Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, conferences around the NCAA are allowing their student-athletes to opt-out of the 2020 fall season while honoring those scholarships, including the SEC.
When it comes to personal health concerns, pre-existing medical conditions, and similar factors, it is nearly impossible to predict which student-athletes will elect to opt-out and it must be understood that those decisions would be in a student-athlete's best interests. However, when it comes to NFL Draft-eligible prospects following the scheduled season, it's a different story.
Which, of course, could be all-for-not should the season inevitably get canceled anyway. Undoubtedly though, this would provide eligible prospects the chance to get ahead on their training for the NFL Combine and draft.
Following the 2019 season, Florida saw only one underclassman declare early in cornerback C.J. Henderson, despite plenty of players owning a case to do so themselves. That should provide head coach Dan Mullen and his staff the confidence that opt-outs would be minimal entering the season, but once again, there are arguments to be made in favor of skipping the season for several players.
Tight end Kyle Pitts
Already considered a first-round talent as a 19-year old rising junior, Pitts holds the strongest logic to opt-out of the season and begin preparing for his bright NFL future.
The 6-6, 239 lb. tight end was a focal point in Florida's widely-spread passing attack a year ago, leading the team in receptions with 54, hauling in 649 yards and five touchdowns. An elite athlete for his size with experience training as a wide receiver, Pitts fits the modern mold of an NFL tight end - no longer a block-first member of the offense and rather a pass-game mismatch at multiple levels of the field. And he continues to improve as a blocker, playing with effort and holding responsibilities down in space.
Even without another season of college tape under his belt, it's hard to not see NFL teams falling in love with his skill-set and potential. Regardless if he plays or not, Pitts is Florida's early favorite to be the first prospect drafted in 2021, and as of now, he's likely to hear his name called in the first round. In which case, taking the span of now until the draft to train and prepare could be a smart choice.
Cornerback Marco Wilson
Wilson was one of several prospects to weigh an early declaration for some time following the end of the 2019 regular season, before announcing his decision to return for a redshirt junior season on January 6th, less than two weeks before the deadline to forgo remaining college eligibility to turn pro.
Emerging immediately in a Gators uniform, Wilson is the fourth cornerback in program history to start at cornerback in week one as a true freshman. It was easy to see why, as Wilson posted 34 total tackles and a whopping ten defended passes that year. The following season wasn't so kind, as Wilson tore his ACL in week two and missed the remainder of the year.
He had some rust to shake off throughout his redshirt sophomore campaign, but for the most part, Wilson played well in 2019 as a leader in the secondary and certainly appears well removed from his injury and implications of any kind. A dominant 2020 season at Florida would do Wilson's draft prospects well, but then again, he has been on NFL radars for some time given his early emergence and NFL bloodlines.
Of course, Wilson's brother, Quincy, was a two-year starter for Florida before declaring early for the 2016 NFL Draft. His father, Chad, also professionally trains defensive backs and played for the University of Miami in the early 1990s. A few extra months in the training lab with his father, and likely other professional and college defensive backs, could also be of service for Wilson.
Darkhorse: Wide receiver Kadarius Toney
Oddly enough, Toney announced his decision to stay at Florida two days following the early declaration deadline in January. At that point, it was assumed he was returning, but the situation was cloudy in the weeks leading up.
Following Florida's 2019 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia, Toney argued in favor of his case to declare, despite missing six games of his junior season with a shoulder injury and significantly hampering his production. "The NFL, they don't look at injuries when they do the draft," Toney said. "I feel like I [have enough tape to be drafted]," he offered in response to that exact question.
Toney has been a do-it-all threat for Florida, taking snaps at wide receiver, running back, and Wildcat quarterback. With elite contact balance and elusiveness to make defenders miss, Toney has compiled 50 receptions for 606 yards and two receiving touchdowns, 47 rushes for 419 yards and a running score, 2-of-4 passing for 70 yards and a touchdown, and eight kick returns for an average of 21.1 yards a pop.
After a down-year due to injury and a lack of a clear positional fit at the NFL level - he won't play quarterback, at least other than on trick plays and subpackages, has plenty of intricacies of the wide receiver position to polish, and has never consistently played running back - Toney is likely better suited to return to Florida and take advantage of any playing time he could receive in 2020. Whether he agrees with that or not is a totally different question.
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