Florida Football: Which Gators Underclassmen Will Declare for the Draft?

Nick de la Torre@@NickdelatorreCorrespondent INovember 27, 2012

Florida Football: Which Gators Underclassmen Will Declare for the Draft?

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    The Florida Gators have finished the 2012 regular season 11-1 and have just a bowl game to look forward to until the offseason begins. 

    For most of the team, focus will be on classes, finals and how they can get better in the offseason in order to help the Gators next season.

    For some Gators, this offseason brings an entirely different type of decision: Should they stay in school or take their talents to the NFL?

    Every player at a major D1 school has dreams and aspirations of playing at the highest level possible. While most have reached their peak and will never play professionally, there are a select few who will have that opportunity. 

    The Gators have a lot of players who are eligible to declare early for the NFL draft, but there are four players in particular who will have a very tough decision to make. When asked this week, coach Will Muschamp said that he would stand behind a player if they chose to forgo their senior season and declare for the draft:

    Muschamp said he will tell a player to leave if he's projected to be a first-round draft pick. Otherwise, come back and get better.

    — Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) November 26, 2012

    Let's take a look at all of Florida's draft-eligible players, and predict who will stay and who will go. 

The Rest of Florida's Draft-Eligible Players

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    This is a list of players who are draft-eligible and have seen a fair amount of playing time either this season or in their careers at Florida. None of these players would benefit from entering the draft this season, and it would be a shock to see any of these players leave school early. 

    Chaz Green, OL, R-So. 

    Quinton Dunbar, WR, R-So. 

    Leon Orr, DT, R-So. 

    Jaylen Watkins, CB, Jr.

    Darrin Kitchens, OLB, Jr.

    Ronald Powell, Buck, Jr.

    Cody Riggs, CB, Jr. 

    Solomon Patton, WR, Jr. 

    Trey Burton, TE/FB, Jr. 

    Damien Jacobs, DT, Jr. 

    Jon Halapio, OL, R-Jr. 

    Jon Harrison, OL, R-Jr. 

Jordan Reed, TE, R-Jr.

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    Jordan Reed is having a fairly productive season. Reed is leading the team in receptions (44) and yards (552). Earlier in his career, Reed drew comparisons to Aaron Hernandez; both players are from Connecticut and are very capable receiving threats from the tight end position. 

    Like Hernandez was at Florida, Reed is a receiving threat first and cannot be relied upon as a blocking tight end. Unlike Hernandez, Reed hasn't had the standout kind of season Hernandez had when he declared early in 2009. That season, Hernandez caught 68 passes for 850 yards and five touchdowns. 

    This year's draft will have a ton of tight ends coming out, and Reed could find himself as the sixth or seventh tight end off the board. He should come back for his senior season, work on his blocking and become the total package that NFL teams look for in a tight end. 

     

    What he should do: Stay in school. 

    What he will do: Stay in school. 

Matt Elam, S, Jr.

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    Matt Elam has become the playmaker Florida fans expected they were getting on National Signing Day in 2010. 

    Elam is second on the team in tackles (65) and tackles for loss (10), while leading the team in interceptions (four). He has had a breakout season and is one of the highest-rated draft-eligible safeties this season. 

    There was a report over a week ago that Elam had been telling teammates he would stay for his senior season, but his tweets paint a different picture. 

    I'm on this Sunday playing vibe though..!

    — Matthew Elam (@ElamVsElo) November 25, 2012

    Currently, Elam is projected to go in the second or third round if he were to declare early. Based on what Will Muschamp said in his Monday press conference, players with eligibility left who are not graded out as first-rounders should remain in school.

    Elam had a great season, but another year on campus could improve his draft stock and solidify him as a first-round pick. 

     

    What he should do: Stay in school. 

    What he will do: Declare for the draft. 

Sharrif Floyd, DT, Jr.

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    Sharrif Floyd is another member of the 2010 recruiting class who had a breakout season. Floyd moved back inside after filling in at defensive end last season, and he was a much more productive player. 

    Floyd is currently rated as a potential first- or second-round prospect, but should be the highest player selected of any Gator. 

    On top of being the most NFL-ready player on the team, Floyd has seen two of his friends, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell, suffer devastating knee injuries. Easley's torn ACL cost him a bowl game and spring practice, while Powell missed the entire 2012 season after tearing his ACL in the spring game. 

    Floyd may only be a borderline first-round pick, but is coming back for one more season at the risk of suffering an injury worth it? 

    For these reasons, Floyd should forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL draft. And after reading what Derek Tyson of ESPN reported today, Floyd may have already made his decision:

    Hearing UF Jr. DT Sharrif Floyd is at IMG in Bradenton today with Omar Hunter and Larentee McCray to discuss NFL combine training. #Gators

    — Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) November 27, 2012

     

    What he should do: Declare for the draft. 

    What he will do: Declare for the draft. 

Dominique Easley

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    Dominique Easley has come a long way since enrolling at Florida. 

    Easley, along with Ronald Powell, was rumored to have skipped practice during his freshman season, and even contemplated transferring. 

    Easley chose to stick it out in Gainesville and has flourished under Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn's tutelage.

    The past two seasons, Easley has shown that he can play both inside and outside on the defensive line, and that kind of versatility will have NFL GMs chomping at the bit to have him on their roster. 

    However, Easley has battled some injury issues this season, following surgery to repair a torn ACL which he suffered against FSU in 2011, and could benefit greatly from another season in college. 

    Easley is projected as a late-round pick, and until he shows that he has moved past his injury, he will have a red flag next to his name. 

     

    What he should do: Stay in school. 

    What he will do: Stay in school.