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Dominique Easley is projected to be the first Florida player taken in the 2014 NFL Draft by most analysts.

Wednesday May 7, 2014NFL Prospects: A look at Gators Available in 2014 Draft

Dominique Easley is projected to be the first Florida player taken in the 2014 NFL Draft by most analysts.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In a tweet time-stamped 11:39 a.m. on Sept. 25, Dominique Easley let everyone know what he had just found out.

His right knee, the one injured in practice the previous night, needed to be repaired surgically. For the second time in his UF career, Easley had torn an anterior cruciate ligament. The first time, his sophomore season against Florida State, Easley hurt his left knee.

His college career over – Easley could have applied for a fifth year of eligibility but chose not to – the senior defensive lineman thanked Florida fans for their support and ended his message with one word: #believe.

In the weeks and months that followed, Easley tweeted occasional photos of his rehab at the Andrews Institute in Pensacola and various updates on his progress or mindset.

Dominique Easley

While others doubted if he could get healthy and convince an NFL team to take him in the draft, Easley (photo) relied on that word he hashtagged at the end his tweet.

“I don’t expect sympathy from people. Life is not about sympathy,’’ said Easley, who has a 1-year-old son. “You got to get through what you got to get through. That's how I look at life. I got a mouth to feed, so if I cry, he's going to cry. I can't let that happen.”

Easley spoke those words late last month as he walked off the field following his pro day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. After a difficult seven months, Easley walked off optimistic he had done enough to impress the NFL personnel in attendance.

He stressed he isn’t all the way back from the knee injury but would be by the time summer camps start. Despite two knee surgeries, and despite playing only three games his senior season, Easley is expected to be the first Gator selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, which starts on Thursday night.

Considered a first-round talent prior to his knee injury, Easley dropped as questions loomed about his durability and recovery. However, after a strong performance at his pro day, Easley appears to have gained momentum and is viewed as a potential steal in the middle rounds if not taken higher.

“For a 4-3 defense, if you’re looking for an under tackle, a run defender, an all-around inside presence with a good factor grade that can rush the quarterback, can read and react, I think Easley is a very good prospect,’’ former Bucs coach Jon Gruden, now with ESPN, said this week on a media teleconference. “I thought he was certainly a top-50 player in this draft prior to the injury.”

While Easley is the most prominent UF player in this year’s draft, the Gators have others in position to hear their name called on Friday and Saturday in the later rounds.

Let’s take a look at the Gators available in the draft:

DOMINIQUE EASLEY, DT

ESPN analyst Todd McShay ranks Easley the 64th-best prospect in the draft on his list of the 300 top prospects ($). That would put him late in the second round or early in the third round. A successful team without a lot of immediate needs in the draft could take a flyer on Easley, give him time to get back to 100 percent, and come away with a low-risk, high-value pick if Easley returns to form.

Jaylen Watkins

JAYLEN WATKINS, DB

No other UF player improved his stock as much as Watkins (photo) at the NFL combine and at various private workouts. Watkins is athletic and strong enough to play both safety and cornerback. He has reportedly worked out for New England, Carolina, Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington. McShay ranks him the 85th-best prospect, which would put him in the third round.

MARCUS ROBERSON, CB

He struggled to stay healthy and missed half his junior season. Still, Roberson opted to come out early and has the tools to be an excellent cover corner in the NFL. Roberson has good size (6-0, 191) and was noticeably more muscular at UF’s pro day. McShay ranks him No. 101 overall in this year’s draft, which projects as a late third-round, early fourth-round selection.

LOUCHEIZ PURIFOY, CB

Purifoy entered his junior season as a potential first-round pick but his stock has dropped in recent months. Purifoy ran a slower-than-expected 40-yard dash at the NFL combine and recently had an off-the-field incident that raised eyebrows. When healthy and motivated, Purifoy has the skills to be a solid NFL cornerback and also return kicks. McShay has him as the 184th-best prospect in the draft.

Ronald Powell

RONALD POWELL, OLB

Powell (photo) arrived at UF in 2010 in a class of defensive linemen that also included Easley and 2013 first-round draft pick Sharrif Floyd. He suffered a pair of knee injuries during his career that slowed his development and most believe Powell’s best days on the field are ahead. He has the athleticism and type of build to be an ideal speed rusher on the outside. McShay ranks him No. 200 among prospects in the draft.

JON HALAPIO, C

A three-year starter, Halapio was a rock on Florida’s offensive line when healthy. He played most of his senior season with a torn pectoral muscle and his performance dropped off as a result. However, Halapio has the toughness and strength that NFL teams covet in interior offensive linemen and is projected as a late-round pick. McShay ranks him No. 226 overall.

TREY BURTON, TE

Burton played quarterback, running back, fullback, receiver and tight end at UF and also logged plenty of action on special teams. In other words, he can do a little bit of everything, which boosts his stock in the eyes of NFL executives because Burton’s versatility can save a roster sport. McShay has Burton ranked as the 255th-best prospect in the draft. He could get drafted in the late rounds or sign as a free agent, but Burton should find a home on an NFL roster.

JONOTTHAN HARRISON, C

He stabilized the center position in Florida coach Will Muschamp’s first season and had a solid career for the Gators. Harrison is not an elite prospect but does make McShay’s list at No. 296 overall. Harrison projects as final-round pick or a free-agent signee.

Solomon Patton

SOLOMON PATTON, WR

Patton (photo) was Florida’s Offensive MVP last season after spending the previous offseason working tirelessly to improve his professional prospects. Those improvements showed up on the field. McShay has Patton ranked 42nd on his list of the top 43 receivers available, but Patton could sneak into the draft in the later rounds or sign as a free agent due to his speed and versatility. He can return kicks and showed a willingness to tackle on special teams.

DAMIEN JACOBS, DT

A two-year player at Florida, Jacobs transferred to UF from East Mississippi Community College and played 23 games, starting four. This is an NFL Draft deep in defensive linemen, so the best shot for Jacobs in landing a tryout via the free-agent route and making it pay off.

KYLE KOEHNE, OL

Koehne’s versatility was a huge bonus for Florida’s offensive line the past three seasons. Koehn played guard, center and tackle and started 10 games. Koehne’s best chance at making an NFL roster will be as a free-agent signee who gets a shot because of his versatility and football IQ.

DARRIN KITCHENS, LB

Kitchens played in 45 games and started six the past four seasons. He graduated over the weekend and is not expected to be drafted. However, whatever his football future holds, Kitchens made his mark with the Gators as a fan favorite recognized for his passion in singing the alma mater win or lose.

 

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