The NFL Draft allows teams to scour the countryside looking for the best players for their team each year. Big schools, small schools, rugby players from Australia; the goal, in theory, is to look in every possible area for every possible fit.
Yet over time, patterns are created. For the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of the most prevailing draft patterns centers around former players for the Florida Gators.
Since the organization conducted their first draft in 1995, the Jaguars have drafted 11 Florida players, more than any other school and four more than the next closest school (USC). They have drafted five of those in the first round alone. Since Dave Caldwell took over as general manager in 2013, Jacksonville has drafted four Gators: safety Josh Evans (6th round-2013), defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (1st round-2015), defensive lineman Taven Bryan (1st round-2018) and offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor (2nd round-2019).
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the most promising of the Dan Mullen products hoping to be drafted this week. If you want to place bets, chances are at least one will become a Jacksonville Jaguar.
*The Jaguars have also drafted more wide receivers in their history, 29, than any other position group. Significant as the Gators bring four draft-able receivers to the virtual party this weekend.
The corner is the only underclassmen that left Gainesville this year but for good reason. He’s a projected first round pick likely to not even make it out of the Top 15. During his final season, the Miami, Florida native accumulated 32 tackles, two for loss, one sack and 11 pass breakups. In his three seasons with Florida, he allowed 20 catches or less in each season according to PFF. At the end of UF's regular season, opposing quarterbacks had only thrown Henderson's way 17% of the time he was on the field, per SEC Network.
“Hendo” as he’s known, was special from the start, playing in every game as a freshman—starting five—and returning interceptions for touchdowns in his first two games. As a sophomore Henderson accounted for one of the best statistical corner performances in the country (38 tackles, two interceptions, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles). And under then new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, Henderson notched three sacks as the aggressive play caller used the speedster in multiple corner blitz’s.
Quick hips and fluid feet mean Henderson can mirror nearly any receiver he faces. He couples that with elite speed that lets him track anyone on the field. If one play encapsulates CJ Henderson, it’s this game saving one against Tennessee in 2018. He raced diagonally down field and turned a touchdown into a touchback.
The Louisville transfer wanted to spend his final year in Gainesville with his former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. He was entrusted with a position that has become a Florida staple, the BUCK—the hybrid defensive end/linebacker that can change a defense from 3-4 to 4-3 and vice versa, or EDGE as its more colloquial known in NFL terms. Greenard proved his worthiness with 52 tackles, 15.5 for loss, nine and a half sacks, three forced fumbles with one returned for a touchdown along four pass break-ups and an interception that had him jokingly practicing with the DB’s one day.
A nagging ankle injury kept Greenard sidelined for the second half against LSU and his absence was noticeable. He was the linchpin of the front seven, thanks in large part to his ability to get pressure into the backfield no matter the protection. His first step is adequate albeit not game changing. What makes Greenard stand out is his arm work. He can fight off blocks and tenaciously fight his way through double teams.
The BUCK position is at a premium with the advent of spread offenses—i.e. Dante Fowler at No. 3—so while Greenard might be farther down a list of options based on pure talent, his capital as hybrid linebacker makes him valuable.
Lamical Perine knew he could be great. He knew it long before anyone else and scraped together odd jobs so he could buy himself a bus ticket from Mobile, Alabama to Gainesville, Florida just to prove himself at a later summer high school camp. The coaches liked his vision, versatility and frankly, his gumption. Four years later, Perine leaves Florida as one of the best running backs the program has seen in a decade.
It was a process as the 5’11” Perine tweaked his game each offseason, focusing on different areas of need, on his way to creating a complete back who is a weapon catching out of the backfield. As such he finished his senior season with six rushing touchdowns and averaging 5.1 yards per carry while adding five receiving touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per reception.
Position coach Greg Knox described Perine as one of the best vision backs he’d ever coached, with the ability to see a hole before it even appeared. His speed kept him from receiving more college offers but as he demonstrated time and time again—most specifically in a win over Auburn who turned him down for that exact reason—his ability to weave through the secondary gives him enough leeway for his 4.62 40-yard dash time to be enough.
While Greenard was the Gators defensive MVP, Zuniga is the more intriguing NFL prospect. “Zu” as he’s affectionally known, missed most of the 2019 season—seven and a half games—with an ankle injury. During the five and a half games he did play, he tallied 14 tackles, seven for loss and three sacks. Florida coaches referred to Zuniga as “a monster” more often than not though and the ease with which he breaks through an offensive line gives glimpses into what they see.
At the Combine, Zuniga put up the best number of any D-lineman in the broad jump (127 inches), coming in second for his position in the 40-yard dash (4.64) and finishing in the Top 10 in the vertical (33) and bench press (29). He’s being judged on projection more than production but the projection is promising.
Van Jefferson transferred from Ole Miss and was the Gators leading wide receiver both of his years in Gainesville (2018-2019). He averaged 50.5 yards a game in 2019, up from his 38.7 yards a game in 2018. The son of NFL veteran coach Shawn Jefferson (currently with the New York Jets), Jefferson spent his childhood in training camps and NFL meeting rooms. While at Florida, he became the most reliable target for both Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. He also became a go-to guy for Dan Mullen’s play calling. He took home the award for best South team wideout while at the Senior Bowl.
Against LSU, Jefferson was covered by freshman Derek Stingley, the corner most of college football agrees is the best at his position currently. Jefferson “gave Stingley the work” to quote ESPN’s Marcus Spears. On one touchdown drive in particular, Mullen went to Jefferson three times…with the exact same play, each time. Once in the redzone, Trask found Jefferson again on an option. A fade into a slant left Stingley three steps behind while Jefferson danced through the endzone.
It’s not hyperbole to say Jefferson is one of the best route runners coming out in the draft this season. He is slight, something that shown itself at times against big SEC defensive backs and is likely to be an issue in the NFL. He also missed the Combine with a Jones fracture that sidelined him for several weeks. But weight can be added and the precision with which Jefferson works makes him too good of a prospect to be ignored.
The Ocala native was a near sure bet over the middle of the field. Swain could sit in the flat and then outrun any defensive back who thought they had an angle. He led the Gators receiving corps with seven touchdowns. Swain also served as the teams punt returner and holds the school record for second longest punt return for a touchdown.
The ultimate teammate, Tyrie Cleveland is who everyone on the roster will tell you is their favorite. He isn’t an every down receiver, finishing 2019 fifth on the production totem pole with 351 yards and only one touchdown. But throughout his Florida career, Cleveland’s name became synonymous with big plays. He took a catch and run for 98-yards against LSU his freshman season, caught a 63-yard walk-off winner his sophomore season and was always a deep option.
Hammond was the only Florida receiver not invited to the NFL Combine. Of the four senior wide outs, Hammond was farthest down the production list and doesn’t have as much natural talent as the others. Yet he quickly became a Dan Mullen favorite thanks to his affinity for being a coach on the field and a textbook knowledge of the playbook. As such he went 20 straight games without a single drop and during the 2019 season, he turned 59% of his receptions into first downs.