It took much, much longer than most draft analysts had anticipated, but former Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd became the 44th Gator player selected in the first round of the NFL Draft when he was chosen No. 23 overall by the Minnesota Vikings Thursday night.
"I couldn't be a part of a better ball club, and I am excited to get out there and get started," Floyd said.
Later in the evening, former Gator safety Matt Elam was the final first round selection, taking at No. 32 overall by the Baltimore Ravens, bringing the Gators' overall total of first round picks to 45. It was the first time the Gators have had two players selected in the first round since 2010.
"I'm real happy for those two young men," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "Both of those organizations got better with those guys today."
Floyd is the highest Gator drafted since offensive lineman Mike Pouncey was taken No. 15 overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2011, and is the first Florida player drafted by the Vikings since Percy Harvin in 2009.
It was a bittersweet evening for Floyd, whose stock had risen over the past several months following the NFL combine and other personal workouts. Several top NFL analysts had him projected as a top 5 pick.
NFL teams apparently thought otherwise. Floyd was the third DT selected in the draft behind Missouri's Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei of Utah.
"Again, you never know what happens in those situations," Muschamp said. "I know the further you go, and deeper in the draft, the better organizations you're going to be with. Minnesota is a great organization to be with."
Muschamp said any inferences made by TV analysts about questions surrounding Floyd's character being a reason for his fall were false. He said there are "zero character issues" surrounding Floyd, and anyone who says otherwise is "reaching for straws."
Floyd played in 37 games with 26 starts at Florida, recording 115 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two blocked field goals and a forced fumble. This past season, he led the Gators with 13 tackles for loss and was fifth with 46 tackles. In his final collegiate game, the Sugar Bowl, Floyd had five tackles, including two for a loss of 12 yards.
Floyd told Deion Sanders on the NFL Network that falling so far in the draft will make him play with a chip on his shoulders to prove people wrong.
According to ESPN sports business analyst Darren Rovell, the slip in the draft will cost Floyd more than $12 million.
Elam started every game at safety for the Gators this past season, and finished second on the team with 76 tackles, including 2.0 sacks and 11.0 TFL. He led the team with four interceptions - third in the SEC.
"Obviously they have some voids with their safeties in free agency that they lost," Muschamp said. "Matt's a guy that's very smart, he'll translate very well to the pro level."
"I'm going to do my job and make a receiver scared to go my way," Elam said.