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Florida Gators in the 2016 NFL Draft: Vernon Hargreaves likely leaving, Jarrad Davis to stay

The offseason wouldn't truly begin without players discussing and disclosing future plans, would it?

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Florida's 2015 season isn't over yet — the Gators still have a bowl game to play, likely in Orlando against a Big Ten opponent. But we have reached the portion of the season when it's no longer impolite to ask players about their future plans, and a few of those players made them known on Saturday after the Gators' loss in the SEC Championship Game.

The obvious news came from Florida's most obvious early entrant in the 2016 NFL Draft: Vernon Hargreaves III confirmed to reporters that he is likely to leave for the league.

"Probably the NFL," Hargreaves said of his future after Saturday's 29-15 loss to Alabama at the Georgia Dome. "I think about it a lot. It's not really a secret."


Hargreaves said that if this is his final season at UF, he's pleased (with) how far he's helped the Gators rise since entering Gainesville as a five-star talent.

"My junior year, my last year, we got to Atlanta," Hargreaves said. "We didn't get the job done."

That Hargreaves — who has been considered one of the nation's best defensive backs since almost the moment he set foot on campus in Gainesville, and who is about as surefire a first-round pick as I've seen — would head to the NFL after three seasons is not surprising in the least. I called him leaving for the NFL after his junior season in January 2013, doing so after his phenomenal performance in the Under Armour All-America Game, and Hargreaves essentially lived up to his substantial hype as a Gator — though he arguably didn't exceed it.

But while Hargreaves leaving would be an expected loss, linebacker Jarrad Davis bolting for the NFL after a brilliant junior season would be a blow few had factored into the Gators' future until very recently. Fortunately for Florida, Davis said in no uncertain terms on Saturday that he will return for his senior season.

Davis wasn't thought of as a first-rounder, though his stock was on the rise. But my hunch is that he's the sort of player who would impress throughout the pre-draft process both with his surprising athleticism and his tenacity and diligence in preparation. If he's truly not even considering testing the waters, I think he's passing up a signficant payday to come back and win with a team he loves, and I can't be much happier about that.

The only other Florida underclassman to speak about his personal future on Saturday was wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, whom most observers expected would leave for the NFL after a stellar junior campaign prior to this season actually transpiring. Instead, Robinson has led Florida in catches, but neither yards per catch or touchdowns, was publicly demoted on the depth chart, and was suspended (for at least the third distinct time in his Florida career) for the Gators' meeting with Florida State for the second time in three seasons.

So it isn't exactly stunning that he didn't sound like he's all the way out the door.

I still think Robinson has enough natural talent as a pass-catcher to make an NFL team fall in love with him. His off-field travails, though, are going to raise about as many red flags as a NFL prospect can without actual legal issues — and, in some ways, Robinson's misdeeds have come at such a cost to his teammates that they might trump criminal actions for some NFL front offices.

The best play for Robinson would probably be coming back to Florida for a senior season, getting his mind totally and absolutely right, and balling out in a final campaign free of personal issues. And that would obviously benefit Florida, too, considering that the Gators could have one of the nation's best wide receiver pairings by teaming a dedicated Robinson with Antonio Callaway, who should be even better after a full offseason in Florida's weight room.

But Gators fans — myself included — have largely grown tired of Robinson, thanks both to his penchant for poor decisions away from the field and frustrations with his exasperatingly nimble running after catches. Robinson drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Alabama on Saturday after getting physical with Crimson Tide cornerback Cyrus Jones may have been the point of no return for many of them.

If Robinson does make a return to Florida, I think he can contribute meaningfully and positively to the Gators in 2016. If he doesn't, though, I can't imagine too many fans will be truly saddened to see him go.

And while those three players were the only ones to publicly speak on their plans, Florida could lose a handful of other draft-eligible underclassmen to the NFL Draft. Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, safeties Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal, edge rusher Alex McCalister, and running back Kelvin Taylor, all of whom have legitimate chances to be drafted, would be the primary candidates to potentially join Hargreaves as early entrants.