NFL draft: How Florida Gators’ Jachai Polite moved on from his ‘terrible’ combine

Polite tried to rehab his old first-round image at UF’s pro day.
Florida Gators defensive lineman Jachai Polite (99) celebrates after tackling LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during a game in October in Gainesville. [BRONTE WITTPENN   |   Times]
Florida Gators defensive lineman Jachai Polite (99) celebrates after tackling LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow (9) during a game in October in Gainesville. [BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]
Published March 27

GAINESVILLE — Former Florida edge rusher Jachai Polite described his performance at last month’s NFL scouting combine the same way many draft pundits did.

Terrible.

The all-SEC talent arrived in Indianapolis as a projected top-20 NFL draft pick and left as someone who might slip into the third round. Polite was slower than expected. Heavier, too. He tweaked his hamstring, bombed his news conference and struggled through his conversations with NFL personnel.

So when representatives from all 32 NFL teams gathered inside the Gators’ Indoor Practice Facility for Wednesday’s pro day, no one had more to gain — or lose — than Polite.

“I had to prove that I could come out here and compete,” Polite said, “because it wasn't that good of a combine for me, which we all know.”

Polite owned up to that not-so-good combine Wednesday and addressed its ugly details head on.

After being listed at 242 pounds during his junior season, the 6-foot-2 Daytona Beach native was up to 258 at the combine.

“I just wanted to get my weight up, knowing that the next level, they're bigger, stronger, faster,” Polite said.

But Polite wasn’t used to running at that size yet. The extra weight cost him some of his explosiveness and speed.

That showed up in one of the few drills he attacked at the combine: the 40-yard dash.

His time (4.84 seconds) was the second slowest at his position, ahead of Oregon’s Jalen Jelks. Pro Football Reference lists 191 defensive ends/outside linebackers/edge rushers under 260 pounds who ran the 40 over the last seven combines. Only 29 were slower than Polite.

Polite attributed some of that subpar result to the right hamstring injury he suffered a-week-and-a-half before the combine while training at ASPI in Tampa.

The poor interviews, both at the podium in front of reporters and in private rooms with NFL teams?

Polite said he didn’t prepare well enough and was a little intimidated by the setting. He took criticism too personally, answered questions too briefly and didn’t act like himself.

“I just wasn’t ready at all,” Polite said. “I just wasn’t ready mentally.”

Not being ready for a multi-million-dollar job interview is a major problem, even for an elite pass rusher who tied UF’s single-season record with six forced fumbles and ranked third in the SEC with 17 ½ tackles for a loss.

Jachai Polite had a successful three-year career with the Florida Gators. (Times 2016)
Jachai Polite had a successful three-year career with the Florida Gators. (Times 2016)

That’s why Wednesday was so crucial for Polite. It was his biggest opportunity to correct his public perception.

“He knew he had to have a good day so that the attention would go back to his performance on the field more than a 40 time at a combine,” UF coach Dan Mullen said.

It was hard to gauge just how good his day was, but he showed signs of growth from last month.

Polite weighed in at 254 pounds — about halfway between his combine measurement and ideal weight.

He tried to improve on his 40 but tweaked his hamstring again after his first and only attempt (which barely cracked 5 seconds). A trainer wrapped it up, and Polite was able to participate in almost all of his position drills.

Most importantly, he was ready for the questions about his struggles at the combine. He owned his mistakes and didn’t make excuses.

It might be too late to keep Polite in the first round, but it’s better than never.

"In my head I feel like I'm still there,” Polite said. “Where they pick me, I don't know. But I believe in myself, first and foremost. Whoever gets me, whoever's taking a chance from my terrible interviews and combine, they're going to get a great player.”

And, Polite hopes, a different one from what they saw at the combine.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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