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NFL draft: Gators break a decade-long drought with Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney

Also, three players from Florida high schools were drafted in the top 17. They all went to ‘Bama.
Kyle Pitts, a former Gators star, was one of the top tight end prospects in NFL draft history.
Kyle Pitts, a former Gators star, was one of the top tight end prospects in NFL draft history. [ DAVID DERMER | AP ]
Published Apr. 30
Updated Apr. 30

After going a decade without having an offensive skill player drafted in the first round, the Gators produced a pair of them Thursday night. Kyle Pitts went fourth overall to the Falcons, and do-it-all athlete Kadarius Toney went 16 picks later to the Giants.

Pitts’ selection was historic for both his position and his program. He became only the fourth tight end ever to be chosen in the top five, joining Ron Kramer (fourth to the Packers in 1957), Mike Ditka (fifth to the Bears in 1961) and Riley Odoms (fifth to the Broncos in 1972).

Related: Why Gators’ Kyle Pitts is a generational tight end built for today’s NFL

Pitts had the generational talent to join that exclusive list. His size (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) and speed (around 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash) are rarely found together and made him almost unstoppable in his third and final year at UF. His 12 touchdown catches were tied for third nationally behind Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith and North Texas’ Jaelon Darden, helping him earn unanimous All-American honors and win the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.

During ABC’s telecast Thursday night, Pitts was being pegged as a potential Hall of Famer. That’s unfortunate news for the Bucs, who will have to try to defend him twice a year in the NFC South.

Kyle Pitts left the Gators as the best tight end in program history.
Kyle Pitts left the Gators as the best tight end in program history. [ Times ]

It didn’t work well for opposing defenses in college. His ability to line up as a traditional tight end on one play and flex out as a receiver on the next made him a mismatch nightmare.

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only two Gators have been picked higher than Pitts: defensive tackle Gerard Warren (third to the Browns in 2001) and Lakewood High alumnus Dante Fowler (third to the Jaguars in 2015).

Like Pitts, Toney is a versatile athlete who can move around the field. Toney lined up at running back, receiver, punt returner, kick returner and quarterback during his four electric seasons at Florida.

Kadarius Toney was an electric, do-it-all athlete for the Gators.
Kadarius Toney was an electric, do-it-all athlete for the Gators. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]

He totaled 2,641 all-purpose yards with 12 receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and one score on a punt return. He also threw the go-ahead touchdown pass at Mississippi State in 2018.

Toney made significant progress in his final year, going from pure athlete to polished receiver. That helped him climb draft boards to become the fourth UF receiver drafted in the past two years. Another, Trevon Grimes, will likely be chosen Saturday.

Before Pitts and Toney, the last UF offensive skill player drafted in the first round was Tim Tebow in 2010.

Jaelan Phillips stays in Miami

Jaelan Phillips will remain in Miami after getting drafted by the Dolphins.
Jaelan Phillips will remain in Miami after getting drafted by the Dolphins. [ TONY DEJAK | AP ]

Former Hurricanes star Jaelan Phillips will stay in Miami after the Dolphins chose him with the 18th overall pick. Phillips was the first edge rusher selected and the highest drafted ‘Cane since offensive tackle Ereck Flowers went ninth overall to the Giants in 2015.

Related: How Miami’s Jaelan Phillips went from five-star flameout to first-round pick

Phillips only played one year at Miami, but it was a fantastic one. He ranked in the top 15 in the country in sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (15 ½). It was the kind of production college football fans had been expecting for a long time, since he was the nation’s top recruit as a UCLA signee in 2017.

Another Miami defensive end, Gregory Rousseau, went to the Bills with the 30th overall pick. It’s the first time since 1997 that the ’Canes had two defensive ends drafted in the first round. Rousseau opted out last season but was second nationally with 15 1/2 sacks in 2019.

Florida natives

Mac Jones was one of the former Florida high school stars to get drafted Thursday ... after playing college ball outside the state.
Mac Jones was one of the former Florida high school stars to get drafted Thursday ... after playing college ball outside the state. [ TONY DEJAK | AP ]

Three products of Florida high schools were chosen in the first 17 picks: cornerback Patrick Surtain (American Heritage), quarterback Mac Jones (Jacksonville Bolles) and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood (Penscaola’s Booker T. Washington).

Another thing they all had in common? They all went to Alabama instead of staying in the state. Surtain and Leatherwood were both five-star recruits; Leatherwood played at the same high school as Bucs/Florida State legend Derrick Brooks.

FSU shut out

The Seminoles did not have a player chosen in the first round for the second year in a row. That hadn’t happened since 2008-09. Cornerback Asante Samuel was the team’s only first-round prospect; instead, he’ll likely be one of the first selections Friday night.

Highest drafted Gators ever

No. 2 overall: RB Paul Duhart (1945, Steelers)

No. 3 overall: RB Chuck Hunsinger (1950, Bears), QB Steve Spurrier (1967, 49ers), WR Wes Chandler (1978, Saints) DT Gerard Warren (2001, Browns), LB Dante Fowler (2015, Jaguars)

No. 4 overall: TE Kyle Pitts (2021, Falcons)

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