These are the men who helped Florida fight through one of the roughest two-year periods in its recent history. They came to the Gators on the heels of a golden era of jump passes, Heisman trophies and national championships, then toiled through a grueling restart to lead UF back to a BCS bowl.
Now they are set to deliver possibly the largest NFL draft class in school history. When the draft begins with the first round Thursday (8 p.m., ESPN and NFL Network), former Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is expected to be the first of perhaps 10 Gators picked over three days.
That is a dramatic improvement for UF, which was mostly a casual observer a year ago. Last spring, the Gators produced a fourth- and fifth-round pick.
They have not had more than nine players taken in the draft since it was reduced to seven rounds in 1993. Nine Gators were chosen in 2010, including first-rounders Joe Haden, Maurkice Pouncey and Tim Tebow.
Floyd has been touted at times as the top player in the draft, though it seems unlikely he will become Florida’s first player ever selected No. 1. Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel is the consensus prediction for the first pick, which belongs to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Even if he does not go No. 1 overall, Floyd is nearly certain to be UF’s first top-five pick since Gerard Warren in 2001.
Two of Florida’s prospects began their career in Palm Beach County. Dwyer High School’s Matt Elam is projected as a first- or second-rounder, while Palm Beach Central product Jon Bostic is likely to go in the second or third round Friday (6:30 p.m., ESPN and NFL Network).
Bostic, a steadying force at middle linebacker for Florida, rarely allows his emotions to surge and has been working through the pre-draft process as calmly as always.
“It’s hard to think about the draft too much because it’s not here yet,” he said. “It’s getting closer, so I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing.”
When he gets called this week, he will be the second person in his family to reach the league. His father, also named Jonathan, played defensive back for the Detroit Lions from 1985 through ’87. He was a sixth-round pick out of Bethune-Cookman.
His son has met with “quite a few teams” since closing out his college career in January, and the family has been enjoying his journey.
“I think his mom is more excited and nervous than anybody,” Jonathan Bostic, Sr., said. “She makes up for however mellow he might be. For him, he’ll be excited when he finds out where he’s going. He’s just been happy-go-lucky lately and enjoying his time off.”
At 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, Jon Bostic clearly has the size and strength to play in the NFL, and ESPN analyst Todd McShay praised his instincts and intelligence by saying, “the more tape I watch of him, the more I appreciate him.”
The biggest question mark was his speed, and Bostic answered his critics by running the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds at the NFL Combine in February. That ranked sixth among linebackers who ran that week and it is faster than the posted times of five linebackers who are projected to be first-round picks.
“The main thing with me was a lot of people wanted to see was if I could run,” he said. “Their prediction for me was 4.8, so that was kinda funny.”
Fellow UF linebacker Jelani Jenkins is a candidate to join Bostic as a second-round selection, and there are several other Gators — tight end Jordan Reed, running back Mike Gillislee and safety Josh Evans — who could find a new home by the close of the third round Friday.
The Gators’ possibility of setting a new program-high for number of players drafted will be determined in Rounds 4-7 on Saturday (12 p.m., ESPN and NFL Network). Linebacker Lerentee McCray, offensive lineman Xavier Nixon and kicker Caleb Sturgis have a shot at being picked near the end of the draft.
Florida also has a few players, including defensive tackle Omar Hunter and receiver Frankie Hammond, looking to land with a team as free agents if they are not selected. Those signings often take place shortly after the draft ends.
Most Gators picked in one draft since 1993, when the draft was reduced to seven rounds
2010;9;No. 7;Joe Haden, CB;Cleveland
2007;9;No. 17;Jarvis Moss, DE;Denver
2003;8;No. 22;Rex Grossman, QB;Chicago
2002;8;No. 26;Lito Sheppard , CB;Philadelphia
1999;8;No. 16;Jevon Kearse, LB;Tennessee