In terms of producing NFL talent, the Florida Gators hit rock bottom following their 2011 campaign. Only two Gators were selected in the 2012 NFL draft: Jaye Howard and the speedy Chris Rainey.
Howard's selection in the fourth round marked the lowest position at which the first Gator was selected in any draft since 1993. It was also the first time since the 2006 NFL draft that a Gator was not selected in the first round. Relatively speaking, draft weekend was a miniature disaster.
Even though Florida's 2011 upperclassmen had been recruited by Urban Meyer, these developments also did substantial harm to current head coach Will Muschamp's reputation. After all, he had taken over one of the most dominant football programs of the new millennium and subsequently led the team no further than the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.
This was no doubt due to the struggles associated with shifting from the spread offense to a more conventional one. However, the word "patience" is nearly impossible to find in the vocabulary of an SEC football fan who demands instant gratification.
Muschamp drew ire from both football experts and the Gator faithful. Luckily for Muschamp, the Gators are off to a great start this season. Furthermore, there are a number of Gators who have a great chance of being drafted next spring.
They may not be top-flight, first-round talents, but they are proof that the team is moving forward. Here's a look at some of the Gators' best NFL draft prospects.
Projected Round: 2
If there is one Gator who can sneak into the conversation as a potential late first-round pick, it's Bostic. Right now though, I see him going no earlier than Round 2.
Last year he led the Gators in tackles with 94. He also had 10 tackles for loss and accounted for three Gator sacks. He also shows solid speed and has fluidity in his movements. He seems to possess good intangibles and leadership qualities as well.
With that being said, he can improve in a few areas. He somewhat struggles with blockers and his football IQ seems average at times. If he improves in these areas, however, he is a solid option at linebacker.
So far, he hasn't done much to drastically improve his stock this season. In fact, some may argue he's a third- or fourth-round pick at best.
However, I think showing a little patience with Bostic will allow scouts to see him in a better light by the end of the year.
If the Gators keep winning, most will attribute their success to their defense, which should also help Bostic. He is certainly worth watching going forward.
Projected Round: 3
Should he decide to stick around for his senior season, Jenkins could rise higher up the draft board. Right now, however, I believe he tops out as a third-round pick.
Jenkins' athleticism is undeniable. Over the past two seasons, he registered 151 tackles and four sacks. He has fantastic speed and great instincts. He is very physical and is never one to shy away from contact.
He's been a solid playmaker, especially when running sideline-to-sideline. These attributes make him one of Florida's better prospects.
His main issue right now is his injured thumb. His draft stock certainly cannot improve if he's kept out of the lineup. Luckily, it's only a thumb injury and he should be at full speed when he is ready to return.
If the Gators plan to go on a semi-miraculous run through the SEC schedule, Jenkins could be a big key to their success.
Overall, Jenkins' skills translate into those of an NFL player. Right now though, his best option is probably to wait it out and return for his senior season.
Projected Round: 4
According to the experts at CBS Sports, Elam is a projected fourth- or fifth-round pick. After his strong performance against Tennessee, I have a feeling he's ready for a solid season leading up to a fourth-round pick.
He's not a ball hawk that can intercept passes with regularity, but he is solid in coverage and excels around the line of scrimmage. Last year, he led the Gators with 11 tackles for loss and seven pass breakups. He also has speed and good instinct.
Overall, he has enough talent to play professional football. If he continues to perform like he did against the Volunteers, his draft stock could surge in the coming weeks.
As of right now, he's a middle-round prospect.
Projected Round: 4
Sharrif Floyd immediately made an impact on the defensive line. Like Xavier Nixon, Floyd was selected as a member of the SEC All-Freshman team after his first season.
During his first two seasons in Gainesville, Floyd made 69 tackles, but only registered 1.5 sacks. He has shown great speed and good explosiveness at the snap, but his strength lies in straight rushes up the field.
That being said, he needs to improve his side-to-side movements. As powerful as he is, he should be able to get to the quarterback more often than he does.
Simply put, better production would make him more appealing to draft scouts.
Floyd is a former 5-star recruit out of high school (h/t Rivals). He has a ton of upside and is one of the most talented at his position.
Still, he would be better off staying at Florida for another year and refining his skills before declaring for the NFL draft.
Projected Round: 6
Nixon's tenure at Florida started off with a bang, but has since fizzled a bit.
He was named to the 2009 SEC All-Freshman Team after a season in which he started the final five games, including the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.
At 6'5" and over 300 pounds, Nixon is an imposing figure on the offensive line. His large frame and long arms alone make him an attractive draft prospect.
According to the draft experts at CBS Sports, he has a few issues. Among these, he struggles with lateral movement and is inconsistent getting off the snap.
Overall, he is not one of the top OT prospects right now. If he finishes strong in 2012, this could change. Currently, he is a late-round pick, but he should be taken at some point during draft weekend.
Projected Round: 7
Yes, I know kicker and punter are two positions that teams normally don't seek to improve upon in the draft.
Should Sturgis decide to declare himself draft-eligible, however, he would become one of the top special teams players available.
A finalist for the Lou Groza Award last season, Stugis has been the most reliable Gator at any position when he is healthy. In his career, he has converted on 78 percent of his field-goal attempts.
His best attribute is his leg strength. He has already made two field goals this season longer than 50 yards, and most of his kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. For an NFL team with an aging kicker, Sturgis is a solid option that will produce for years to come.