NFL Preview, Florida Gators Version: 2017 Player Rankings

When NFL training camps open up in the next two weeks, close to 3,000 men will be able to say they are members of the National Football League. By the time the regular season launches in September, that number will be reduced by over a thousand. Some of those cut will continue to fight and may eventually catch on in the NFL. Others will find jobs playing in the Canadian Football League (see: Will Hill) or the Arena Football League. But for many, the long, difficult dream of becoming a professional football player will end just shy of the goal line. Everyone knows how difficult it is to make it as a professional football player but this time of year it is always helpful to reflect.

Per some studies, your chances of having an IQ of 150 or higher are about the same as the chances of a high school senior football player making the NFL. That’s super genius territory of Bill Gates and Albert Einstein. No wonder we revere professional athletes like we do. Their journeys fueled by hard work, perseverance and determination are as impressive as any of society’s greats.

Just to make it to the NFL is an accomplishment in itself. To play for any length of time, regardless of skill level and contributions, is something to be proud of and cherish forever. It is why the narrative that certain players are busts or bums is so foolish. If you made it to the NFL, you are by definition one of the elite few to ever play the sport. JaMarcus Russell may not have lived up to the expectations of a first-overall pick, but he exceeded any realistic expectations of performance and achievement JUST BY MAKING IT TO THE LEAGUE.

Each year, I enjoy writing this column looking at the University of Florida products playing in the NFL more than just about anything else I write. Part of the reason is because of just how difficult it is to make the league, let alone thrive. In the past, I’ve written this before the Super Bowl and the end of the season. This year, I wanted to do it before camps open for that very reason. Any former Gator who makes a roster is to be celebrated regardless of playing time and statistics. At the same time, we live in a fantasy football world driven by statistics and accomplishments. Those numbers lead to more numbers with our annual rankings of Gators in the NFL.

The Gators had 33 players on NFL rosters in week one of the 2016 season. Overall, 43 former Gators were active at some point with three more on either injured reserve or a practice squad. That was third-most last season behind LSU and Alabama. This year, the Gators could eclipse that number led by a deep draft class and undrafted free agents.

2017 DRAFT PICKS

JARRAD DAVIS
Position: LB
Team: Detroit Lions
Draft: 1st Round, 21st overall

MARCUS MAYE
Position: S
Team: New York Jets
Draft: 2nd Round, 39th overall

QUINCY WILSON
Position: CB
Team: Indianapolis Colts
Draft: 2nd Round, 46th overall

TEEZ TABOR
Position: CB
Team: Detroit Lions
Draft: 2nd Round, 53rd overall

ALEX ANZALONE
Position: LB
Team: New Orleans Saints
Draft: 3rd Round, 76th overall

DAVID SHARPE
Position: T
Team: Oakland Raiders
Draft: 4th Round, 129th overall

CALEB BRANTLEY
Position: DT
Team: Cleveland Browns
Draft: 6th Round, 185th overall

JOEY IVIE
Position: DT
Team: Dallas Cowboys
Draft: 7th Round, 228th overall

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

BRYAN COX, JR.
Position: DE
Team: Carolina Panthers

AHMAD FULLWOOD
Position: WR
Team: New Orleans Saints

AUSTIN APPLEBY
Position: QB
Team: Dallas Cowboys

CHRIS THOMPSON
Position: WR
Team: Houston Texans

We’ll see where those rookies land in next year’s rankings after they hopefully make their mark in the NFL. Now onto the rankings, which are broken up into different categories based on performance. The first two groups are players who have played their last games in the league. There is no coming back from these off-field incidents, especially given the lack of production.

DON’T CALL US AND WE DEFINITELY AREN’T CALLING YOU

MATT ELAM
Position: SS
Team: None
2016: 9 games, 4 tackles
Years in the NFL: 4
Elam is one of the most surprising failures among former Gators in the NFL. He was such an electric and dynamic force in Gainesville, and it seemed his style of play would translate well to the league. After a promising rookie season, he fell out of favor in Baltimore. He entered this offseason as a free agent in search of a home, but rather than fighting for his career, Elam was arrested for drug possession. Later this summer, he added another arrest for theft and battery. Those charges have been dropped but not the drug charges. It’s sad to see Elam’s career end, but hopefully he can turn his life around before it is too late.

LOUIS MURPHY
Position: WR
Team: None
2016: Injured reserve
Years in the NFL: 7
Murphy missed all of 2016 recovering from a torn ACL and is currently a free agent. An offseason gun charge, later dropped, probably ended any hopes of his comeback in 2017.

RETIRED

PERCY HARVIN
Position: WR
Team: None
2016: 2 games, 2 rec, 6 yds
Years in the NFL: 8
Harvin officially retired last offseason but was talked back into action by the Bills in November. Like many greats before him, it wasn’t a prudent decision. Harvin was a non-factor for Buffalo and retired again in March. Despite so many injuries, he left his mark in the NFL as one of the best kickoff return men ever punctuated by his Super Bowl touchdown. He is one of the few Gators ever with national championship and Super Bowl rings.

THE WRITING IS ON THE WALL

While not officially retired, this next group of players are on the outside looking in right now. It isn’t impossible that they still might receive a phone call, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

BRANDON SPIKES
Position: LB
Team: None
2016: 11 games, 9 tackles
Years in the NFL: 6
Spikes has had an up-and-down career in the NFL that feels like it left a lot on the table in terms of production. There have been stretches where Spikes was mentioned among the better run-stuffing linebackers in football. But lack of consistency, lack of health and an off-the-field incident in 2015 have all contributed to his vagabond status entering the 2017 season. He is unsigned as of now and given his age of lack of production in 2016, this might be the end of the road. Six years in the NFL after two national championships and All-American seasons at Florida secures Spikes’ legacy.

MAJOR WRIGHT
Position: S
Team: None
2016: 2 games, no stats
Years in the NFL: 7
Wright’s career appears to be at an end. He does not have an invite to training camp with a team after being released by the Buccaneers late last year. He hasn’t officially retired so if injuries happen, he might still receive a call at some point. But if it is the end, Wright had a nice career. Over seven seasons, he racked up 326 tackles and 9 picks including three pick-sixes, mostly with the Bears.

NEIRON BALL
Position: LB
Team: None
2016: Injured reserve
Years in the NFL: 1
Waived just this week by the Raiders, Ball likely didn’t show enough in his rehab to earn the trust he could compete for a spot on the roster. Ball has certainly overcome much worse odds so don’t count him out just yet. But it is likely his professional career is over after six games, five tackles and one sack, all coming in 2015. The fact that he played at all in the NFL is truly one of the greatest Gators stories ever.

JUSTIN TRATTOU
Position: DE
Team: None
2016: 16 games, no stats
Years in the NFL: 6
Never a star at UF, Trattou was undrafted after his senior season and given little chance of ever playing in the NFL. Not only did he make the Giants roster and play in six games his rookie season, he bounced around practice squads and injured reserve and played at least four games in five of his six professional campaigns. Trattou’s career may be over but he’ll always have the two interceptions with the Vikings in 2015 to his name (two more than legendary Gators Kevin Carter and Trace Armstrong ever got in a combined 435 games).

WILL THEY MAKE A ROSTER?

MACK BROWN
Position: RB
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 8 rush, 82 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 1
Brown saw five times as many snaps on special teams as he did on offense in his rookie season. He did impress when given the opportunity to carry the rock, breaking off a 61-yard touchdown in mop-up duty against the Bears. Still, the odds are stacked against Brown in Washington with three backs ahead of him on the depth chart.

FRANKIE HAMMOND
Position: WR
Team: New York Jets
2016: Practice Squad
Years in the NFL: 3
After contributing as a returner for two season with the Chiefs, Hammond spent all of 2016 on KC’s practice squad. The Jets took a flier on him this offseason in hopes he can spark their return game and contribute to an anemic receiving corps.

DEONTE THOMPSON
Position: WR
Team: Chicago Bears
2016: 22 rec, 249 yds, 2 TD, 35 kr, 23.0 avg
Years in the NFL: 5
One of the more frustrating Gators during his time in Gainesville, Thompson has worked hard to carve out a nice career in the NFL. This past season was his best to date with a regular role as a kick returner and a spot in the receiving corps. Despite the production of 2016, Thompson isn’t guaranteed a roster spot in Chicago and this training camp will be critical for him.

JAYLEN WATKINS
Position: S
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
2016: 30 tackles, 3 passes defended
Years in NFL: 3
Watkins’ slow climb up the Eagles’ depth chart can be credited to his move to safety. Drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 draft as a corner, he played mostly on special teams in four games before getting cut right before the start of the 2015 season. The Eagles brought him back later that season and in his third season, the move to safety allowed him to see the field for all 16 games and become a vital part of the Eagles’ defense. He’ll be in a battle this August to keep his role and even his roster spot.

JEFF DRISKEL
Position: QB
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2016: Active for 16 games, no snaps
Years in the NFL: 1
Driskel was picked up by the Bengals before the start of last season after being waived by the 49ers. He remained the third quarterback all season but never saw any action as Andy Dalton stayed healthy. There are rumors the Bengals might deal A.J. McCarron and promote Driskel to Dalton’s backup. That’d be a huge statement of their confidence in the former Gator, but if they don’t do a deal, Driskel may find himself left off the roster.

JOSH EVANS
Position: FS
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 2 games, 1 tackle
Years in the NFL: 4
Evans was cut by Jacksonville last season after starting 36 games in his first three seasons. He signed with the Redskins and made two appearances, both on special teams. The Redskins have him in camp this year but the odds are long that he’ll make the final roster. A sixth-rounder in 2013, he certainly exceeded expectations for a playing career in the league.

MATT JONES
Position: RB
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 99 rush, 460 yds, 3 TD, 8 rec, 73 yds
Years in the NFL: 2
Over the past two seasons, Jones has 1,327 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns. Pretty good? And yet Jones is currently fifth on the Redskins depth chart at running back and unlikely to ever carry the ball again for the team. Eight fumbles, including multiple times on the goal line, will do that. Jones recently hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent, perhaps hoping to seek a release or trade and a chance to start over somewhere else.

MARCUS ROBERSON
Position: CB
Team: Houston Texans
2016: 7 games, 2 tackles
Years in the NFL: 3
Roberson was picked up in the offseason by the Texans after a lackluster year in Buffalo. He’ll have to earn a spot as a backup and special teams player to keep his career going. Despite the pressures of performing in a make-or-break year for his NFL career, Roberson spent some of his offseason visiting Rwanda where he helped build homes and played sports with children. Bravo Marcus!

LYNDEN TRAIL
Position: LB
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 2 games, 2 tackles
Years in the NFL: 1
One of the good friends of this blog, Trail is a favorite around these parts. Despite never actually playing at Florida, Trail remained a part of Gator Nation, rooting on the school from afar after his transfer to Norfolk State. We rooted for him, too, and after a great career in Virginia, he had a chance to be drafted in 2015. It didn’t happen, though, but he was able to land on the Redskins practice squad. In 2016, he bounced from the Redskins practice squad to the Rams practice squad to the unemployment line. He grabbed a job at UPS, kept working out and miraculously received a call from Washington late in the season. The ultimate journey to the NFL was completed when Trail played in the final two games of the season. He’ll be in Redskins camp next week and we’re rooting hard for him to stick in the league.

CRITICAL SEASON FOR SURVIVAL

SHARRIF FLOYD
Position: DT
Team: Minnesota Vikings
2016: 1 game before season-ending knee injury
Years in the NFL: 4
Coming out of school, Floyd looked poised to become an impact defensive tackle. It hasn’t worked out that way. A disappointing rookie season was followed by two years that showed some improvement and potential. Now after complications from his knee recovery, Floyd’s career is in jeopardy. Fingers crossed he gets back on the field and proves his critics wrong.

DANTE FOWLER, JR.
Position: OLB/DE
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
2016: 32 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defended
Years in NFL: 2
Imagine dreaming of playing in the NFL all your life, getting drafted in the first round after a spectacular college career, but then in your first professional practice, blowing out your knee before you even signed your contract. Fowler’s ACL tear on the first day of mini-camp in 2015 was cruel but not career-defining. He made an impact in his first season back on the field with the Jaguars and is poised for a breakout campaign this year. That is, if he can stay out of trouble. Fowler was arrested Tuesday night for allegedly pushing a man, breaking his glasses and throwing his bag of booze in a lake. Childish behavior for sure but apparently not Fowler’s first run-in with trouble. Fowler needs to get his act together off the field or he’ll derail a promising a career.

MIKE POUNCEY
Position: C
Team: Miami Dolphins
2016: 5 games, 5 starts
Years in the NFL: 6
There might not be a former Gator more integral to his team’s success than Pouncey. The three-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2012 and the Dolphins pass protection and run game has suffered for it. Pouncey has a bad hip and received a stem cell treatment this offseason. There is uncertainty to when he will actually see the field for Miami. If he can return fully healthy, he’ll re-establish himself as one of the game’s best centers. If he can’t, he might be closer to retirement than another Pro Bowl.

JONATHAN BULLARD
Position: DT
Team: Chicago Bears
2016: 18 tackles, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 1
At Florida, Bullard was a menace. Explosive off the snap, instinctive to the football, he was a disruptive force who lived in opposing teams’ backfields. In his rookie campaign, Bullard flashed very little of what made him a Gator great. This offseason, he trained with former Gators and Bears star Alex Brown. Given Bullard’s obvious skills, quickness and strength, it would be surprising if he doesn’t put together a more complete performance this season and turn into an impact player with the Bears.

COMFORTABLE IN THEIR ROLE

This group of players are the backbone to the NFL. Superstars win championships and get all the accolades, but the lifeblood of the NFL are role players who do their job. Often they do the little things that allow the superstars to do the big things. Some of the guys in this group are my favorite players to watch on Sundays, starting with the first one for sure.

TREY BURTON
Position: TE
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
2016: 37 rec, 327 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 3
Quite simply, Trey Burton is a football player. Cliché as it is, Burton just finds a way to make teams better playing wherever he is needed. He did it in Gainesville and is doing it in Philadelphia. Last season, Burton came on as a receiver for Carson Wentz after making his mark mostly as a special teams player. He has developed into a good blocker and spreads the field for Philly both inside and out. Of course wherever the Eagles need him, he’ll play, even if it means long snapping.

D.J. HUMPHRIES
Position: T
Team: Arizona Cardinals
2016: 13 games, 13 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
Humphries earned the dubious distinction of being the only 2015 first-round draft pick to be inactive for all 16 games. He was deep in Cardinals coach Bruce Arians’ doghouse. But a good camp in 2016 earned him the starting right tackle spot. He impressed so much that they are moving him to Carson Palmer’s all-important blind-side this year.

ANTONIO MORRISON
Position: LB
Team: Indianapolis Colts
2016: 45 tackles
Years in the NFL: 1
Morrison got his feet wet in the NFL last season and hopes to earn more playing time and possibly even a starting role in training camp this year. The film shows a fundamentally sound and smart linebacker who plugs holes and makes sure-handed tackles.

DEMARCUS ROBINSON
Position: WR
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
2016: 16 games, no stats
Years in the NFL: 1
Robinson played in all 16 games for the Chiefs in his rookie campaign as a special teamer. He received just six snaps on offense and was never targeted. That’s about as close to a redshirt year as you can get in the NFL. The buzz out of KC heading into camp, though, is that Robinson is poised for a big second season. Many are predicting he’ll win a starting spot opposite Tyreek Hill. Robinson is definitely one to watch for in 2017.

LERENTEE MCCRAY
Position: DE/LB
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
2016: 10 tackles
Years in the NFL: 3
An unspectacular stint in Gainesville littered with injuries led to McCray going undrafted in 2013. One of the least likely Gators to ever make the NFL, McCray now enters his fourth professional season, this one back in his home state with the Jaguars. He has a chance to continue as a special teams ace and situational defensive backup. McCray is an inspiration not just on the field too.

JELANI JENKINS
Position: LB
Team: Oakland Raiders
2016: 9 games, 29 tackles
Years in the NFL: 4
After his worst season as a professional, Jenkins has a lot to prove in Oakland. Injuries were part of it, but even when healthy, Jenkins really struggled both in run defense and pass defense. Perhaps he can regain the form he flashed in 2014 when he was a reliable three-down linebacker for the Dolphins.

JAYE HOWARD
Position: DT
Team: Chicago Bears
2016: 8 games, 23 tackles, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 5
Cut in the offseason by the Chiefs, Howard says he’s humbled and determined to return to his 2015 form that saw him emerge as a dominant force in the middle of the defensive line for Kansas City. He’s coming back from a hip injury that cost him half the season, but the Bears believe he can provide depth and improvement, perhaps even pairing with fellow Gator Jonathan Bullard in the middle of their line.

JONOTTHAN HARRISON
Position: C/G
Team: New York Jets
2016: 13 games, 4 starts
Years in the NFL: 3
Harrison has proven to be a versatile lineman, playing all five positions with the Colts last season. The Jets signed him in the offseason to be a backup at a number of positions.

MAX GARCIA
Position: G
Team: Denver Broncos
2016: 16 games, 16 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
Garcia has developed into a solid NFL guard, especially adept as a road-grader in the rush game. He’ll likely man the left side of the line this season.

JACOBY BRISSETT
Position: QB
Team: New England Patriots
2016: 3 games, 34/55, 400 yds, 16 rush, 83 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 1
Brissett started two games for the Super Bowl champs last season when Tom Brady was serving his suspension. He managed the game well, doing little to hurt the team. He has earned the trust of Bill Belichick and by all accounts, looks miles ahead of where he was at this point last year. He’ll remain the Pats third quarterback, a good spot for a young QB still learning the game to be. He’s also a pretty good writer so maybe blogging is in his future after his playing days are over.

TRENTON BROWN
Position: T
Team: San Francisco 49ers
2016: 16 games, 16 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
In 2016, Brown started more games than he did in his entire career at Florida. The inconsistency that plagued his two years in Gainesville disappeared as Brown’s work ethic and overall game improved. He is poised to become a fixture on the offensive line in San Francisco and join the growing number of great Gators offensive linemen currently playing in the NFL.

DOMINIQUE EASLEY
Position: DT
Team: Los Angeles Rams
2016: 35 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Years in the NFL: 3
Easley had his best season as a pro last year in Los Angeles and finally showed the immense potential that made him a first-round pick in 2014. The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, and Easley may play an even bigger part of their production this season. His ceiling is high and future is bright.

QUINTON DUNBAR
Position: CB/Nickel
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 25 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 2
A position switch has made Dunbar a pro and might just turn him into a real force in the NFL. Dunbar caught over 100 passes in Gainesville for over 1,000 yards. But in his first camp with Washington, the Redskins moved him to cornerback. It took some time but last year he began to catch on and really show glimpses of potential. Dunbar might make a big leap with another offseason and more experience.

CRACKING THE TOP 10 NEXT YEAR

This next group includes one bounce back candidate and two young players, one with the opportunity of a lifetime, the other with all the talent to be a star.

JOE HADEN
Position: CB
Team: Cleveland Browns
2016: 13 games, 3 INT, 48 tackles, 11 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 7
Back in 2013 and 2014, there were few corners in the league better than Haden. He appeared destined for all-time greatness despite playing for the wretched Browns. Two injury-plagued seasons later, Haden is fighting for his job. Life comes at you fast in the NFL.

CHAZ GREEN
Position: T
Team: Dallas Cowboys
2016: 4 games, 2 starts
Years in the NFL: 2
Getting drafted by the team with the best offensive line in football was a blessing and a curse for Green. He missed all of his rookie season because of hip surgery. In 2016, he was set to contribute, starting two games and playing well, before getting hurt again. Now heading into 2017, Green has a chance to win a starting job at right tackle. If he seizes the chance, he’ll join the best position group in the NFL and help lead the way for one of the game’s most dynamic runners in Ezekiel Elliot.

VERNON HARGREAVES III
Position: CB
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2016: 76 tackles, 1 INT, 10 passes defended
There is no tougher position to be a rookie than cornerback. VH3 learned that first-hand in what was widely panned as a miserable year. He led all corners in receptions given up and yards against. But beyond the numbers and big plays, Hargreaves showed toughness as a tackler and some of his innate skills that will pay off once the game slows down for him. It is likely that VH3 makes the biggest jump up this list next season.

TOP 10

Here’s the best of the best, an absolutely scientific ranking of course.

#10 – BRIAN POOLE
Position: CB/Nickel
Team: Atlanta Falcons
2016: 58 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack, 2 fumble recoveries
Years in the NFL: 1
In Gainesville, we knew Brian Poole could play. In the 2016 draft, the NFL didn’t know. They sure found out, though. The Falcons got a steal in signing Poole as an undrafted free agent. He delivered one of the best defensive rookie campaigns in the league and was a huge part of the Falcons defense and the team’s path to the Super Bowl. The Falcons plan to utilize him as a blitzer more and continue to move him around the defensive backfield. He’s primed for a big 2017 and a long career in the league.

#9 – CALEB STURGIS
Position: K
Team: Philadelphia Eagles
2016: 35/41 FG, 85.4%, 30/31 XP, 96.8%
Years in the NFL: 4
Arguably the best kicker in Florida history (pre-Pineiro), Sturgis’ big leg didn’t translate to accuracy early in his career. He appeared headed out of the league when the Dolphins cut him before the season in 2015. He got a shot in Philadelphia when the Eagles’ kicker was injured, but in his first game, he missed an extra point and a field goal in a three-point loss.  At that point, the odds were not good for his career continuing. But since then, Sturgis has become one of the better kickers in the league. He was third in the NFL in field goals made last season and sixth with four 50+ yarders. His accuracy is now above the league average and barring injury, he appears poised to have a long career.

#8 – MARCUS GILBERT
Position: RT
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2016: 13 games, 13 starts
Years in the NFL: 6
Gilbert has improved every season in the NFL and is now a fixture at right tackle for the Steelers. He allowed only four sacks all last season and probably deserved a Pro Bowl selection. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the fifth best tackle in pass protection. He doesn’t get the accolades or recognition fellow Gator Maurkice Pouncey does on the Steelers line, but he’s just as integral to their offensive success.

#7 – MIKE GILLISLEE
Position: RB
Team: New England Patriots
2016: 101 rush, 577 yds, 8 TD, 9 rec, 50 yds, 1 TD
Years in the NFL: 4
#FreeGilly was in full effect in 2016. The former Florida fan-favorite led the NFL in yards per rush and scored as many touchdowns as Le’Veon Bell despite receiving only part-time work behind LeSean McCoy. This season, he joins the Super Bowl champion Patriots and has a chance to carve out a workhorse role next to Tom Brady in the backfield. This might be the most prolific rushing season for a Gators running back since Fred Taylor’s heyday.

#6 – KEANU NEAL
Position: FS
Team: Atlanta Falcons
2016: 106 tackles, 9 passes defended, 5 forced fumbles
Years in the NFL: 1
Neal is cut from the same cloth as ferocious, big-hitting Gators safeties Lawrence Wright and Reggie Nelson. In an incredible rookie season with the Falcons, he tied for third in the NFL in forced fumbles and had the fourth most tackles by a safety. He was a star last year and has superstardom written all over him going forward. Just ask Mike Evans.

#5 – JORDAN REED
Position: TE
Team: Washington Redskins
2016: 66 rec, 686 yds, 6 TD
Years in the NFL: 4
Hard to imagine that John Brantley’s backup in 2010 would develop like this. Jordan Reed’s move to tight end in Gainesville will go down as one of the greatest position changes in Gators history. When healthy, Reed has established himself as one of the best tight ends in football. He joined Janoris Jenkins as the only Gators in the NFL Network’s Top 100 players countdown, coming in at #65. However, at least six concussions going back to his playing days at UF are scary to think about. Frankly, Reed is the perfect example of why so many of us are conflicted about the sport we love. We root for him to keep playing and become one of the all-time Gators greats in the NFL (he’s already 15th in receptions and 10th in TD catches for former Gators). At the same time, we know his body and brain can’t take much more. Here’s hoping to a safe and successful 2017.

#4 – MAURKICE POUNCEY
Position: C
Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
2016: 15 games, 15 starts
Years in the NFL: 7
Pouncey returned to Pro Bowl form last season after missing all of 2015 with a broken leg. The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro is the anchor of a dynamic Steelers offense. If you get a chance to watch a Steelers game this upcoming season, take some snaps to focus only on Pouncey and the job he does making calls pre-snap and pulling and leading the way for Le’Veon Bell. I’ve said it before, but who would have thought he’d have the best NFL career of those Urban Meyer-juggernaut teams?

#3 – JANORIS JENKINS
Position: CB
Team: New York Giants
2016: 49 tackles, 3 INT, 18 passes defended, 1 sack
Years in the NFL: 5
After signing a big free-agent deal last offseason, Jenkins backed it up with his best season. He made his first Pro Bowl, was named second-team All-Pro, finished sixth in the league in passes defended and helped turn a struggling Giants defense around. Players voted him the 54th best player in the league in NFL Network’s Top 100, the highest spot for any Gator. Jenkins is firmly entrenched as one of the elite corners in the league.

#2 – CARLOS DUNLAP
Position: DE
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
2016: 49 tackles, 8 sacks, 15 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 7
How good has Dunlap become? He made his second straight Pro Bowl thanks to 29 quarterback pressures, 8 sacks and 15 pass deflections. He was 13th in the NFL in pass deflections, the only defensive end to rank in the top 75. His 57 career sacks are behind only Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter and Trace Armstrong in Gators lore and rank first among all players in his 2010 draft class. Dunlap has put together an amazing career and is in his prime entering 2017. He falls just short of the top spot, though.

Dunlap has reached his pass-rushing potential.

#1 – REGGIE NELSON
Position: FS
Team: Oakland Raiders
2016: 65 tackles, 5 INT, 12 passes defended
Years in the NFL: 10
The “Eraser” keeps getting better with age. After a slow start to his career in Jacksonville, Nelson found success for six seasons in Cincinnati, culminating with his first Pro Bowl selection in 2015. Last season, he jumped to Oakland and anchored a young defense’s rise to prominence. Nelson has 17 picks in his past three seasons, the most in the NFL over that stretch. He is the all-time picks leader among Gators alums, also ranking fifth in tackles. He’s established himself as one of the game’s best ball hawks with little signs of slowing down entering year 11. For the first time, he sits atop the rankings.

This is the strongest group of Gators there has been in the NFL in at least a decade. Here’s what an all-Gators NFL starting lineup would look like. You could win some games with this bunch.

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

Defense
DE – Carlos Dunlap
DT – Dominique Easley
DT – Jaye Howard
DE – Dante Fowler, Jr.
LB – Jelani Jenkins
LB – Jarrad Davis
LB – Antonio Morrison
CB – Janoris Jenkins
CB – Joe Haden
SS – Keanu Neal
FS – Reggie Nelson
Nickel – Brian Poole

Special Teams
K – Caleb Sturgis
P – Johnny Townsend (he’s coming out early to join this all-Gators squad)
PR – Frankie Hammond
KR – Deonte Thompson

Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *