Tyrie Cleveland has, arguably, as much potential of any former Gator that was selected in the 2020 NFL Draft.
That potential is what brought Cleveland to Florida. Considered the No. 34 prospect in the 2016 recruiting class by the 247Sports Composite, Cleveland's size and speed was highly coveted by major college football programs.
But, despite early flashes, things just didn't seem to come together for Cleveland at the University of Florida. His career seemed to hit its peak as a sophomore on the "Heave to Cleve": A 63 yard Hail Mary from quarterback Feleipe Franks that secured a game-winning touchdown against Tennessee in 2017.
From that point on, Cleveland managed to haul in only 58 receptions for 824 yards and five touchdowns in 30 games. With an influx of receiving talent following new head coach Dan Mullen when he took over the role in 2018, Cleveland fell down the pecking order.
Yet, the Denver Broncos couldn't resist the intangibles. Cleveland, standing at 6-2, 209 lbs., with 32 7/8-inch arms, posted whopping athletic test results at the 2020 NFL Combine. A 4.46-second 40-yard dash, a 39.5-inch vertical jump, and a 127-inch vertical jump caught the eyes of Broncos general manager John Elway, and his team took a chance on Cleveland with the 252nd pick in the seventh round on Saturday.
Cleveland understands his athletic prowess is special, but that's only a piece of the puzzle. Now, he's ready to earn a spot on Denver's roster.
“I think I bring a lot of speed. I bring a lot of athleticism. I’m a guy that’s going to come in and try to win games for the organization," Cleveland told Denver media following his selection.
"I’m ready to work. I’m ready to come in, work hard, and compete. I’m ready to bring a Super Bowl back to Denver.”
One aspect that kept Cleveland on the field at Florida was his special teams' contributions. While player such as Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, and others took targets and snaps away for Cleveland at receiver, he made his presence known across the entire special teams unit.
On special teams, Cleveland's size and speed allowed him to serve as a kick returner and gunner, among other positions. On return duty, Cleveland took 10 kicks for an average of 24.2 yards per return. He also scored a touchdown off of a blocked punt against Colorado State during the 2019 season.
NFL teams look for special teams contributions from their lower picks as those players fight for roster spots, and the NFL was high enough on Cleveland's contributions in that respect to hand him an invitation to the 2020 Senior Bowl. There, Cleveland worked with every special teams unit on the field.
“I played special teams over at Florida. I’m just going to come in and just whatever the coach wants me to do, whatever they have me at," Cleveland said. "I’m going to come in and work hard and try to do my best to go out there and just make plays and just continue to fight and continue to get better."
Perhaps, special teams contributions will help land Cleveland a spot on Denver's 53-man roster. However, he'll be hard at work to grow as a receiver. The Broncos entered the draft looking to surround rising second-year quarterback Drew Lock with weapons, and were aggressive in doing so.
The Broncos selected Alabama receiver Jerry Jeudy in the first round, Penn State receiver K.J. Hamler in the second, Missouri tight end (and Lock's former teammate) Albert Okwuegbunam in the fifth round prior to drafting Cleveland. On top of that, Denver returns one of the league's most dynamic, emerging receivers in Courtland Sutton and 2019 first-round pick tight end, Noah Fant, in 2020.
Cleveland understands that growth as a receiver will also be vital for him to find success and to stick around in Denver. His approach: Work to keep getting better.
"I feel like I’ve really continued just to catch up on a lot of the things as a receiver," Cleveland noted of his room to grow. "Mainly just working on my craft at receiver, coming in with a mindset that you’re a professional, coming in with the mindset that I know I have to get better each and every day when I step my foot down there in Denver."