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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