Florida Gators: Is Jaye Howard the Most Underrated Player in the NFL Draft?

John PattonContributor IJanuary 26, 2012

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 14:  Jaye Howard #6 of the Florida Gators looks on during the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 14, 2009 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This is just my personal opinion, but it is one I think has a lot of substance to it.

I believe former Florida defensive lineman Jaye Howard might be the most underrated prospect in the 2012 NFL draft.

You don't see or hear any analysts talking about him.

Not Mel Kiper, Jr. Not Todd McShay. Not Mike Mayock. No one.

Why this is, I'm not quite sure yet (though, I would guess it is because this early in the process, stars, not hidden gems, are the primary topics of discussion).

That said, let's look at what we do know.

On a team loaded with future pros on the defensive line, Howard was, by far, the most productive Gator on the front four in 2011.

He finished fourth on the team in tackles with 65, 19 better than the next-best lineman, sophomore Sharrif Floyd. Howard also finished tied for second in tackles-for-loss with 10 for a team-best 64 yards (sophomore safety Matt Elam had 11 TFL), tied for tops on the squad with four quarterback hurries and led UF with two fumble recoveries (one of which he ran in for a touchdown at Kentucky). Howard's 5.5 sacks also were a half-sack behind sophomore Buck Ronald Powell for team honors.

A 6'3", 303-pound fifth-year senior from Apopka (Fla.), Howard arrived on campus weighing a (soft) 240 pounds. I saw him play a basketball game his senior year at Orlando Jones High School and didn't get it.

He was somewhat nimble, but not overly strong or fast. And yeah, did I mention he was a 240-pound defensive lineman playing center in a prep hoops game?

But there was something in Howard that many others just didn't have.

Through weight and all-you-can-eat buffet work, he reshaped his body and now looks better at more than 300 pounds than he did at the much lighter weight.

In part because of that, he played in 45 total games, making 25 starts while at Florida.

For his career, Howard had 131 tackles (80 solo), 25.5 tackles-for-loss, 11 sacks, three fumble recoveries and two pass breakups.

He may not overwhelm you like Ndamukong Suh, but he has been as productive as any defensive lineman has been at UF in recent times.

Howard has a quick first step, can overpower offensive linemen at the point of attack and has deceptive speed when trying to run down a ball-carrier. He has the appearance of a versatile guy who could line up as a 4-3 tackle or a 3-4 end.

People may not be talking about Howard now, but once scouts and analysts look at more tape and see him in All-Star games and combine workouts, they will be.

He won't be a first-rounder, but Jaye Howard is going to be taken in the middle rounds of April's draft, and he is going to stick in the NFL for many, many years.

Your team will be better with him on it.