GAINESVILLE — At least six players from Florida's loaded defense could be selected in the first two days of this month's NFL draft.
Defensive tackle Joey Ivie will probably not be one of them. The Pasco High product wasn't invited to the scouting combine, and he's more likely to be a Day 3 pick or an undrafted free agent.
But linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, lineman Caleb Brantley and defensive backs Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye owe a debt of gratitude to Ivie, whose easy-to-miss work on the interior line opened up big-play opportunities for everyone else.
"He took a lot of heat off of me and Alex, and allowed us to make plays in the run game," said Davis, a potential first-round pick.
Ivie has been overlooked for much of his career. He played on the same high school team as Rutgers standout Janarion Grant, who left as the North Suncoast's all-time touchdown leader. As a senior, Ivie wasn't even the flashiest player on the defensive line: Teammate Morgan Flournory racked up 22 ½ sacks, believed to be a county record.
Ivie's numbers at UF didn't attract a lot of attention, either. In 25 career games, he recorded only 54 tackles. That includes 26 as a senior last year, when he had 2 ½ sacks and seven quarterback hurries despite missing two games with a broken thumb. Ivie, 6 feet 3 and 301 pounds, also blocked a field goal at Florida State.
"He showed flashes, obviously," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said.
But the flashes that date to his days in Dade City don't adequately measure his production.
Look back at the biggest play of UF's season: the game-winning goal-line stand at LSU that clinched a second straight SEC East title. Ivie didn't make the tackle, but he penetrated the line of scrimmage. With Ivie clogging one potential hole up the middle, Tigers running back Derrius Guice chose to bounce left. That's where safety Marcell Harris and others stopped him to seal a trip to the SEC title game.
"It's not necessarily the flash plays or the numbers," Florida coach Jim McElwain said. "In (Ivie's) case, doing his job so those other guys can make plays around him, that's what really shows up."
And that's why Ivie has drawn NFL interest.
He played in the East-West Shrine Game in January at Tropicana Field and had a sack and three tackles. Bucs defensive line coach Jay Hayes watched him participate in the Gators' pro day last month, and Ivie planned to be at the Bucs' facility for their local workout today.
Kiper said Ivie has a chance to make an NFL roster even if he isn't drafted. Former Bucs defensive tackle Booger McFarland covered Ivie's pro day for the SEC Network and wrote on Twitter that Ivie will get drafted late but spend a decade in the NFL. Patriots coach Bill Belichick thought enough of Ivie to spend a few minutes chatting with him during his pro day.
"Shoot, things happen for a reason," Ivie said. "I'm just blessed and happy to be in the position I'm in no matter what happens."
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.