Florida Gators junior running back Matt Jones will forgo his remaining eligibility and enter the 2015 NFL Draft, according to a report from Nick de la Torre of Gator Country.
“Always Bleed Orange And Blue!!,” Jones wrote Monday via his Twitter account.
Jones is the third Gators underclassman to declare for the draft, joining junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (a potential first-round pick) and redshirt junior offensive lineman Tyler Moore. Other players with a year of eligibility remaining may follow the trio, namely junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard and left tackle D.J. Humphries.
Jones, a two-year starter who suffered from a serious viral infection and devastating knee injury that cut his 2013 campaign short, was Florida’s leading rusher this season with 817 yards and six touchdowns on 166 carries. He also caught 11 passes for 65 yards and added a receiving score. In five games last season, Jones gained 339 yards on 79 carries, scoring just twice.
A bruising rusher with a varied enough skill set to make him an intriguing prospect, Jones could certainly be selected in the draft, though it would likely be as a late-round pick due to his collegiate production and concerns about his surgically-repaired knee. With the running back position no longer valued with as much as it once was in the draft – and with plenty of big names ahead of Jones – it may be tough sledding for him come early May.
Former Gators head coach Will Muschamp was adamant throughout his tenure that he would advise his players to stay in school unless they were projected to be first-round picks in the draft. A number of former Florida players, including linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Ronald Powell (injury concerns) and cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, chose to ignore Muschamp’s advice and saw vastly different outcomes. Jenkins and Powell were both drafted, with Jenkins now starting in the league, while Purifoy and Roberson signed undrafted free agent deals after going through the seven-round draft without being picked.
Like Jenkins and Powell – and unlike Purifoy and Roberson – there are no question about Jones’s character. In fact, he has been praised extensively by Muschamp and the Gators’ coaching staff for his work ethic and mindset, even as he was dealing with severe ailments and injuries.
Jones also has a three-year-old daughter to support and leaving early will give him the opportunity to do just that.
Sophomore RB Kelvin Taylor, who gained 565 yards on 112 carries and matched Jones with six rushing touchdowns this season, will step in as Florida’s starter in 2015. Taylor was also the Gators’ second-leading rusher during his freshman campaign in 2013, carrying the ball 111 times for 508 yards with four scores.
OnlyGators.com reached out to the Gators for confirmation of Jones’s decision to leave school but the program could not confirm one way or another as of press time.
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