ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. spoke on a conference call Thursday, taking an early look at the 2012 NFL Draft and where he expects players across the nation to be slotted.
Asked about players coming into the league from the Florida Gators this year, Kiper expects running back Chris Rainey to be the highest pick but says he is unlikely to be selected before the fourth round.
“Florida right now is looking at guys that are figuring on day three of the draft,” he said. “Rainey is an interesting guy because he has speed and has got some versatility. He certainly could fit what a team is looking for in the fourth round area.”
The rest of available Gators – notably defensive tackle Jaye Howard and quarterback John Brantley – Kiper believes will be picked in rounds 5-7 depending how they perform at Pro Day and the 2012 NFL Combine.
“Howard right now I have as the 12th highest-rated defensive tackle and that was before the juniors came in,” he said. “That would push him down between say 17 and 23, which pushes him into the late-round category.”
Kiper has Brantley as the No. 15 quarterback overall and says that his inability to show any major strides this season is the reason he will not be picked higher if at all.
“He never developed into the quarterback he was hyped to be,” he explained. “We all heard about John Brantley coming through. He was going to be coming over off of [Tim] Tebow. He was going to be the pure passer. He was going to be the guy that was going to get that passing game going. You never saw any indications of him being an early round pick. He just didn’t perform to that level.
“Obviously he did not have great talent around him to the level that Florida has had in past years. We know that. The guys up front and certainly the guys at the skill positions even though they did have [Jeff] Demps and Rainey and some other kids that have ability. You never saw any indication that Brantley was going to take that next step and put himself in the mix with the first-second-third-round quarterbacks.”
Other UF players available for selection in the draft include defensive end William Green, wide receiver Deonte Thompson and center/guard Dan Wenger.
If there were no character concerns, Kiper thinks Jenkins could have been selected in the middle of the first round. Now he will have to fight to be among the first 32 picks.
“When you look at Jenkins, I’d say right now early- to mid-second with a chance of moving into the late first if he maximizes the next three months,” Kiper said. “But right now I’m projecting him as a kid that goes between 33 and 42.”
Kiper, who had thrown some positive comments Tebow’s way during the 2011-12 NFL season, found an opportunity to reaffirm his original stance on the Denver Broncos quarterback when discussing why he never wavered from believing Robert Griffin III would be a quarterback at the next level.
“I know I’ve debated that with different people, about him being a wide receiver. I never saw that. I thought he was a quarterback all along,” Kiper said of Griffin. “I didn’t think that about Tebow. I still think Tebow’s an H-back. And I said that about Pat White, I thought he should have been a receiver and a return man. He wanted to be a quarterback and now he’s out of the league.
“Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don’t on these guys. But I always thought Griffin was a quarterback and not a projection. I think Denard Robinson’s a projection, a wide receiver coming out of Michigan. I didn’t think that about RG3.”
No matter how things unfold for Florida, chances are the Gators will not have a first-round pick to their name for the first time since 2006. Florida has had 43 players selected in the first round of the draft all-time including 12 in the last 15 years.