Two days after helping Florida finish its regular season with a resounding triumph over Florida State — and nearly inciting a melee by attempting to plant a Florida flag at midfield on Ron Zook Field just moments after the Gators’ 41-14 went final — Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has made another big move: He will forgo his senior season of eligibility and enter the 2019 NFL Draft, announcing the decision on Twitter with a graphic quite conspicuously prepared in part by Florida.
Thank You Gator Nation !!!! pic.twitter.com/BnseLUFn08— Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (@CGJXXIII) November 26, 2018
Gardner-Johnson also mentions in the letter that he intends to fully participate in Florida’s preparations and play in a bowl game — likely, thanks in no small to his own efforts, a prominent New Year’s Six game in late December.
Along with this decision, I want Gator Nation to know that I am 100 PERCENT COMMITTED to my team and this program as we look to finish the season strong at our bowl game next month.
A four-star recruit from small-school powerhouse Cocoa High in Brevard County, Gardner-Johnson — who added Johnson to his surname after the 2017 season, ultimately wearing one of the longest names on a jersey in Florida history — came to Gainesville as part of Jim McElwain’s second recruiting class in 2016 and with a reputation for incessant chatter on the field and cocksure play that backed up his bark.
And after starring as a freshman safety, notably returning two interceptions for touchdowns in Florida’s Outback Bowl victory over Iowa, Gardner-Johnson was poised to be yet another great Gators defensive back entering the 2017 season. That didn’t happen, or at least not then: He struggled mightily early in the season, especially as a tackler, and drew the ire of much of the fan base as Florida’s season began sputtering to its dismal end — so much, in fact, that his improvements after a terrible start to the year went mostly without discussed.
As a junior in 2018, though, Gardner-Johnson looked a lot more like the player he was billed as, shifting to something closer to a pure nickel back role after the departure of Duke Dawson for the NFL and showcasing his skills as a physical player in both coverage and run support. Gardner-Johnson is third among Florida defenders with 66 tackles, and is second in solo tackles for the second straight season, with his 33 only barely trailing Vosean Joseph’s 37, and has been effective as a blitzer, tallying nine tackles for loss and three sacks.
Gardner-Johnson has also added two interceptions to his collegiate total this year, with the second one, an easy-as-can-be jumping of a route on the first play of scrimmage against Idaho, turning into seemingly the fastest touchdown in a game in program history.
And after sliding into Dawson’s role and filling his big shoes admirably, Gardner-Johnson will now enter the NFL Draft as a possible Day 2 selection, leaving his own sizable pair of Js for a future baller to fill.
Probably, that successor should not even try to match him as a quip artist — it will be hard enough to replicate Gardner-Johnson’s play on the field without simultaneously trying to match one of the best trash-talkers in Florida history.