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April 3, 2011

The Silver Lining: Gators in the NFL Draft

Florida Football: Maistri: Spring adversity will pay fall dividends | ITG Recruiting Roundtable | Go Inside the War Room - Spring Practice Edition

The lights of Radio City Music Hall will shine bright from April 28-30 when a likely record audience will tune in to watch the 2011 NFL Draft on ESPN and NFL Network. And though rookies may - or may not - be in attendance, there will be plenty of fans cheering nationwide as their teams get younger and hopefully better, too. Florida Gators fans, who looked on as a nation leading nine players were selected in 2010 (including a school record three in the first round and six in the first two rounds), may not be as thrilled to watch the event this year.

Florida only has one player - center/guard Mike Pouncey - projected as a first-round pick and could very well not have a second player selected until the third round.

Check out the list below to find out where your favorite Gators may be drafted and how they project at the next level.

Center/guard Mike Pouncey

Projected round: 1st
Known teams with interest: New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions
Lowdown: The top-rated interior lineman in the draft, Pouncey has done nothing since the Outback Bowl to lower his stock. He impressed at the NFL Combine and Pro Day and has received stellar reviews and plenty of compliments after each private workout he completes.

Safety Ahmad Black

Projected round: 3rd-6th
Lowdown: Possessing first- or second-round talent, Black is sliding down draft boards due to his lack of size and speed. His ability, instinctiveness and football IQ are potentially the best at his position, but scouts cannot get over his height (5'9") and 40-yard dash time (4.7-4.8 seconds). Though those physical "limitations" did not stop him from succeeding in the best conference in college football, the fear is that he will be exposed at the next level and unable to take advantage of opponents the same way he did in college.

Offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert

Projected round: 3rd-4th
Lowdown: Gilbert has been the sole Florida player to climb up draft boards since the season ended, proving that he is able to take advantage of his size (6'6", 330 lbs.) while maintaining his balance during blocks. He projects as a right tackle in the NFL but some teams think he may perform better as a guard.

Safety Will Hill

Projected round: 4th-5th
Lowdown: A five-star recruit coming out of New Jersey, Hill never lived up to expectations on the collegiate level even though he started his career as a dynamic special teams performer and made his fair share of plays in the secondary over his two seasons as a starter. After testing well at the Combine, he continues to be projected as a special teams starter and back-up safety in the NFL. Character concerns are also an issue for Hill, who had problems with consistency at Florida and was ridiculed after messages and pictures from his Twitter account were featured on a website.

Punter Chas Henry

Projected round: 5th-undrafted
Lowdown: Though Henry was the best NCAA punter in 2010 (and arguably over the last two seasons), it is not often that players at his position are selected high in the draft - if taken at all. Henry's draft position will be based strictly on team need, but his ability to at least serve as a viable back-up kicker (and even a "fourth-string" quarterback) should provide him a bit of additional value.

Offensive lineman Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt; running back Emmanuel Moody; wide receivers Carl Moore and Justin Williams; defensive ends Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens; defensive tackles Terron Sanders, Lawrence Marsh and Brandon Antwine; linebackers A.J. Jones, Brandon Hicks and Lorenzo Edwards; long snapper John Fairbanks

Projected rounds: 5th-undrafted
Lowdown: The rest of the Gators' seniors have one or multiple issues that will prevent them from being picked earlier than the third day of the draft - if at all. From injuries to lack of production, each faces a hurdle that they must prove to teams can be overcome by hard work and dedication. The majority of these players will go undrafted and be forced to look for free agent deals.

In a normal season under a Collective Bargaining Agreement, undrafted free agents would be able to sign with teams immediately after the conclusion of the draft. Deals are often discussed while the final rounds of the draft are ongoing and reached within 24 hours of the event ending. Unfortunately for these players, the process will not be the same in 2011. Due to the lockout, contact is not allowed between teams and players, delaying their ability to find immediate NFL employment.

The CFL, UFL and AFL are all legitimate options. With the NFL season - and a number of fighting points including salary cap and roster size - all in flux, many players may decide to lock down a job in a "secondary" league for at least one year rather than waiting for something to develop. That being said, the labor issue could be settled by the time the draft rolls around, which would leave the players with at least an opportunity to join a team as an undrafted free agent and compete for a spot on the roster or practice squad.


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