Most already know that Florida’s defense was talented last season. But how talented?
Just take a look at the 2016 NFL Draft to find the answer to that question.
After Gators cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (11th overall, Tampa Bay) and safety Keanu Neal (17th overall, Atlanta) were drafted in the first round Thursday, defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard became the latest Florida product to be selected. The Chicago Bears drafted Bullard with the 72nd overall pick in the third round Friday.
It marks the sixth time in program history that at least three Gators defensive players have been selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft (2016 Draft, 2013 Draft, 2010 Draft, 2007 Draft, 1999 Draft, 1989 Draft). This year’s draft also marks the first time Florida has ever had two defensive backs selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
It was a little bit of a surprise Bullard didn’t get drafted earlier, though. Most mock drafts had him going in the second round, but Bullard was not one of the 10 defensive linemen selected in Friday’s second round.
“(Bullard) is not the most athletic, he’s not the most talented guy in this draft, but he might have the best motor,” ESPN NFL Draft expert Todd McShay said on the broadcast immediately after the pick. “This guy is constantly playing his tail off. Really good pick with Bullard here.”
But Bullard (6-3, 285) wouldn’t have gone this high in last year’s draft. NFL officials advised Bullard to return to Florida for his senior season and it worked out for him, as he helped his draft stock with a dominant season.
The North Carolina native put together the best season of his college career in 2015 with 66 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks — all career highs.
“The few years coming in I was a hard worker, but I always had success since I got here, so that kind of slowed me down a little bit,” Bullard said last month at Florida’s Pro Day. “But when the NFL comes and tells you you’re not good enough to be what you want to do for the rest of your life, that puts a chip on your shoulder. So I used that chip, went in, worked hard and just proved that I’m one of the best D-linemen in the country.”
Bullard also impressed NFL teams with his ability to move to a new position, as he made the full-time switch to defensive tackle after playing primarily as a defensive end over his first three college seasons. That versatility has been selling point for Bullard, as he can play both inside and on the edge.
“Every team I’ve met with has talked about it or asked me how I learned every position,” Bullard said. “They just did a good job of me playing two years outside, two years inside. After you learn something you never forget. We didn’t change scheme wise or nothing like that, so it was kind of easy for me. So now till this day, I still know every position on the DL, every play like the back of my hand.”
A few more Gators players could hear their names called on the third and final day of the draft Saturday (Rounds 4-7 beginning at noon). DE Alex McCalister, TE Jake McGee, LB Antonio Morrison, WR Demarcus Robinson and RB Kelvin Taylor are projected to be Day 3 draft picks.
Nickelback Brian Poole and offensive lineman Trip Thurman are projected to go undrafted and sign as free agents.