for a few more years too.

A few more elite seasons and Pouncey is headed to the Hall of Fame

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Call UF-FSU what it is: A MUST WIN

Every neighborhood has a kid that torments the other kids. He isn’t the smartest (obviously). His house is painted hideous colors (garnet and gold). His parents taught him to say racist things (war chants). Everyone knows better than to care what he thinks or says and yet the kid continues to rule the block through sheer force of personality. You can get straight A’s, be an All-Star on your little league team, have the best Christmas ever, and still this kid will find a way to “beat” you in the sandlot or driveway pick-up game and everything you accomplished means nothing in that moment.

It has certainly been a very good season for the Florida football program. Doubling last year’s win total. Beating a legitimate top 10 team. Producing some semblance of an offense. Opportunistic defense. Edge back on special teams. Dan Mullen has turned things around and there is a real sense of optimism for the first time in almost a decade. Despite those impressive strides, it could all come crumbling down should the Gators drop their sixth straight to our neighborhood bully on Saturday.

Gator nation is split on which rivalry is the most important. I get the Georgia argument and understand why some will never believe any other game is more important. But for me, there has never been a doubt. I grew up in South Florida in the 1980s and went to Florida during the 1990s. FSU was the biggest game every year, not just because of on-the-field bragging rights but maybe more so because of off-the-field trash talking. The last 12 years or so has seen the rivalry die down. UF’s dominance during its championship runs in the mid-to-late 2000s and then the Seminoles’ dominance during the Jimbo era while Florida decayed sapped the juice. Now both teams are far removed from national relevance and tomorrow’s game is barely a blip on the college football landscape. But I believe it is the most important Gators game since the 2009 SEC championship.

Everyone is aware of the recent history in this series. Florida hasn’t just been noncompetitive, they’ve been downright embarrassed. The Gators have scored 37 in the past three games; FSU scored 38 last year. Five losses in a row is the longest UF losing streak in the rivalry. Seven of eight is sickening. Add in the Seminoles sudden dominance in men’s hoops with a rivalry worst five-game losing streak for Florida and my appetite for a win tomorrow is ravenous.

The one miracle season of the Muschamp era and the two SEC East title seasons of the McElwain era were fool’s gold. At no time did Florida look like a complete team and a program on the rise. Mullen has brought something different to Gainesville. Of course the Gators are still miles away from where they need to be, but the improvements in competency, discipline, and competitiveness all show the potential of two years down the road. The momentum was stymied by the back-to-back losses to Georgia and Missouri but has since been re-established.

On the grand scale, one game means very little for Mullen and what he’s building. At the beginning of the season, the majority of Gators would have taken eight regular season wins as success. The recruiting impact of head-to-head matchups is always exaggerated. The Gators are headed in the right direction and one game’s outcome shouldn’t effect that. However, a fragile psyche for a downtrodden program needs a lift. A loss to the worst Florida State team in maybe 40 years would stunt everything positive that’s been accomplished this season. A road win over a rival to snap a long losing streak is vital. It is imperative the Gators pull off a win in Tallahassee. Noting else matters. The streak must end.

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Gators in the NFL: 2018 Training Camp Primer

Back when I first started writing this blog, when believe-it-or-not Double-A baseball All-Star Tim Tebow played in the National Football League, I was a fan only. For a year and a half now, I’ve covered the NFL on a regular basis and seen many of the Florida alums in action. I’ve picked the brains of reporters who cover them and former players I work with. Not to say that makes this column any more interesting, but hopefully it gives a little more insight into each player’s situation. The format of the yearly post has changed a little over the years too. I used to do these rankings at the end of the year based on performance during the season. Last year I decided to move it to right before training camp as a season preview. This year, I wanted to get a little evaluation of camp in so I moved it back again until mid-August. That allowed me to see some training camp and some preseason games. My hope is if you come across NFL Network and a game is on, you’ll have an idea of which former Gators are playing and what their situations are.

Please don’t check out who was #1 back on that original list in 2012. Or the following year. Nope, let’s just move on. It is interesting that there has been a new #1 every year. That continues once again this year. It hasn’t been by design. As I’ve mentioned many times, I should just put Reggie Nelson on top until he retires. Especially now that he’s doing the Gator chomp with Johnny Townsend after learning about his induction into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame.

https://twitter.com/johnnytownsend1/status/1029223004658524161

These rankings reflect only those with NFL connections. If you had any sort of workout or contract with an NFL team since August of last year, you were included. Or at least I tried to include you. Every year, I re-read the previous year’s column and frustratingly find guys that I missed. It is damn hard keeping track of everyone because there really isn’t a definitive database to check for this stuff. Pro-Football Reference is close, but it isn’t foolproof. That’s why I put so much work into this blog post every year, hoping it will be the most thorough reference point for checking out former Gators in the National Football League.

Professional football isn’t just limited to the NFL. There are a handful of ex-Gators keeping the dream alive in Canada playing for the Canadian Football League. Marcus Roberson (Toronto) and Matt Elam (Saskatchewon) were recent signees, while Chris Rainey (BC) and Loucheiz Purifoy (Saskatchewon) are seasoned CFL vets. Will Hill played in the CFL last season but is joining Leon Orr as former Gators giving it a go in the new Alliance of American Football (coached by none other than Steve Spurrier!). I’m sure there are others out there, but that’s not a rabbit hole I was willing to go too far down.

As always, Florida continues to be one of the largest producers of NFL talent. At the end of last season, there were 38 former Gators on active rosters, fifth among schools. That doesn’t include transfers or guys on practice squads or injured reserve. By my count, 50 ex-Gators played in the league, made a practice squad, or spent the year on injured reserve. A few of those 50 have played their last snap in the NFL, but nine rookies are looking to take make the leap this year.

DRAFT PICKS

TAVEN BRYAN
Position: DL
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
Draft: 1st Round, 29th overall
It was a bit of a surprise to see the Jaguars take Bryan given the strength of their defensive line. It will be hard for him to crack the regular rotation although young, fresh legs are always needed on the line. Expect a modest rookie campaign as Bryan adjusts to the NFL speed and size. He’s expected to make his preseason debut this week.

DUKE DAWSON
Position: DB
Team: New England Patriots
Draft: 2nd round, 56th overall
Dawson is slowed by a hamstring injury right now, but early in camp he made a good impression on the Pats and Bill Belichick. Dawson has a chance to fill the nickel corner role if he can get back on the field quickly.

ANTONIO CALLAWAY
Position: WR
Team: Cleveland Browns
Draft: 4th round, 105th overall
What a week for Callaway last week. Arrest to start it, huge game to end it. We saw plenty of both at Florida. If Callaway can’t get his life in order off the field, he’ll be out of the league before his career even begins. The immense talent is there and the Brows desperately need it. He’ll be given a reprieve by the team even if the league suspends him, as evidenced by his teammates heartfelt reaction in Hard Knocks this week. None of that matters, though, if Callaway can’t grow up.

JOHNNY TOWNSEND
Position: P
Team: Oakland Raiders
Draft: 5th round, 173rd overall
It’s rare for punters to be drafted so when the Raiders selected the SEC’s all-time leader in punting average, you figured they were sold. The fact that Townsend is the only punter in training camp tells you all you need to know. He had three 40+ yard punts in his preseason debut and the other two kicks were pin jobs inside the 20. I can’t recall being excited to watch a NFL punter, but Townsend was basically the Gators MVP for a few seasons so Gator Nation will be cheering him on in the pros.

MARCELL HARRIS
Position: S
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Draft: 6th round, 184th overall
Harris’ rehab from the Achilles injury that stole his final season at Florida is getting closer to completion. He was removed from the non-football injury list a couple of weeks ago. He still hasn’t participated in team drills and is a ways from playing in a preseason game too. That means Harris is likely to start the season on the physically unable to perform list or injured reserve. If he gets back healthy before the season begins, a practice squad spot might be the place.

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

EDDY PINEIRO
Position: PK
Team: Oakland Raiders
It is not a understatement to say that I was shocked when Pineiro wasn’t selected in this year’s draft. His hometown team, the Miami Dolphins, needed a kicker and had worked him out. It appeared destiny… until they took a guy named Jason Sanders who made just over 70 percent of his kicks in college. As a Dolphins fan I can tell you that pick fits right in with the long list of head-scratching selections they’ve made over the years. The Raiders benefitted from the mistakes of others and snatched Pineiro up with a $25,000 signing bonus, unheard of for an undrafted kicker. After seeing Pineiro up close, they knew he was their guy and cut loose Giorgio Tevecchio, last season’s kicker. That move was made in part to help Pineiro’s Florida and now Oakland teammate Johnny Townsend as the holder. They didn’t want Townsend switching between a left and right-footed kicker, especially since they knew Pineiro was going to be the guy. As we saw over and over in orange and blue, Pineiro lived up to the hype by drilling three field goals in his first preseason game, including a 48-yarder as time expired in the first half. Draft Pineiro on those fantasy teams now.

Pineiro and Townsend have been inseparable at Raiders training camp.

DEANDRE GOOLSBY
Position: TE
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
After getting waived by the Lions after minicamp in May, Goolsby was hoping someone else would give him a chance. He has it in Jacksonville. He’s the seventh tight end in camp and realistically only has a shot at making the practice squad, but that’s better than nothing. And as you’ll read, there are many Gators who have made fine careers out of just such situations.

BRANDON POWELL
Position: WR
Team: Detroit Lions
Powell is getting a long look in Detroit after impressing the new coaching staff early in training camp. His quickness and toughness are well-suited to a slot receiver role behind Golden Tate. Matt Patricia rewarded Powell’s practice efforts with a lot of action in the first preseason game and he didn’t disappoint, leading the Lions with five catches for 34 yards. The odds are still against Powell making the 53-man roster, but he’s giving it everything he has.

Powell getting the rookie initiation treatment of carrying Marvin Jones pads off the field.

MARK THOMPSON
Position: RB
Team: Baltimore Ravens
The longest of the longshots among the UDFA Gators class is Thompson. He had a better second preseason game with two catches for 43 yards and six rushes for 14 but he’s still buried on the Ravens’ depth chart.

NICK WASHINGTON
JOSEPH PUTU
Undrafted DBs Washington and Putu were both minicamp cuts by the Raiders and Falcons, respectively. Perhaps their future lies in one of those other professional leagues as well.

RETIRED (EVEN IF THEY DON’T KNOW IT YET)

This next group all played multiple seasons in the NFL but now face the prospect of moving on to their second careers.

JAYE HOWARD
Position: DT
Team: Free Agent
2017: DNP
Years in the NFL: 5
Howard had a couple of excellent seasons with the Chiefs in 2014 and 2015 but fell off fast. He was in camp with the Bears last year, but after a year away from football, it appears he’s moved on. He joined the football coaching staff at Eustis High School this summer.

SHARRIF FLOYD
Position: DT
Team: Free Agent
2017: Injured Reserve
Years in the NFL: 5
Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley might have been the most dominant frontline duo the Gators fielded together since Kevin Carter and Ellis Johnson. But instead of long, successful NFL careers, both have been ravaged by injuries. Easley still has a chance at an impact (keep reading), but Floyd’s career appears over. He was let go in March by the Vikings after failing to ever recover from nerve damage suffered during knee surgery in 2016.

FRANKIE HAMMOND, JR.
Position: WR
Team: Free Agent
2017: DNP
Years in the NFL: 2
Cut before the start of the 2017 season, Hammond is an unsigned free agent. It’s been three years since he last played an NFL game.

JUSTIN TRATTOU
Position: DL
Team: Free Agent
2017: Injured Reserve
Years in the NFL: 6
Trattou spent all of 2017 on injured reserve and has failed to garner a contract offer this year.

LAST CALL

While currently not in any training camp, these two could get a look after final roster cuts and injuries shake out. Both were sitting at home in the middle of last season and finished the year on active rosters.

LOUIS MURPHY, JR.
Position: WR
Team: Free Agent
2017: 7 games, 8 rec, 121 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 8
After sitting out all of 2016 recovering from a torn ACL, Murphy clawed his way back to the league last year in a late-season stint with the 49ers. It was an impressive feat and if it’s his last hurrah, definitely something to be proud of. Murphy is a free agent and at 31 years of age, the phone will likely not ring. That hasn’t stopped him from being a force for good in his Tampa community and says more about him than any of his 170 catches in the NFL does.

JELANI JENKINS
Position: LB
Team: Free Agent
2017: 7 games, 10 tackles
Years in the NFL: 5
In 2014, Jenkins posted 110 tackles and 3 ½ sacks in just his second season in the league. Now four years later, he appears to be out of the league. Jenkins bounced around from Oakland to Buffalo to Houston last season and played in only seven games, mostly on special teams with the Texans. He’s a free agent now hoping for another shot, but the market for undersized linebackers just isn’t strong. Jenkins doesn’t deserve to be in this section, but he might not get another chance.

CUT DOWN DAY WILL BE NERVE-RACKING

A few years ago, the NFL began allowing teams to keep their 90-man rosters intact for the entire preseason and instead of weekly cuts, all teams were tasked with trimming down to 53 the week of the season opener. This year, September 1 is the day and many Gators figure to be sweating out a roster spot until the very end.

MIKE GILLISLEE
Position: RB
Team: New England Patriots
2017: 104 rush, 383 yds, 5 TD, 1 rec, 15 yds
Years in the NFL: 5
After a dynamic 2016 campaign in Buffalo, Mike Gillislee arrived in New England with high expectations. The opportunity to take Legarrette Blount’s role as the big back in the Patriots’ high-powered offense was there. But after a promising start in which he scored four TDs in the first two games, Gilly was essentially banished after Week 8. He entered training camp this year as a likely cut, and after the first game when Jeremy Hill outperformed him, that looks inevitable. Hopefully Gilly lands someplace that will give him the opportunity to find his flash.

MATT JONES
Position: RB
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
2017: 5 rush, 14 yds
Years in the NFL: 3
Matt Jones is up against it in Philly. The running back competition is fierce with one or two roster spots at most available to a group of four guys. Jones is in the mix but missed the first preseason game with a leg injury. The good news is the others in the competition haven’t impressed either. Still Jones needs to be on the field showing he can hold onto the ball (eight lost fumbles in 20 games in Washington).

MACK BROWN
Position: RB
Team: Minnesota Vikings
2017: 4 games, 29 rush yds, 11 rec yds
Years in the NFL: 2
Feel free to stump your fellow Gators with this trivia question around a tailgate: Who has the most yards per carry in the NFL, minimum 15 carries? Give them 10 guesses and I’m not sure they’ll nail any of the top three: Ike Hilliard (16 for 126, 7.9), Travis Taylor (32 for 232, 7.3), and then the first running back on the list, Mack Brown (16 for 111, 6.9). Most of those yards came on one of his first professional carries ever with the Redskins, a 61-yard scamper back in 2016. Brown signed with the Vikings late last season and finds himself in a battle to earn the third-string spot behind Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. It’s a surprise he’s lasted as long as he has in the NFL, but more than likely, that time is almost up.

CHAZ GREEN
Position: OL
Team: Dallas Cowboys
2017: 14 games, 4 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
There weren’t many performances from 2017 that were more humiliating than what Chaz Green experienced in Week 10 versus Adrian Clayborn and the Falcons. Green was whipped for four sacks while the Cowboys gave up six total to Clayborn. After beginning training camp last season with a chance to earn a starting guard spot, Green quickly fell behind and then suffered one of the great beatdowns of the year as a spot starter in place of All-Pro tackle Tyron Smith. It will be hard for Green to recover from that with the Cowboys, and even harder considering he has had more issues staying on the field in training camp.

CHRIS THOMPSON
Position: WR/Kick Returner
Team: Houston Texans
2017: 5 rec, 84 yards, 6 punt returns, 6.5 avg, 17 kick returns, 21.7 avg
Years in the NFL: 1
It’s rare that a special teams ace in college makes the leap to the NFL, but that’s just what Thompson did with the Texans last season. His speed not only paid dividends returning kicks, it also helped him become a gunner on coverage. But like just about every undrafted free agent, nothing is ever secure. Thompson’s recovering from a concussion right now and that’s limiting his opportunity to hold onto his spot. It may come down to Thompson and former Auburn receiver Sammie Coates for a roster spot.

JOEY IVIE
Position: DL
Team: Seattle Seahawks
2017: Practice Squad
Years in the NFL: 0
Ivie was cut by the Cowboys before the start of the 2017 season. He eventually landed on the Falcons practice squad before they waived him this summer. Just over a week ago, the Seahawks brought him and soon Ivie was making the play of the preseason. Despite the highlight reel, Ivie faces long odds of making the Seahawks. Seattle kept only four tackles last season and Ivie is likely sixth on the depth chart right now. It might be another practice squad role if he’s to stick around in 2018.

GET HEALTHY!

Injuries are a part of the game, but these guys have faced more obstacles than they deserve.

JORDAN REED
Position: TE
Team: Washington
2017: 6 games, 27 rec, 211 yds, 2 TD
Years in the NFL: 5
As Washington fans are all too aware, Reed has never started more than nine games in a season. Last year, he was hurt going into training camp and never fully recovered. Six games in and with barely 200 receiving yards, his worst season was over. Now the former Gators quarterback enters 2018 claiming to be fully healthy for the first time in a long time. This is a make-or-break season but the potential is there to return to form as one of the best tight ends in the game.

DOMINIQUE EASLEY
Position: DL
Team: Los Angeles Rams
2017: Torn ACL, Injured Reserve
Years in the NFL: 4
Time is running out for Dominique Easley. Four ACL injuries have stalled what appeared to be a sure-fire productive NFL career. Easley had a chance last year to make an impact for the Rams during Aaron Donald’s holdout. Instead, he blew out his ACL and missed the entire season. Donald’s holding out again, but Easley still isn’t back practicing with the team. I was at Rams camp at the end of July and saw him working hard with a trainer, looking quick and explosive. The Rams still believe in him and expect him to be activated from the PUP list before the preseason ends. He’ll have to make up for lost time and make an impression quickly to earn playing time on what will be a stacked and loaded Rams’ defensive line.

Easley hopes to join his teammates on the practice field soon.

JAKE MCGEE
Position: TE
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2017: DNP
Years in the NFL: 0
McGee spent 2016 on the Chargers practice squad and has also spent time with the Panthers and Raiders organizations. This offseason looked promising as the Steelers brought him back after a brief stint in 2017. Unfortunately during OTA workouts in May, he tore his Achilles and will miss the entire 2018 season.

TRANSFERS BUT THEY’LL ALWAYS BE GATORS TOO

The NCAA’s transfer rules have changed so much that quite a few players spend many years at one school before departing for another, having a great final season, and propelling themselves into the league. I still think of these guys as Gators, even if their best playing days were in colors other than Orange and Blue. Cam Newton is the exception here. If you win a Heisman at your second stop, you cease being tied to your original school.

JEFF DRISKEL
Position: QB
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2017: Injured Reserve
Years in the NFL: 2
Driskel spent his first year in the NFL on the practice squad in Cincinnati. The Niners drafted him, but waived him before the 2016 season. Driskel impressed Marvin Lewis and came into training camp in 2017 with a realistic shot of backing up Andy Dalton. He played really well in exhibition games and the Bengals entertained thoughts of moving A.J. McCarron, but that decision was made for them when Driskel broke his thumb in the preseason finale and went on injured reserve. This season, McCarron is gone and Driskel is battling Matt Barkley for the job. He was impressive in the first preseason game, leading a 91-yard game-winning drive late in the 4th quarter. Even if he doesn’t beat out Barkley, he might factor in to another team’s plans down the road.

JOSH SHAW
Position: CB
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2017: 34 tackles, 3 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 3
Shaw has carved out a role as a nickel corner and backup safety with the Bengals, but he’s facing competition in camp that might make him a cutdown casualty.

IAN SILBERMAN
Position: OL
Team: Oakland Raiders
2017: Colts and Browns Practice Squad
Years in the NFL: 0
Silberman almost transferred from Florida to Louisville before eventually landing at Boston College with Steve Addazio. Those moves were nothing compared to what Silberman has done since. He’s a veteran of four different teams’ practice squads in the three years since he was drafted in the sixth round. He’s had his best training camp so far this season with the Raiders in Napa, but he’s still facing long odds of sticking on the roster.

JACOBY BRISSETT
Position: QB
Team: Indianapolis Colts
2017: 3098 pass, 59% comp, 13 TD, 7 INT, 81.7 QB rating
Years in the NFL: 2
Sometimes you just need a little luck. Brissett’s playing time in the NFL has come thanks to suspension and injuries to Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Andrew Luck. Three of the best in the league had to go down for Brissett to find the field, and to his credit, he’s taken advantage of those opportunities and shown he can play quarterback in the league. A nearly 60 percent completion percentage and close to 2-1 TD/INT ratio has probably guaranteed Brissett a long career as a quality backup QB in the NFL.

NEED MORE SEASONING

The potential and promise are still there. An offseason spent working hard, a training camp where they learned a few more tricks, a handful of games early… all of it could lead to the breakout we know they have in them.

QUINCY WILSON
Position: CB
Team: Indianapolis Colts
2017: 7 games, 22 tackles, 1 INT, 6 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 1
By some accounts, Quincy Wilson is ready to blossom in his second season. But by others, namely the team’s depth chart, Wilson is running behind an undrafted free agent in his quest to be a starter in the NFL. Whether he starts or not, the Colts expect big things from Wilson and he appears primed to deliver.

TEEZ TABOR
Position: CB
Team: Detroit Lions
2017: 10 games, 11 tackles
Years in the NFL: 1
When Tabor fell in the 2017 draft, many of us were surprised. We watched him dominate so thoroughly in Gainesville that we assumed he was a can’t-miss NFL prospect. A rough rookie season justified the skeptics concerns about Tabor’s game. So far this fall, he hasn’t picked up the Lions new defense and is struggling to make plays. Speed was never Tabor’s forte and as long as he’s learning and reacting instead of just playing, he’s going to struggle. Don’t count him out. His length, athleticism, and smarts will get him where he needs to be eventually.

Tabor hopes to give the media more to write about in his second season.

BRYAN COX, JR.
Position: DE
Team: Carolina Panthers
2017: 7 games, 6 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Years in the NFL: 1
The odds were against Cox as an undrafted free agent last season. He cleared the first hurdle by making the practice squad. He was then activated to the 53-man roster but in a very limited role. But when the Panthers season wrapped up in a playoff loss to New Orleans, Cox had two tackles and was an integral part of the rotation along the defensive line. After offseason ankle surgery, he began training camp on the physically unable to perform list. Now he’s back on the field and poised to learn from veteran Julius Pepper and make an even bigger contribution to Carolina’s success.

DAVID SHARPE
Position: T
Team: Oakland Raiders
2017: 5 games, 2 starts
Years in the NFL: 1
Sharpe is on the bubble in Oakland. Veteran Donald Penn missed the first two weeks of camp, but Sharpe wasn’t able to impress enough and seize the opportunity. Even with Penn out, he was splitting time at right tackle with former Gator Ian Silberman. Now with Penn back and 2017 first-round pick Kolten Miller locked in at left tackle, Sharpe might be on the outside looking in.

CALEB BRANTLEY
Position: DT
Team: Cleveland Browns
2017: 18 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
Years in the NFL: 1
After a scare early in camp, Brantley is back on the field running with the twos along the Browns defensive front. He showed some promise toward the end of his rookie season and has a chance for a bigger impact in his sophomore campaign with a much-improved Browns team.

VETS WITH ROLES

They might not be starters in the league, but these guys are the backbone of NFL teams. You put together a bunch of these types of players on the depth chart and you’re going to have a successful season.

BRIAN POOLE
Position: DB
Team: Atlanta Falcons
2017: 63 tackles, 4 passes defended, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 2
Poole has strung together two good seasons after making the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2016. As the Falcons’ primary slot defender, Poole was beaten in pass coverage a little more often in year two than in his rookie campaign, but he also finished fifth overall on the team in tackles. In the NFL, there are no guarantees and so Poole once again finds himself battling for his job this year.

DEONTE THOMPSON
Position: WR
Team: Dallas Cowboys
2017: 38 rec, 555 yds, 2 TD, 11 kick returns, 20.8 avg
Years in the NFL: 6
Coming off the best season of his career, Thompson signed with Dallas as part of the many pieces they are going to use to fill Dez Bryant’s shoes. But a roster spot is far from a guarantee, despite the $2.5 million deal. He’s dealing with an Achilles issue and needs to get back on the field fast. If Thompson doesn’t stick in the big D, he’ll likely find a role someplace else after his consistent play in 2017.

JONOTTHAN HARRISON
Position: C
Team: New York Jets
2017: 8 games, 1 start
Years in the NFL: 4
Harrison is putting together a very nice career after leaving Florida with little fanfare. He has four seasons, 52 games and 24 starts under his belt and seems locked in as a backup center and guard for the Jets.

MAX GARCIA
Position: G
Team: Denver Broncos
2017: 16 Games, 16 Starts
Years in the NFL: 3
Garcia has started every game for the Broncos the past two seasons, but given how poor the line overall has played, that might not be a good thing. Denver has really tried to rebuild the line and Garcia might be the odd man out. He did start at left guard in the preseason opener and his versatility as a center and guard might make him valuable. Even if the Broncos cut him, he won’t be out of work long.

LERENTEE MCCRAY
Position: LB
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
2017: 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Years in the NFL: 4
McCray has made a living by becoming a special teams ace and occasional edge rusher. He appears to have found a home in Jacksonville. Even before getting more reps this week at defensive end in the wake of Dante Fowler’s suspension, McCray entered training camp looking at more opportunity along the line. One Gators’ demise in Jacksonville might mean more opportunity for another Gator.

JAYLEN WATKINS
Position: DB
Team: Los Angeles Chargers
2017: 12 games, 17 tackles
Years in the NFL: 4
Watkins is fighting for his NFL life, just as he’s done every training camp. After earning a Super Bowl ring with the Eagles last season, Watkins signed with the Chargers in the offseason. The Bolts boast a crowded secondary and Watkins is fighting for one of the last safety spots. His versatility as a corner and special teams contributor help his cause.

Watkins is working hard to earn a spot in the Chargers deep secondary.

SOLID STARTERS

They’ve worked hard. They’ve overcome obstacles. They’ve established themselves as capable pros. They’ll have long careers in the league.

ANTONIO MORRISON
Position: LB
Team: Indianapolis Colts
2017: 108 tackles, 1 pass defended
Years in the NFL: 2
The Colts’ defense was atrocious last season. So the fact that Morrison started 15 games and racked up 108 tackles doesn’t carry much weight with a new coaching staff trying to rebuild. I saw Morrison in person a couple of times last year and the undersized backer was the same player as always – aggressive to the ball, hard-nosed, instinctive but struggled to get off blocks at times or make big plays. In the right system with good defensive tackles in front of him, Morrison will excel. The Colts did not have that last season and yet he still led the team in tackles.

MARCUS GILBERT
Position: RT
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2017: 7 Games, 7 Starts
Years in the NFL: 7
For seven seasons, Marcus Gilbert has been the Steelers starting right tackle. The problem has been that in just two of those seven years has Gilbert been able to start all 16. When healthy, he teams with former Gator teammate Maurkice Pouncey to form one of the best offensive lines in the league. As a seasoned vet, Gilbert has embraced a mentoring role with younger guys, something that paid huge dividends in the development of Alejandro Villenueva and could led to Gilbert’s replacement in Pittsburgh’s third round draft pick in this year’s draft.

D.J. HUMPHRIES
Position: T
Team: Arizona Cardinals
2017: 5 games, 5 starts
Years in the NFL: 3
By all accounts, D.J. Humphries is finally looking the part of NFL left tackle. Going up against an elite pass rusher in Chandler Jones every day has certainly helped as has being healthy after a MCL sprain and dislocated knee last season. Humphries will need to be at his best if the oft-injured Sam Bradford is the Cardinals starting quarterback.

QUINTON DUNBAR
Position: CB
Team: Washington Redskins
2017: 28 tackles, 1 INT, 8 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 3
Three years ago, Dunbar was an undrafted free agent wide receiver who was asked to switch to cornerback to provide depth in camp. The odds are long for undrafted players to make the league, even more so for a guy learning a new position. Now entering his fourth season, he was rewarded with a three-year, $10 million contract and looks like the potential starter opposite Josh Norman. Dunbar is one of the more impressive Gators in the NFL success stories you’ll ever see.

CALEB STURGIS
Position: PK
Team: Los Angeles Chargers
2017: 1 game, 3/3 FG
Years in the NFL: 5
After years of inconsistency, Caleb Sturgis finally developed into a trustworthy NFL kicker in 2016. Expectations were high for him, if not the Eagles, entering 2017. But after one game, Sturgis season was over with a hip injury. He then watched as his replacement Jake Elliott nailed memorable game winners and his teammates won the Super Bowl. Sturgis has moved on to a San Diego team desperate for a quality kicker. So desperate in fact that they also brought former Noles kicker Roberto Aguayo into camp. Sturgis drilled his first FG of the preseason but shanked his second badly. Aguayo, who flamed out laughably in Tampa, has looked good in practices. The job is Sturgis’ for the taking, but he’ll have to hold off Aguayo’s comeback.

The lonely life of a kicker as Sturgis practices alone on a far field at Chargers training camp.

VERNON HARGREAVES III
Position: CB
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2017: 9 games, 42 tackles, 5 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 2
Hargreaves first two seasons in Tampa have been disappointments. The eleventh overall pick in the 2016 draft has only one career interception. He has been beaten for big plays and failed to make many of his own. This is a make or break year, and the early returns were promising. Hargreaves was having his best camp and playing some of the best football the Buccaneers had seen from him. Unfortunately, he suffered a groin injury in the first preseason game and will miss two-to-three weeks. When he returns, all eyes will be on him to see if he can put it all together finally. Bucs fans are certainly shaking their head that he’s in the “solid” section here, but I believe in VH3.

HOLDING THEMSELVES BACK

The knucklehead section. Wouldn’t be a Gators football list without it. Pro Bowl potential that could be derailed by off-the-field issues.

DANTE FOWLER, JR.
Position: DE
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
2017: 21 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, TD
Years in the NFL: 3
One season lost to a torn ACL. One career start. Two arrests. One game suspension for the arrests. One week of preseason suspension for fighting in practice. This isn’t the kind of resume Fowler wanted to put together after the Jaguars took him third overall in the 2015 draft. All of that overshadows his obvious skills as an edge rusher. The Jags have one of the best defenses in football and figure to be close to a breaking point with Fowler. If he makes the opening day roster, his role as a backup should be embraced with great fervor. It might be what determines just how long his football-playing future is.

JANORIS JENKINS
Position: CB
Team: New York Giants
2017: 9 games, 30 tackles, 3 INT, 2 TD
Years in the NFL: 6
It was not a pleasant offseason for Jenkins after a friend’s murder at his house in which his brother was charged with manslaughter. The Giants corner was out of the state and appears to have had nothing to do with it, but it is not a good look for an athlete in the biggest media market in the world. This past week, Jenkins used an insensitive word in a social media post and has rightfully caught grief for it. On the field, Jenkins’ game slipped a little last season despite his three picks and two pick-sixes. His nose for the end zone continues to be astounding as he has seven pick-sixes in his career. If he can put the off-field issues behind him, Jenkins should once again rank among the best corners in the game.

ON THE RISE

Planting my flag on these guys. Expect big things from them in 2018.

TRENT BROWN
Position: OT
Team: New England Patriots
2017: 10 games, 10 starts
Years in the NFL: 3
Generally, if Bill Belichick wants you, you’re pretty good. For the past two seasons in San Francisco, Brown started all 26 games he was healthy. But in a surprise move this offseason, the Niners dealt the massive tackle to the Patriots for almost nothing. Now Brown appears to be the heir apparent to Nate Solder as Tom Brady’s blindside protector. If you want to place a bet on the Gators alum breakout player of the year, Brown is my pick. He’s a potential future All-Pro now that he’s in New England.

JON HALAPIO
Position: C/G
Team: New York Giants
2017: 10 Games, 6 Starts
Years in the NFL: 1
Jon Halapio is the symbol of NFL perseverance. A sixth-round draft pick in 2014 by the Patriots, he was cut in training camp. He was signed to the Broncos’ practice squad late that season but never played and was waived in the offseason. The Cardinals brought him into 2015 camp but cut him before the season. For almost a year, he was out of football and working as a car salesman. The Patriots came calling again in 2016 before cutting him, again, after training camp. Less than a month later, the Giants brought him into their practice squad. He spent the rest of the 2016 season and the first few games of the 2017 on the practice squad before finally getting a promotion to the active roster halfway through the 2017 season. Halapio played in 10 games in 2017, starting six of them. After more than three years of hard work that yielded few concrete results, Halapio was an NFL player. The Giants appear close to turning over the keys to their offensive line to Halapio; he has taken every snap as the first-team center since minicamp back in May. It is a remarkable journey and one that hopefully is only beginning.

ALEX ANZALONE
Position: LB
Team: New Orleans Saints
2017: 4 games, 16 tackles, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 1
Anzalone has Sean Payton and Saints’ defensive coaches excited for a huge second year. After a promising start in his rookie campaign, Anzalone went down with a shoulder injury, the same issue that plagued him in Gainesville. But after surgery that he says has fixed all issues, he’s had a monster training camp so far. He lined up at middle linebacker in the Saints’ first preseason game, although he’s expected to play the WILL position. His versatility and abilities in coverage mean he’s primed for a huge roll on one of the NFC favorites.

Expect the long locks of Anzalone to flow this year.

 

JONATHAN BULLARD
Position: DT
Team: Chicago Bears
2017: 26 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Years in the NFL: 2
Bullard has a chance to be a full-time starter in Chicago this year after two lackluster seasons. His trademark quickness off the ball should start to emerge after two years of learning how to play in a 3-4 defense. I saw Bullard in person at the Hall of Fame game and he had a sack and a couple of tackles. Always one of my favorites, I’m expecting big things from him in 2018.

Bullard should be spending less time on the sidelines and more time in the backfield this season.

DEMARCUS ROBINSON
Position: WR
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
2017: 21 rec, 212 yds
Years in the NFL: 2
Not that long ago, the adage in the NFL was that it took three years for a receiver to really figure things out. That’s not the case anymore for everyone, but for Demarcus Robinson, it very well could be. His sophomore campaign was a step in the right direction with eight starts, 21 catches in the regular season, and an impressive 4-for-57-and-a-TD stat line in the Chiefs’ playoff loss. He’s been given more roles in the offense this fall as a result, and it paid off early with three catches and a touchdown in the first preseason game. He’ll be behind Tyrek Hill and Sammy Watkins for sure, but Robinson appears to be finding his niche.

TOP 10

The current best of the best. Some of this is based on 2017 performance. Some of it on 2018 expectations. And some of it on track record over the course of a few seasons.

#10 – JOE HADEN
Position: CB
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2017: 11 games, 20 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack, 7 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 8
For the first time in his career, Haden is beginning a season with the belief that he’ll be playing football in January. Signing with the Steelers right before the season opener last year was a move from the outhouse to the penthouse. Now Haden must prove he can stay healthy. Only once, his rookie year, has he played all 16 games. Not coincidentally, he had a career-best six picks. Haden’s already missed time with nagging injuries this training camp. When healthy, he’s still one of the NFL’s best lockdown corners.

#9 – MIKE POUNCEY
Position: C
Team: Los Angeles Chargers
2017: 16 games, 16 starts
Years in the NFL: 7
Mike Pouncey has a new home in L.A. with the Chargers after spending seven seasons in Miami. As another South Florida to Southern California transplant, I’m excited to see the older Pouncey twin with the Bolts. He looks healthy and rejuvenated and has already made a great impression. If he can stay healthy, expect big things as he anchors what will easily be the most explosive offense he’s played in since the Tebow days.

It did not take long for Pouncey [53] to become the anchor in the middle of the Chargers line.

#8 – MARCUS MAYE
Position: S
Team: New York Jets
2017: 78 tackles, 2 INT, 1 forced fumble
Years in the NFL: 1
The hype and buzz surrounding Jamal Adams overshadowed Marcus Maye throughout the 2017 season. But if you ask those who watched both of them all season, it’s a coin flip as to who was better and who is better positioned to become a star. Maye showcased the ball skills and sure tackling that made him so great in Gainesville. After offseason ankle surgery, he returned to the field in training camp and looks every bit the dominant free safety.

#7 – TREY BURTON
Position: TE
Team: Chicago Bears
2017: 23 rec, 248 yds, 5 TD
Years in the NFL: 4
Florida fans fell in love with Trey Burton’s jack-of-all-trades style of play, but nothing we ever saw in Gainesville prepared us for Super Bowl LII. No matter where Burton goes from here, he’ll be defined and remembered for the play that helped the Eagles win their first championship. Now in Chicago, Burton appears headed for more than just a trick play and backup role. New head coach Matt Nagy envisions Burton as a Travis Kelce-like weapon so he might eclipse his career total of 63 grabs in 2018 alone.

#6 – REGGIE NELSON
Position: S
Team: Oakland Raiders
2017: 89 tackles, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles
Years in the NFL: 11
Congratulations to the newest member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame! Nelson is going to turn 35 in September and for the first time in his long, brilliant NFL career, Father Time started to nip at his heels. He was still a sure tackler for the most part but his ability to defend over the top and to the sidelines started to slip. In his 12th training camp, he’s battling to hold onto his starting spot. An improved Raiders’ pass rush will help Nelson’s older legs in coverage.

#5 – JARRAD DAVIS
Position: LB
Team: Detroit Lions
2017: 86 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Years in the NFL: 1
Despite playing in only 14 games, Davis led all rookies in tackles last season. He finished strong, too, with 12 wrap-ups and a pick in the Lions’ finale. Lions new head coach Matt Patricia has brought a new system in, but Davis’ work ethic has already ingratiated him to Patricia and elevated him to a leadership role within the Lions defense. Davis is positioned for a long run of success in the NFL.

#4 – JONATHAN BOSTIC
Position: LB
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2017: 97 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery
Years in the NFL: 5
Jon Bostic is used to stepping into massive shoes. His freshman year at Florida, he helped replace Brandon Spikes. The Bears drafted him to take over the middle for Brian Urlacher. Now the Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping he can fill the gap left by Ryan Shazier. After signing with his fifth team in six years, Bostic appears comfortable with his game and role. Last season, he notched a career-best 97 tackles in only 14 games for the Colts. Already in training camp, he’s split time with the first-team unit and turned enough heads that it wouldn’t be surprising to see him become the fourth former Gator to start in the Steel City this year alongside Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and Joe Haden.

#3 – CARLOS DUNLAP
Position: DE
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2017: 46 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 1 INT for TD, 7 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 8
Last year’s #1 on this list, Dunlap has cemented his status as one of the best defensive players in Bengals history. He holds the team’s all-time sack mark at 64.5, an average of eight per year since he’s entered the league. His passes defensed numbers dropped last season, but he still bats down more balls at the line than just about any other pass rusher. Still only 29, he’s due a nice contract extension soon. Elite pass-rushing defensive ends tend to stick around well into their 30s giving Dunlap the chance to eclipse the 100-sack benchmark and surpass Kevin Carter and Trace Armstrong as the most prolific Gators pass rushers ever (Jack Youngblood excluded since sacks weren’t counted for most of his heyday). More importantly, Dunlap has become one of the most charitable athletes in Cincinnati, a mark the kids in that community will remember far longer than any sack.

#2 – MAURKICE POUNCEY
Position: C
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2017: 15 games, 15 starts
Years in the NFL: 8
Six full seasons, six Pro Bowls. Still only 29, Maurkice Pouncey has a few years of high-level football ahead of him to add to his impressive resume. He anchors the line for one of the game’s best offenses and in some circles is seen as one of the all-time greats for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. If he can sustain his high level of play into the next decade, he has a shot at Canton.

#1 – KEANU NEAL
Position: S
Team: Atlanta Falcons
2017: 113 tackles, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries
Years in the NFL: 2
Neal followed up a great rookie campaign with an even better sophomore season. He made his first Pro Bowl and finished 13th in the league in tackles. In just his third season and at the age of 23, he’s one of the leaders of the Falcons defense. Kiki has established himself as one of the best strong safeties in the league, but one thing to watch is how the NFL’s new helmet rules will impact his ability to deliver big blows in the Falcons’ secondary.

You know you have arrived when Madden dishes out that high grade.

And with that, you have the complete list of 2018 Gators in the NFL. Here’s what an all-former-Gators team would look like.

QB – Jacoby Brissett
RB – Mike Gillislee
WR – Deonte Thompson
WR – Demarcus Robinson
WR – Antonio Callaway
TE – Trey Burton
TE – Jordan Reed
RT – Marcus Gilbert
RG – Max Garcia
C – Maurkice Pouncey
LG – Mike Pouncey
LT – Trent Brown

DE – Carlos Dunlap
DT – Jonathan Bullard
DT – Caleb Brantley
DE – Dante Fowler, Jr.
LB – Jon Bostic
LB – Jarrad Davis
LB – Antonio Morrison
CB – Joe Haden
FS – Reggie Nelson
SS – Keanu Neal
CB – Janoris Jenkins
NB – Brian Poole

K – Eddy Pineiro
P – Johnny Townsend

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Post Season – Pass on Pick em

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UAB – Down One Scholarship Podcaster

This week, Josh takes over. He doesn’t even let Matt get a single word in. Hear his thoughts on the win (what’s that?), his pick em games, and his take on chips and dip.https://soundcloud.com/user-605671470/uab-down-one-scholarship-podcaster

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South Carolina -More Money Than Alaska

In this week’s episode, Matt and Josh discuss the (loss) to South Carolina. They’ll also get in to a few of the week’s big games, and exactly what we can expect from a coaching race in the SEC.

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Mizzou – We’ve Clearly Given Up

Tune in to this week’s episode and listen to Matt and Josh discuss yet another loss, this time to Mizzou! Remember in 2014 when the Gators lost to them at home? Don’t worry, they don’t mention that. Also, hear our continued talks on head coaches, as well as which teams we think have the toughest fan bases.

 

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Georgia – Now Accepting Head Coach Applications

Join Matt and Josh again this week as they welcome their friend Bobby to chat the UAA and its thought process moving forward with finding a new head coach.

Also, we may have played a game on Saturday. Did it go well? Find out when you listen! And also make sure to stick around to hear who we think should be Head Coach. I promise some choices may surprise you. Saban? Haha no.

 

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Texas A&M: New Unis, Same Florida

Matt and Josh are back for episode 5! Let’s talk a little bit about Texas A&M, and in case you forgot, our Gators were wearing some new uniforms. Did we like them? Find out by listening to this weeks episode. If you’re a fan of College Football in general, then don’t worry, because we discuss all of those upsets that took College Football by storm this weekend. Unlucky Friday the 13th, unless you’re Syracuse!!!

 

 

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Geaud Gawd LSU

Listen in to this week’s podcast where Matt and Josh discuss the loss to LSU, our future as a football team, whose uniforms look like a Walmart Great Value brand, and giving some insight to what Tom Petty meant to them. New episodes every Wednesday morning.

Also! We’re excited to announce we’re on iTunes! Information on a giveaway will come out next week with our Texas A&M recap. And remember, In All Kinds of Weather.

 

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