This past Saturday, the #1 ranked Florida Gators concluded their regular season play, and as they approach the SEC Championship and possibly the National Championship, it’s only natural that questions arise regarding the future of several players who have played integral roles in the continued success of the team.
The one player whose future is most up in the air is the one and only Tim Tebow. What position will he play in the NFL? Is he a quarterback? Is he a tight end? Is he a fullback? The upside to Tebow is that he can be all of these things. Today’s NFL is becoming a league of gimmick offenses becoming full time offenses, and Tim Tebow’s versatility can allow a team to utilize him in every way possible. Most likely, Tim Tebow will be drafted as a quarterback and people will continue to question his ability to play the position in the NFL. Having watched the Gators for the past two years, I can say that the uncertainty surrounding his ability is warranted, but that is not to say that he cannot play the position. Tebow has time and time again made precise throws, run for important first downs, and simply win games. His ability to win games is something no person can argue against. Tebow’s passion, heart, and ability combined, have allowed him to win a Heisman trophy and win the SEC and National Championships in 2 of 3 years, and possibly in 3 of 4 years. I see Tebow going in the late 1st round to mid 2nd round. Many people may not agree with this, but teams will be more than willing to take a chance on a player who is extremely versatile ability and has an uncanny ability to win games.
Aaron Hernandez is another player whose future is up in the air. Hernandez, a junior, is not a guarantee to leave for the NFL draft, but based on his actions during the UF vs. FSU game, every indication points towards him entering the draft. Aaron Hernandez possesses great skills, all which will allow Hernandez to be a great tight end in the NFL. Most likely, Hernandez will not be the first tight end taken, as that honor will probably go to Oklahoma’s Jermain Gresham, but I see Hernandez being a late 2nd to 3rd round pick. Hernandez has shown his ability to run routes, block defenders, and, as seen in the FSU game, juke and run his way to the end-zone. Hernandez is the Gators second leading receiver this season with 51 receptions for 654 yards and 4 touchdowns. Hernandez’s speed, hands, and intensity have allowed him to be successful in an offense that has struggled in the passing game, but Hernandez looks to have a bright future.
Brandon James may have the most questionable future of the high profile Florida Gator seniors. James, listed at 5’ 7” and 185 lbs, has an incredible ability to make a game breaking play at any moment. James is most comparable to Darren Sproles when attempting to compare him to somebody in the NFL. Darren Sproles, another small running back in the NFL, has had a successful career up to this point, but there is one major difference when comparing the two in terms of where they will be drafted. Darren Sproles (4th round, 29th pick) was a full time running back in college at Kansas State, and a successful one at that, whereas James is predominantly a kick/punt returner and a part time running back and wide receiver. Obviously, James does not have the ideal size for an NFL running back, but he has great speed, quickness, and will take a hit that most players would never want to go near. James is fearless on the field, and with his combination of skills, can be a successful player in the NFL. Most likely, James will be a 6th or 7th round pick, but I don’t see any team regretting taking a chance on the undersized running back.
Carlos Dunlap, Junior, seems to have a very bright future ahead of him. The 6’ 6”, 290 lbs defensive end has had a very successful three years in The Swamp. In his first two years at UF, Dunlap recorded 46 tackles (15.5 for loss), 10.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 4 blocked kicks/punts. Teams, after seeing such production, decided to constantly double team the standout defensive end, but still, have not had much luck stopping his production. In the 2009 season, Dunlap has 32 tackles and 7 sacks. There is not much anybody can say that is negative about Carlos Dunlap. He has great size, strength, quickness, and speed, and obviously has a relentless attitude on the field, shown by his 7 sacks despite his constant double teams. Dunlap looks to be a top 15 pick in the coming NFL draft, and looks to have a great career ahead of him.
Simply put, Brandon Spikes, Senior, is a monster. The 6’ 3”, 260 lbs linebacker is a brick, and hits like a brick too. He is a ball hawk, and seems to be involved in every single defensive play possible. Throughout his career, Spikes has accumulated 276 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 6 sacks. Spikes always seems to produce when on the field, and no team can argue against that. His ability to be involved in every play, be a vocal leader, lead by example, and lay the wood, will make him a solid NFL linebacker. Not to mention, his size is great for an NFL linebacker. Spikes has had some mishaps this season, injuries, and his questionable act in the FL/GA game in Jacksonville, but Spikes has handled them all with class, and although it may hurt his draft status a bit, it wont affect it enough to hinder his chance of becoming an NFL player. Spikes seems to be a late 1st to 2nd round pick. Spikes may have been able to be drafted higher had the Gators not adopted a rotating linebacker system. This system has taken some of Spikes’ playing time from him, which would have allowed him to further showcase his NFL abilities.
Joe Haden, Junior, is probably the top cornerback in a weak cornerback class. Haden has a great ability to cover man-on-man, recover in the infrequent times in which he is beat on a route, and most importantly, tackle in the open field. For a cornerback, being able to tackle in the open field is a skill that will set you apart from the pack, and Haden is extremely skilled at this. He is a big cornerback, listed at 5’11” and 190 lbs. In his three years as a UF cornerback, he has accumulated 194 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 8 interceptions. The Gators started Haden as a true freshman and have never looked back. He has continued to perform, and has no fear when taking on the top receivers in the country. Haden has also shown great durability, missing only two games in his three full years of starting. Joe Haden looks to be a top 20 pick in the coming NFL draft mainly because of his size, coverage skills, and great ability to tackle in the open field.
Jermaine Cunningham, Senior, is another player whose future is up in the air. As an undersized, yet productive, defensive end, he looks to be selected as an outside linebacker that will fit great into a 3-4 defensive system. Cunningham, listed at 6’ 3”, is said to run a 4.6 sec. forty, which in turn, will allow him to be effective as an outside linebacker. Cunningham has, multiple times, come up with big tackles in the backfield and numerous sacks that have changed the flow of a game. Cunningham has put up respectable numbers in his first three years as a Gator, recording 118 tackles (22 for loss), 12.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 3 forced fumbles. Some project Cunningham as a 1st round pick, but I see him more as a 2nd to 3rd round pick. Cunningham has a lot of upside and can turn out to be a great player in the NFL. It would be understandable for Cunningham to be chosen in the late 1st round, if a team were wiling to take a chance, but for the most part, he looks to be chosen somewhere in the second half of the 2nd round.
This year’s Florida Gators will put several players in the NFL draft, most of which will have solid careers in the NFL. Where these players will be chosen in the draft, nobody will know until actual draft day, but there is always room in this world for predictions.