Florida Gators junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard announced Monday that he will not join four teammates who chose to forgo their final season of eligibility and declare early for the 2015 NFL Draft. Instead, Bullard will return to the Gators for his senior campaign despite the coaching staff being completely overhauled.
“I wasn’t projected to go where I want to go,” Bullard said in a statement released by the school. “I want to leave a bigger mark on the Florida program than what I have.”
Bullard promised to keep a level head when making his decision, noting that he would consult former Florida head coach Will Muschamp after receiving his evaluation back from the NFL. Muschamp has long held that he would only recommend players to declare early if they are projected to be first-round selections.
“I got to do what’s best for me, at the end of the day,” he said on Nov. 23. “I’m going to take into consideration whatever he says. That’s who’s going to be who helps me decide what I’m going to do. I know he’s not going to edge me to go just because he’s leaving.”
Bullard came on in a major way for the Gators over the latter half of the 2014 campaign, finishing the season as Florida’s sixth-leading tackler with 52 takedowns. A defensive end, he saw significant action inside at defensive tackle yet still finished second on the team in tackles for loss (8.5) and quarterback hurries (12). Bullard also registered 2.5 sacks and two pass defenses.
With 36 games played in his career, he is the most experienced player returning next season for the Gators.
“As a veteran player coming back, I want be a leader on this team as the program enters a new era with a new coaching staff,” Bullard said. “I want to be a role model for the younger players and help them to buy into the future of the program.”
Florida is still waiting to hear from junior linebacker Antonio Morrison, who was also considering turning pro but appeared to seriously injure his knee in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl on Saturday.
Junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., the first Gators player to declare for the draft, is expected to be a first-round pick. Junior running back Matt Jones and redshirt junior offensive lineman Tyler Moore have also declared their intent to turn pro.
UF has not announced the futures of Fowler, Jones and Moore as of press time.