When the NFL draft ended Saturday, the Florida Gators ranked among the most productive programs in the country. Which makes their back-to-back losing seasons even harder to comprehend.
Three former Gators were taken on the third day: linebacker Ventrell Miller (fourth round, Jaguars), receiver Justin Shorter (fifth round, Bills) and Calvary Christian product Amari Burney (sixth round, Raiders). Add in No. 4 overall pick Anthony Richardson and second-rounders Gervon Dexter and O’Cyrus Torrence, and the Gators were among 11 teams with at least six draftees.
The only one to finish unranked: Florida.
Slice the numbers differently, and you reach the same conclusion:
• UF had a losing record with a top-five quarterback. The last team to do that was Purdue, which went 5-6 in 1985 with Jim Everett (whom the Houston Oilers picked No. 3 overall the next spring).
• This draft marked the 10th time since the AFL-NFL merger (1966) that the Gators had three or more players drafted in the first two rounds. In eight of the previous instances, Florida was coming off a top-15 finish; the Gators went 7-5 the other time (1988 season).
• The only teams with five players taken in the top-150 picks were Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Penn State, TCU and Tennessee. All of them finished in the top seven of the final Associated Press poll — except the 6-7 Gators.
There are only a few ways to reconcile the three-day draft weekend with UF’s two years of mediocrity.
One is that NFL teams drafted projects from Florida. Richardson is only 20 years old. Dexter was a five-star recruit in Lake Wales but relatively new to football when he signed with the Gators in December 2019. UF defensive line coach Sean Spencer called him an “ascending talent with an unlimited ceiling” — which means he still has a lot of room to grow. Perhaps the Gators simply didn’t have enough time to maximize their potential at that level.
That’s the charitable view. The other is less kind: The Gators underachieved with NFL talent.
Attribute some of that to the lack of depth Billy Napier inherited. An unimpressive receiving corps weighed down Richardson’s numbers. Dexter had to play more snaps than he should have because the Gators didn’t have enough viable linemen behind him; his production and the team’s success suffered as a result.
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You can also blame some of it on coaching turnover. Richardson had three quarterbacks coaches in three years. Miller was signed by Jim McElwain, played 38 games for Dan Mullen and finished his career under Napier. That hinders a player’s development.
But the best coaches fit their schemes to their players, not the other way around. And, according to NFL personnel, the top end of Florida’s roster was among the best in the nation.
Which makes the Gators’ 6-7 record even harder to fathom.
State’s notable 2023 NFL draft picks
Florida State’s lone draft pick was safety Jammie Robinson, who went to the Panthers in the fifth round (No. 145 overall), giving FSU its weakest class since 1987. The transfer from South Carolina was the Seminoles’ first defensive player to earn first-team all-ACC honors in back-to-back years since Jalen Ramsey (2014-15).
St. Petersburg High alumnus Anthony Johnson was the No. 242 overall pick to the Packers. The defensive back started a Big 12-record 54 games in his Iowa State career. Three picks later, another local was chosen: Isaiah Bolden. The cornerback from Wesley Chapel High started his college career at FSU but transferred to play for Deion Sanders at Jackson State. The Patriots took him No. 245 overall.
Two Miami players were selected. Tight end Will Mallory went to the Colts in the fifth round (No. 162 overall), and cornerback DJ Ivey was a seventh-round pick by the Bengals (No. 246 overall).
In the sixth round (No. 163 overall), the Bengals chose Illinois running back Chase Brown, a former star at Bradenton St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.
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