Since their championship days back when Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin were spectacles to watch in Orange and Blue, the Florida Gators have been pumping out NFL prospects every season, especially along the defensive line. When Will Muschamp was at the helm, there were guys like Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Dante Fowler who all became first round picks. Under McElwain, prospects like Jonathan Bullard, Caleb Brantley and Taven Bryan saw their names flash across the screen on draft weekend.
Though there’s a new coach in town, and new head coach Dan Mullen is certainly there to give some juice to the offense for once in Gainesville, Florida still has a few intriguing defensive line prospects that could catch eyes this college football season, mostly from the edge position.
As timing would have it play out, there are four draft eligible edge players at Florida going into the 2018 college football season and all four have unique talents and potential they bring to the table. Those players are CeCe Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, Jachai Polite and Antonneous Clayton. But how high is the ceiling and how low is the floor for each of these guys? Are we talking first round? Second round? Day 3?
Let’s dive a little deeper and get a good grasp for these players going into what could be their final seasons of college football.
CeCe Jefferson, Senior
As a former 5-star recruit, Jefferson has been a name that scouts have circled for years now. Jefferson could have declared last year, but with limited impactful snaps over the last two seasons, he really needed to get more tape out there to be drafted at a spot he desires.
At 6-foot-1, 242 pounds, Jefferson is a smaller edge player, which doesn’t really bode well for him since his traits actually line up closer towards that of interior defensive players. He has a good first step off the ball and can get disruption quickly that way, but in terms of bend and flexibility, those aren’t really his strong suits. He doesn’t win with speed as much as you’d want for a guy his size, so that is a concern. However, the explosiveness does pop out at times when moving vertically up the field.
2017 was Jefferson’s best season to date with 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. If he can pump those numbers up to career highs again in his senior season, he could solidify himself as a Day 2 player.
Jabari Zuniga, RS Junior
At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, Zuniga is much more of your typical edge player than Jefferson is. Zuniga was a former 3-star recruit and ended up redshirting his first year before coming on strong during his redshirt freshman campaign with 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He followed that up with eight tackles for loss and four sacks during his sophomore season in 2017. So consistency, thy name is Zuniga. What we need to see next is whether or not that was it from him or whether the ceiling is even higher.
Unlike Jefferson, Zuniga’s main concern is actually his first step, mainly being one of the last defenders out of his stance far too often. When he gets out of that stance, however, his pass rush comes a million miles an hour. He moves his arms quick and strong, and has a swim move that even Michael Phelps would be impressed with. Zuniga also brings tons of effort on every play.
Going into 2018, I’d still say Zuniga is a raw prospect, but a new coaching staff might be able to teach him a few things in terms of honing in on that athletic ability. He likely has the highest ceiling of all Florida’s edge defenders.
Jachai Polite, Junior
First of all, Polite’s twitter handle is literally “@RetireMoms,” so you already have to pump him up a few spots on your big board just for that.
Polite comes in at about 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, so he carries more weight than the first two guys. What’s crazy is that his motor and effort are two traits that drive him, even at that size, to pop out on your screen when you’re watching him.
Polite had a handful of impact plays last season where he beat his man one-on-one, but most of his impact came from effort. He has two sacks in each of the last two seasons and has nine total tackles for loss in his young Florida career. That may limit how high the draft community holds him, but those players are always coveted when it comes to later round draft picks and players to fill out NFL rosters.
Like Zuniga, Polite is young — just a true junior — so this upcoming season might not even be his last. He’ll likely have much more of a feature role this year, and after taking steps of progression in each of the last two seasons he might get his name into the mid-round range already after 2018.
Antonneous Clayton, Junior
When Antonneous Clayton committed to UF back in 2016, he was rated the No. 27 overall high school player in the country, which earned him a four-star rating.
But, in his first two years with the Gators, most of his progression has been in the weight room, as he’s put on nearly 50 pounds since stepping on campus. He only has one sack in the limited playing time he’s seen, but 2018 should be the first season he’s really comfortable at his weight.
Clayton was a highly-touted recruit, so people have been waiting for him to really break out, but in 2016 and 2017 he didn’t have the pass rush plan to make an impact. If he put on as much knowledge in the film room as he did weight over the last two years, we might get our first glimpse of what he can really do in 2018.
For now, projecting Clayton is all potential from what we have yet to see.