GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Over the next three months you will see more NFL mock drafts than TMZ photos of Lindsay Lohan barhopping in Manhattan.
OK, at least somewhere in the neighborhood.
The draft isn’t until April 25-27 but the mock draft season is already robust with projections, predictions and prolific prognostication.
Here at GatorZone.com we like to use moderation when discussing the draft. So, we’ll start out by taking an early look at Florida’s four underclassmen who declared for the draft.
Junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam, tight end Jordan Reed and linebacker Jelani Jenkins all declared for the draft in the wake of the Gators’ loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
Depending on which mock draft you look at, Floyd and Elam are projected as first- or second-rounders on most lists. Reed is expected to be taken in the middle rounds. Jenkins appears the wild card of the group since he missed the Sugar Bowl with a broken foot.
A pretty good website for all-things-NFL-Draft is NFLDraftScout.com, which is part of the CBSSports.com network.
Of course, there are countless other mainstream sites such as ESPN.com and SI.com to get draft information, and hundreds, if not thousands of sports blogs offer their takes on the draft.
Some of the info is more reliable than others, but at this stage of the process, it’s all heavy on speculation until the NFL Draft Combine provides teams a better set of criteria.
Having said all that, here is what NFLDraftScout.com says about Florida’s four underclassmen:
Prospect ranking: 32 overall
Like many Florida players, Elam signed with the Gators as a very highly regarded prep prospect.
He was primarily a reserve defensive back in his first season with the team, though he did start on special teams (kickoff coverage, return) and finished his true freshman campaign with 22 tackles, including two for loss.
Elam emerged as a standout once given the opportunity to start last season. He finished the year second on the team in total tackles (78) and led the club in tackles for loss (11), pass breakups (seven) and forced fumbles (two). He also intercepted two passes last year, including one against Tennessee's Tyler Bray.
Athletic, instinctive and quite physical, Elam demonstrated the ability to walk up into the box and be a force near the line of scrimmage while also dropping back into coverage as a single-high safety when coaches called for it -- showing off the type of versatility NFL teams are demanding fromtoday's hybrid safeties. Elam shows good vision and anticipation when fighting through blocks near the line of scrimmage and is a reliable, physical tackler.
Prospect ranking: 39 overall
Floyd signed with Florida as the highest regarded prep defensive tackle prospect in the country, according to some recruiting experts.
He immediately proved up to the hype, earning a spot on the 2010 All-SECFreshman team (as voted by the coaches) with 23 tackles, including 6.5 for loss.
Floyd showed off the versatility that could result in his earning a high round selection into the NFL one day by playing every position along the defensive line for Florida as a true sophomore.
Though built more like a traditional defensive tackle, Floyd started all 11 games he played last season at defensive end, posting 46 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks and blocked a field goal in a 26-21 victory over Vanderbilt.
He was asked to make the move to defensive end due to the Gators' lack of depth at the position and need to put as many of their most talented defensive linemen on the field at the same time.
While not sleek or fast enough to beatSECoffensive tackles for sacks, Floyd's burst off the snap, hand use and power will translate into more big plays in 2012 as he'll be heading back inside.
Prospect ranking: 81 overall
Reed was a versatile threat at New London High School in Connecticut, where he threw for 1,707 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior while also rushing for 370 yards and eight touchdowns. He led New London to an undefeated season in 2007, was a finalist for the Joe Montana High School quarterback of the year in 2008 and chose Florida over Connecticut, Oregon, Boston College and Maryland.
Reed redshirted in 2009 before starting four of 12 games the following season. He finished 2010 with six catches for 79 yards (13.2 average) and one touchdown and gained 335 rushing yards on 77 attempts (4.4-yard average) and five touchdowns.
He started 10 of 11 games as a sophomore, again showing impressive versatility. Reed finished the season with 28 catches for 307 yards, leading the team in receptions four times.
Reed emerged as a first-team All-SECpick in 2012, leading the Gators with 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. He joined a host of Florida teammates to declare a year early for the NFL Draft.
"I've enjoyed four good years at Florida, but I feel that now is the right time to pursue my dream of playing in the NFL," Reed said. "I appreciate the support from all the coaches and staff here, and I'll always be a Gator."
Lacking the bulk and blocking skills of most traditional tight ends, Reed isn't a fit for every NFL offense. His fluidity and soft hands, however, are reminiscent of former Florida star Aaron Hernandez who has out-played his fourth-round draft selection for the New England Patriots, establishing himself as one of the league's most difficult matchups
STRENGTHS: Reed is a fluid and flexible athlete with smooth body control and controlled balance. He flashes WR moves after the catch with quick, elusive feet and deceiving speed to run away from defenders.
Reed shows smooth athleticism in his routes, creating separation with sharp footwork and quick body movements. He has reliable hands and does a nice job holding onto the ball after a big hit, proving his ability and toughness over the middle of the field.
Reed shows a very good feel for his surroundings with a savvy ability to find open spots in coverage. He flashes some power with the ability to lower his pads through contact and pick up yards after contact.
He also has versatile experience as a former QB with 14 total touchdowns (6 receiving, 5 rushing and 3 passing) the past three seasons. He blossomed as a junior in 2012, leading allSECTEs in catches (45).
WEAKNESSES: Lacks an ideal frame with only average height and build for the position and needs to continue to add bulk to his body. He has room to improve his route-running and needs to continue to develop his receiving skills at the position.
He needs to be more consistent as a blocker and is too much of a grabber in the run game, attracting holding calls.
Reed needs to stay focused with too many false-start penalties on his resume. He has progressed immensely as a pass catcher, but will have a few drops here and there. Reed had a costly fumble near the end zone against Georgia that cost Florida the game and he needs to consistently hold the ball tighter.
He has battled numerous injuries over his career and there are some questions about how his body will hold up in the NFL.
COMPARES TO: Aaron Hernandez, TE, New England Patriots - Yes, both grew up and prepped in Connecticut before arriving in Gainesville, but the similarities don't end there. Reed shows the unique ability to create receiving mismatches as a "joker" TE against linebackers and defensive backs, similar to what Hernandez has done in New England.
Prospect ranking: 107 overall
Jenkins may lack the prototypical size scouts prefer at outside linebacker, but as evidenced by the fact that three "undersized" linebackers last year were among the first 100 players selected, NFL teams may be acknowledging that quickness and coverage ability can supersede size and strength for linebackers intoday's high-octane passing league.
It would be premature to compare Jenkins to the Philadelphia Eagles' Mychal Kendricks (5-11, 239), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Lavonte David (6-1, 233) or the Pittsburgh Steelers' Sean Spence (5-11, 231) at this time but the same kind of playmaking ability that led to these linebackers earning the No. 46, 58 and 86 overall picks, respectively is evident in Jenkins' game.
Jenkins appeared in two games for the Gators as a true freshman but was given a redshirt. Since, he's started 23 of a possible 26 contests and has racked up 153 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, four sacks, two interceptions and has both forced and recovered a fumble.
As one would expect for a linebacker of his size, Jenkins can get swallowed up, at times, when attacking the line of scrimmage. However, attacking is precisely the way to describe Jenkins' style of play as he reads the action quickly and is extremely aggressive, often beating the behemoth offensive linemen he's competing against to the action.
He's earned his starts at both middle and weakside linebacker, finishing third on the team a season ago with 75 tackles while starting 11 games at the WILL position. Due to his size restraints, the weakside position in the 4-3 likely will be Jenkins' best chance at success in the NFL.