Florida helping players make NFL decisions with Outback Bowl looming

By Adam Silverstein
December 20, 2016
Florida helping players make NFL decisions with Outback Bowl looming

Image Credit: UAA

With the talk of the college football world this week surrounding star players choosing not to suit up for bowl games, the Florida Gators find themselves in a unique position.

Florida’s defense features multiple potential first-round draft picks, all of whom have been mostly healthy this season and were not forced to go through midseason rehabilitation like the pair of running backs making the biggest headlines: LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.

But the Gators’ entire defense has been injury-riddled this season, and a number of other players who will not be as highly drafted but are equally important to Florida’s success face the option of stepping foot on the field at the 2017 Outback Bowl and giving it a go or using the extra time to get healthy and prepare for the 2017 NFL Draft.

Chief among them is senior linebacker Jarrad Davis, who played through a serious ankle injury only to seemingly hurt it worse and miss more time. Davis returned against Alabama in the 2016 SEC Championship Game but was clearly hobbled. Certainly no one would blame him for missing the Outback Bowl, but one can be sure Davis has every intention of playing.

Head coach Jim McElwain announced Monday that redshirt junior LB Alex Anzalone returned to practice last week, though in a limited fashion. Anzalone “beat some bags up, which was good to see,” McElwain said. “… Time will tell there. We’ll know more when we get back and get down [to Tampa]. We’ve got a couple days of padded practice here coming up — he won’t be in any contact stuff, but he did do some [skeleton drill] work and some individual work.”

Anzalone, who was incredibly productive for Florida this season, has missed the last four games since breaking his arm at Arkansas on Nov. 5. By the time the Outback Bowl kicks off, he will have spent nearly two months on the shelf.

For a player who missed nearly the entire 2015 season with a shoulder injury and may be looking to jump to the NFL early before he gets hit with another injury, Anzalone has a tough call ahead of him. He can play (if cleared) and try to put another great effort on film, sit and declare with just eight starts under his belt in his college career, or stick around for one more season regardless of his decision.

“It’s one of those deals where it’s a personal decision in a team game. It’s hard. It’s hard on everybody. At the same time, former general managers, people from the league that we’ve had come talk to our team, one of the things they say over and over — and I think there was a great example in the Birmingham Bowl — it’s really more than 75 percent what you put on film,” McElwain explained. “For a lot of guys, it’s an opportunity against a really good opponent to go and put out some really good film on themselves playing at a high level in a really good ballgame. When you think what [Dante] Fowler did in that bowl game for his status, he actually jumped up in the first round based on those five sacks. … [It] really benefited him. … It’s a personal choice.”

Indeed, Fowler jumped all the way up to the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, due in part to not only his performance in the game, but his incredible dedication to the team and tenacity to play the contest in the first place.

On the other side of that coin, of course, is Antonio Morrison, who seriously injured his left knee during a stellar effort in the game and had no choice but to return for his senior season. Like Morrison, though, neither Davis nor Anzalone is anticipated to be a high draft selection, regardless of their tremendous production at Florida.

That’s not the same for junior cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wison, who to this point have given no indication that they plan on missing the Outback Bowl. Tabor said he will announce his NFL decision after the game, while Wilson has stayed mum on the topic.

“I think there’s a right way to do a lot of different things as you go about your business, not just with football. … I just can’t tell you how far Jalen Tabor has come,” McElwain said. “… He means a lot to this football team. He loves to play; he loves to compete. He understands the different things that are involved in enhancing your brand. He’s really learned that. I’m just really proud of him. He’s played really well. He practices his tail off. This guy, he’s doing it right.”

McElwain said the Gators have already received back the information requested from the NFL on the players that are considering leaving early. Junior offensive lineman David Sharpe, redshirt junior punter Johnny Townsend and redshirt junior defensive tackle Caleb Brantley are believed to be at least considering leaving along with Tabor, Wilson and Anzalone.

Florida will do its best to help direct them in their futures, but ultimately it’s up to the players to make their decisions.

Five Gators left early for the NFL Draft last season, but Florida saw both Davis and now-redshirt senior safety Marcus Maye return despite seemingly receiving some legitimate NFL interest.


  1. Michael Jones says:

    Hard to imagine that Davis won’t be a round 1 or 2 selection. As for Anzalone, I think people forget just how highly regarded he was by Collins, who referred to him as the best player on the defense more than once. Pretty high praise on a loaded defense.

    Would be thrilled but surprised to see Brantley come back.

  2. Matt says:

    These guys should come back so they can receive more genius leadeship from Mcelwain, a legend in his own mind…Master motivator and tactician who leads men into battle where they frequently get blown out and yet that’s a good thing because it’s a learning opportunity…Gator players will continue to learn a lot under Mcelwain, so they should return for their senior years, 6 or 7 learning opportunities next year..Mcelwain is an expert at handling blowout defeats, it’s a positive, because players learn so much from getting their rear ends handed to them…Keep leading the charge Field General Mcelwain, your up there with the great leaders of men, Bryant, Wooden, Walsh, Patton, and Jimmy “pouting a$÷” Mcelwain…A legend of the game!!

  3. Matt says:

    Well see next year when Mcelwain no longer has the gift of hiding behind Muschamp’s defensive players…Many more blowouts are coming, guaranteed..Crappy recruiter, no running game,doesn’t even put the best players on the field because he doesn’t have the ability to determine who they are… This guy does nothing well..You think the offensive system and play calling works or is going to work? How, why, and when would that happen? Last in SEC in rushing offense, second to last in the nation in red zone offense, 115th in the Nation in total offense. Of the 62 teams with winning records, Florida is second to last in total offense…Guess who the last ranked team is, It’s Iowa…We actually found a bowl opponent with a worse offense, the only one in the country…Of the the 41 teams that average less than 26ppg, only 3 have winning records, the Gators are one of them…This bizarre couple of years of having one of the nation’s worst offenses and winning 8 to 10 games in NOT sustainable…We are headed for 4 to 6 wins if our defense falls, which it most certainly will…Mcelwain is LUCKY and Florida has held its head above water in spite of him, not because of him..WAKE UP PEOPLE!!

    • MAR says:

      “We actually found a bowl opponent……”
      Matt, you have no business using the word “we” when referring to your relationship with the Florida Gator football team and/or Gator Nation. You are anti-gator and your comments bring any true fan who reads them down. On behalf of the real Gator fans, WE don’t need your pessimism here.

      • Matt says:

        A true fan doesn’t ignore reality or have the inability to interpret information that is in front of them…Why don’t you make any legitimate points, BTW? “MAR” if things looked good or even average for the future of Gator football, I wouldn’t offer anything but support, but they don’t look good, at all, and I provide evidence and data in my comments to spport my opinion, that this coach is a poor representation of Gator football…Jeremy made a mistake. Should we just sit back, say nothing and wait for an implosion? As a comparison, your simple minded logic is akin to a citizen of a Natiion, who loves his country, but does not like the leader…He thinks the leader is directing his country in a way that he doesn’t like, according to you, if he voices a negative or contrary opinion of the leader, he must hate the whole country, that is a foolish argument, as is yours…Speaking the truth about Gator Football leadership, of which Mcelwain is the only Coach I have ever spoke out against, that isn’t being against the Gators, just the opposite, it’s advocating for the Gators, that’s being a true fan, any uninformed dude with a t-shirt can clap and yell “Yay, Gators”!!! That is fine, but big time fans, are sophisticated enough to know the game and what is really going on..So give a crack at a legitimate point that supports Mcelwain, what is positive on the horizon? I see almost nothing, what do you see?

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