Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is considered Florida's top underclassmen by most NFL Draft analysts.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Southeastern Conference is loaded with potential underclassmen declaring for the NFL Draft.
Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2011 at The Swamp but returned to full speed this season, announced on Twitter Monday that he was leaving school early.
More are certain to follow. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Jarvis Jones, Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker and LSU safety Eric Reid are considered some of the league's top junior prospects.
The Gators have several players on that list, including defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, safety Matt Elam, injured linebacker Jelani Jenkins, tight end Jordan Reed and defensive tackle Dominique Easley.
Florida coach Will Muschamp has talked to the players about their prospects and doesn't plan to address the issue again until after the Gators face Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
Having spent a season in the NFL as an assistant, Muschamp maintains regular contact with NFL player personnel directors and makes sure to provide accurate information to each player considering a potential jump.
"If a guy is going to be a first-round pick, I'm probably going to tell him to go to the NFL,'' Muschamp said recently. "That's just my policy. If he's not and he can improve himself, then I suggest he comes back.”
Once the players submit their paperwork to the draft advisory board, Muschamp provides as much information as he can to the players.
"I sit down with them and give them input I've gotten from NFL people,” Muschamp said. “But some agent isn't going to give you the right information, I can assure you of that. We have a good process here just being really honest and open with our players."
Florida's underclassmen have a fountain of knowledge about the NFL at their disposal -- the Gators' coaching staff.
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn served as an NFL assistant for 10 seasons and defensive tackles coach Bryant Young spent 14 seasons in the league. Assistants Derek Lewis and Travaris Robinson also spent time playing professionally as did offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
Quinn said Wednesday that he hasn't spoken much to the players about the draft at this point and will certainly offer his thoughts if asked.
(Photo: Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn)
"I’ve kind of stayed back a little bit and waited for them to come and use me as a resource,'' Quinn said. "If they want my opinion on it, I would certainly give it. It hasn’t really come up as much as maybe even I thought that it would. I think it’s more of a personal decision I guess for them.
"Ultimately, that’s one that they have to make. It’s a good problem for them to have and think about.”
Coincidentally, most of Florida's top underclassmen prospects are on defense. Floyd is considered the top NFL prospect. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projects Floyd going to the 49ers with the 29th overall pick.
Elam, a first-team AP All-American, has also garnered a lot of attention. Reed is considered a prototypical prospect at tight end because of his combination of speed and size.
Jenkins and Easley also have NFL potential but might be better served returning to school based on a sampling of the countless NFL draft boards available for perusal on the Internet.
Senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said Wednesday that there has been very little chatter among the players about the draft, a change from the past.
"When I was a younger guy, I used to hear it all the time. ‘Oh man, I’m leaving. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m going to get money.’ This year, not one bit,” he said. "Talk to Dan Quinn and Bryant Young, that’s the best advice I can give.
"Those guys know it. They wouldn’t lie to you. They love us, they really do. I know they really care about us and they won’t let us make a bad decision. Ultimately the decision is ours, but those guys will give us the best advice they can.”
Quinn was asked Wednesday about the four underclassmen on defense who appear the most suited to have NFL careers one day.
Here is his breakdown on each player:
“Inside he’s got real quickness for a big guy. For a 305 pounder, he kind of moves like a 275 pounder. He’s got power in his lower body that he can sustain and anchor on blocks. He can push the pocket as a rusher. I think he’s got value that he can play all downs. Sometimes a defensive tackle might only be a first or second down player, but he’s really an all-downs player.”
“He can be [a good NFL player] because of his explosive power. The guy is a big-time hitter. He’s got very good football instincts. That’s why we’ve been able to play him at a number of different spots this year ... I think just his physical nature and he way that he plays. He’s aggressive. He’s a very good special-teams player. He’s a good tackler. He’s a good blitzer. Those are some of the things that make him unique. He plays safety and nickel. I don’t know if there’s many guys in the NFL right now who play both.”
JENKINS (will not play in Sugar Bowl due to a broken foot)
"He’s got terrific speed to play linebacker. To me, that’s one of the critical elements to playing linebacker in the NFL. You’ve got to have speed and he has that. He’s got a very high football IQ. He understands schemes and concepts extremely well. He can matchup on tight ends and backs from a coverage standpoint.”
“Dominique is another guy that’s got terrific position flexibility. He has rare quickness. As a nickel rusher, he’s a hard matchup for a guard. He’s got enough strength to play over the tight end. He’s very heavy-handed. The physical intensity he brings will allow him to have a terrific career. He is one of the toughest players and loves playing and loves the intensity of the sport.”
Florida also has several seniors with a chance to be drafted or invited to summer camp as free agents after the draft, including Hunter, running back Mike Gillislee, running back/receiver Omarius Hines, defensive end/linebacker Lerentee McCray, kicker Caleb Sturgis, safety Josh Evans, offensive lineman Xavier Nixon, receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. and linebacker Jon Bostic.