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Florida’s Jordan Scarlett declares for 2019 NFL Draft

The Gators’ second-leading rusher has nothing left to prove at the collegiate level.

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Florida vs Michigan Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators redshirt junior running back Jordan Scarlett will forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2019 NFL Draft, he revealed in a tweet on Wednesday.

Scarlett going pro is about as far from a surprise as such a decision can be. After sitting out the entirety of the 2017 season following his involvement in a spate of credit card fraud by Florida players, Scarlett has spent four years as a college football player — an eternity for a potential NFL talent, especially at running back — and proven all he can at the collegiate level.

Scarlett rushed for 776 yards and five touchdowns this fall as the Gators’ co-starter at running back, gaining just 50 fewer yards and scoring two fewer touchdowns than leading rusher Lamical Perine on just three fewer carries. The two-man rotation kept both backs fresh and allowed each to star in a slightly different role, with Scarlett’s bruising style making him Florida’s preferred short-yardage back.

Scarlett’s good vision and quickness and his appetite for contact — which is aided by a penchant for breaking a first tackle attempt — make him a good bet to be drafted, if not an assured star at the NFL level. He lacks great top-end speed and has some work to do if he is going to become a versatile running back, especially as a receiver, but it is not hard to imagine Scarlett plugging along for several years as a helpful pro.

And that projection of likely journeyman status is why Scarlett absolutely had to leave Florida now. Scarlett is already 23, and turning 24 in July; in a year, he would have entered the NFL Draft at 24, and been 25 by his first professional snap, which is ancient by the standards of the NFL Draft pool. If he is going to be a successful NFL player, Scarlett must first get a team to like his skills and traits more than an age that suggests his athletic prime may have already arrived in a sport that treats running backs as a fungible commodity.

It is going to be hard to do that as is — and it would have been nigh impossible next year.

Scarlett’s departure was also likely expected by Florida, which should have a stocked running back rotation in 2019, even without him. There has been little buzz to suggest that Perine is likely to leave, and so he should head up a rotation that could also include bowling ball Dameon Pierce and the speedy Malik Davis.

Scarlett going pro is the right call at the right time and for the right reasons for all parties involved, and that is rare. Celebrating his collegiate career and cheering on his professional one will be easier because of that.

Scarlett was the fifth Florida underclassman to announce a decision to enter the 2019 NFL Draft as of the time of his tweet, following similar calls by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Vosean Joseph, Jachai Polite, and Jawaan Taylor.