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Gators with NFL Aspirations

Gators NFL

Already in the full swing of Spring practice, there are many Gator players looking to improve their NFL draft stock. With an impressive season, some of these rising juniors and seniors could play themselves into a high draft slot. As evidenced time and time again, prospects can come out of seemingly nowhere, and turn themselves into a top selection. For the Gators, Ricky Pearsall is a living example of this process. Everyone knew he was a great player, but after having a near thousand yard receiving season, the NFL noticed. Now he is looked upon as a 2nd round pick.

There are many current Gators who can do the same. Although still a younger team, there are some upperclassmen who could capitalize on a productive Fall. From the start of Spring Practice, there were several Gators who stood out as having the chance to take the next step towards the NFL Draft.


Despite finishing the season on quite a slump, Gator fans were able to see improvements along the offense. Starting from the quarterback position, fans were pleasantly surprised by the poise and accuracy of Graham Mertz. Throwing for a career high 2,903 yards, Mertz was able to take care of the football quite well. Only throwing three interceptions throughout the entire season, his ability to keep the ball out of harms way was certainly his strong suit. If he wants to take his game to the next level from an NFL standpoint, Mertz needs to improve slightly on his downfield passing. Despite being quite accurate, Mertz would oftentimes look at the dump off too quickly during a play. With real potential to be an NFL quarterback, Mertz could put the league on notice if he takes these steps in the right direction.

While the loss of star running back Trevor Etienne does sting, the Gators should have no worries about the running back room. Thanks to returning starter Montrell Johnson Jr., the running game should remain a strong suit. With NFL potential, Johnson could put himself on the radar with another productive SEC season. Transferring in originally from Louisiana Lafayette, Johnson acclimated to the SEC quite smoothly. Johnson had over 800 yards rushing to go along with four touchdowns. In order to elevate his game to the professional level, Johnson needs to work on his burst. Johnson often tends to be a tad too patient when looking through the gap to run through. If he can simply work on his ability to attack the hole, and his vision, there’s no reason to believe he can’t be another Gator drafted.


Defensively speaking, there are a couple of Gators with NFL aspirations. For many, the obvious answer would be cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. The former 5-star recruit, Marshall has had an up and down career in the orange and blue. Oftentimes sticky in coverage, many felt him, (as well as the defensive back room as a whole), lacked enough physicality. With eleven pass deflections, it’s clear that coverage is Marshall’s strong suit. Marshall should have no trouble carving himself out a role on an NFL roster. Yet, if he wants to improve his draft stock and take his game to the next level, tackling is key.

The defensive backs’ tackling struggles frustrated many fans throughout the season. Already seen in many drills during Spring Practice, this was the emphasis for new defensive backs coach Will Harris. If Marshall can improve his run support and open field tackling, he could find himself being selected in one of the earlier rounds.

For the defensive line room, there were certainly fewer complaints made by the fans. One of the deeper position groups on the roster, it was quite difficult to select one that stood out from an NFL talent perspective. One player that chose to come back to school rather than test the NFL waters was Cam Jackson. This defensive lineman chose to come back to take his game to the next level and help bring the Gators back towards the right direction. A super strong interior defender, Jackson does a great job of getting push along the line of scrimmage. However, his conditioning has caused many scouts some reason for concern.

Jackson simply needs to make sure that he can stay on the field for a sustained period of time. When he tends to get tired, his play dips and it can hurt the Gators on defense. Having a multitude of athletic gifts, with some more conditioning, Jackson could continue the trend of Gators defensive linemen getting drafted.


Bringing in some upperclassmen in the transfer portal, the Gators transfer class has some NFL potential. The secondary has been lacking in key veteran leadership, and that’s where senior safety Asa Turner comes into the picture. Widely thought of as one of the premier defenders in the Pac 12, Turner missed all last season due to injury. In his last healthy year, he accounted for 52 tackles and two interceptions. A physical force at the safety spot, Turner should help infuse this secondary with more tenacity. From an NFL perspective, it is important that he stays healthy, and that he keeps working on his tackling. Improving drastically in the tackling department this past season, his health is of the utmost importance. With a full healthy season under his belt, Turner should hear his name called come next April.

Rounding out the big-time transfers, Joey Slackman came to the SEC to win big games and strengthen his draft profile. The Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, Slackman brings considerable upside to this defensive line group. Rated as Florida’s top prospect out of the transfer portal, Slackman racked up four sacks last season. A dynamic player, Slackman is a mauler coming after the passer. For the NFL, the main question for him will be whether he can continue his production at a much higher level. Already an NFL prospect, Slackman has the chance to elevate his standing among the scouts. The most important season of his life, Slackman must continue to play at a high pace in order to show he belongs in the best conference in all of college football.


Gators NFL
Photo courtesy: Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]


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