The first Florida Gators player to be taken in the 2020 NFL Draft didn’t have to wait long for his name to be called on Thursday night, as CJ Henderson went to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the ninth overall pick.
The three other Gators drafted on Friday night’s Day 2 all had to wait a bit longer — but Van Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, and Jonathan Greenard should all be fairly happy with where they ended up.
Jefferson, productive and consistent — in four seasons split between Ole Miss and Florida, he never had fewer than 35 catches or 456 receiving yards — throughout his collegiate career and renowned as an elite route-runner with an advanced understanding of the wide receiver position, would be the first Gator off the board on Day 2, as the Los Angeles Rams selected him with the 52nd overall pick in the second round.
Jefferson is coming off a Jones fracture in his foot that disrupted his pre-draft process and was part of an incredibly deep wide receiver class — he was the 12th wide receiver drafted when he was selected, and five more would go before night’s end — that threatened to hurt his stock. But the Rams traded Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans for the pick they used to select Jefferson, and thus needed a third wide receiver to pair with Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp in the precise Sean McVay offense. Jefferson’s skills seem likely to translate well, as he has the technique to spend most of his snaps getting open even if he’s probably not going to be a persistent big-play threat.
Zuniga, a four-year player for Florida who never topped 6.5 sacks in one season and had much of his fifth-year senior campaign curtailed by injuries, was nevertheless esteemed by the NFL as an edge rusher with potential. He’s got good power and intermittently shows great burst off the line, but might need to add strength to play a full NFL season without accumulating the nicks and bruises that limited him at times for the Gators.
There are few questions about his ability to work and improve, though, and that may explain why Zuniga went to the New York Jets — the same team that drafted Florida edge rusher Jachai Polite in the third round a year ago, only to cut him in training camp. Clearly, the Jets aren’t particularly worried that Zuniga, taken with the No. 79 pick in the third round, will be the same sort of bust as his former teammate was.
Finally, Jonathan Greenard, who wreaked havoc for Florida in his only season with the Gators after coming to Gainesville as a graduate transfer from Louisville, was the Texans’ selection at No. 90 in the third round. As the first edge rusher acquired by Houston since the trade in which the Texans sent Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks last September, Greenard has monstrous shoes to fill if Bill O’Brien’s team intends for him to play the exact same role.
More likely, though, is the prospect that the savvy and technically-sound Greenard, who stuffed the stat sheet with 9.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, an interception, and an 80-yard fumble return touchdown in 2019, is going to be deployed opposite veteran J.J. Watt and asked to do a sort of poor man’s impression of him as Houston’s other bookend rusher.
Whether Watt — recently plagued by injuries — or Greenard will thrive in that setup remains to be seen. But if Watt can command double teams at any point, Greenard has the quickness and arsenal of pass-rush moves to make life hell on the opposing tackle.
Saturday’s Day 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft should see more Gators — most likely running back La’mical Perine, but also possibly wide receivers Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, and Josh Hammond, punter Johnny Townsend, and defenders David Reese and Adam Shuler — selected into the professional ranks.
And if just one more Gator gets drafted — all but certain, given that Perine sits near the top of some “best available” boards entering the fourth round — it will extend Florida’s streak of having at least five players drafted to a sixth consecutive year.