Florida will get a reminder (if not explanation) of its historically bad season this week when the NFL draft features one of the state’s weakest classes of the modern era.
Former Florida State defensive end Jermaine Johnson is the only sure-fire first-round pick, though defensive back Kaiir Elam of Florida is also a possibility. Former Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter (a Hillsborough High alumnus) and running back Dameon Pierce likely will be chosen on Day 3 along with receiver Charleston Rambo (Miami) and running back D’vonte Price (Florida International). And … that’s about it.
Miami (Ohio) likely will have one or two players drafted before the first Hurricane. Mike Norvell’s old school (Memphis) probably will have more draft picks than his new one (FSU), and ex-UF coach Jim McElwain could have one of his Central Michigan players (offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann) picked before the first Gator.
Although draft projections are always flimsy, there’s a realistic possibility the state produces only six or seven picks this week. Florida’s previous low since the AFL-NFL merger was seven in 2009 and 1971.
Aside from the obvious explanations — poor recruiting, evaluation and development — the biggest cause of this abnormally small group is coaching turnover.
The seeds of this draft class were planted in the recruiting classes from 2017-19. And those classes were full of transition.
Recruits from the 2017 class just finished their fifth season — the type of draft prospect USF might develop. But that class happened in the aftermath of Willie Taggart leaving for Oregon and Charlie Strong taking over. Transition classes are notorious for featuring higher rates of attrition and more busts. It’s not a surprise, then, that USF’s 2017 class hasn’t produced a draft pick yet and won’t have one this week, either.
The draft also will be filled with 2018 recruits who had four college seasons to grow. That class came during coaching transitions at UF, FSU and UCF. Add in the warp-speed timeline of starting a new job just before the early signing period, and the miss rate is even higher. Those classes combined to have three players drafted last year (Kyle Pitts and Evan McPherson from UF and Asante Samuel from FSU) with one more projected this year (Pierce).
Miami’s coaching transition from Mark Richt to Manny Diaz happened after the early signing date a year later. Diaz had to rely heavily on transfers rather than elite high school prospects who became the three-and-out players set to enter the league.
Coaching turmoil hurt the state’s draft prospects in other ways, too. Quarterback Matt Corral committed to UF under McElwain but went to Mississippi after the Gators hired Dan Mullen. Corral will probably be drafted in the first or second round, while the passer Mullen signed that year (Emory Jones) is in the transfer portal. Another early-round quarterback prospect, Sam Howell, committed to FSU before flipping to North Carolina after Seminoles offensive coordinator Walt Bell left to take over UMass.
This draft class is filled with other state what-ifs. Former five-star offensive lineman Charles Cross and top-100 safety Nick Cross were both FSU commits in the 2019 recruiting class before going to Mississippi State and Maryland, respectively. Charles Cross is a projected top-15 pick, and Nick Cross is a likely Day 2 selection. Edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie (a borderline first-round pick) nearly transferred from Temple to Miami but chose Penn State.
Other draft prospects began their college careers in the state before leaving. Tight end Lucas Krull left the Gators for Pitt as a grad transfer. Linebacker James Houston appeared in 35 games at UF, then transferred to Jackson State. Top-50 recruit Chris Steele signed with the Gators but left for USC before ever playing in Gainesville. Zaquandre White was an FSU linebacker who switched back to running back in junior college and at South Carolina. All four are potential Day 3 picks.
Put them all together — the coaching changes, flips and transfers — and you get a draft weekend that likely will be historically disappointing across the state.
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