After four Florida Gators went over the first threerounds of the 2020 NFL Draft on Thursday and Friday night, three more — running back La’mical Perine and wide receivers Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland — were selected during Saturday’s all-day finish of the final four rounds of the event.
The earliest to go was Perine, selected with the 14th pick of the fourth round (120th overall) by the New York Jets. Perine joins a growing contingent of Gators playing for Gang Green, as the second 2020 NFL Draft pick — New York picked edge rusher Jabari Zuniga on Friday — and would have been the fifth Gator on the Jets roster if not for a draft-day trade that also flipped cornerback Quincy Wilson to the team to join fellow secondary players Marcus Maye and Brian Poole.
After getting next to nothing from third-rounder Jachai Polite last year — the Jets released him prior to the beginning of the regular season — it’s a bit surprising that the team is still this interested in Florida products. But Perine, Zuniga, Wilson, and their welcoming teammates — which also include center Jonotthan Harrison — certainly don’t mind the chance to reunite.
Yessir ✈️— Quincy Wilson (@dc_wilson954) April 25, 2020
The More Gators The Better— Brian Poole (@poolioo) April 25, 2020
Perine would obviously seem to have a fine chance of making the Jets roster by virtue of his meriting a fourth-rounder alone, but he’s also in a really good spot that could turn him into a featured back. Incumbent starter Le’Veon Bell’s numbers in Adam Gase’s offense in 2019 paled in comparison to those of his finest days with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Bell and Gase did not always appear to have a smooth working relationship.
While Bell is still just 28 and the Jets also have Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery under contract, it isn’t hard to envision a scenario in which Perine’s all-around game persuades the team to ship Bell out of town or let him go after his cap hit drops significantly next year, leaving their 2020 draftee toting the rock far more often.
Swain and Cleveland would be selected hours later, going with the 36th and final pick of the sixth round (214th overall) to the Seattle Seahawks and the 38th and fourth-to-last pick of the seventh round (252nd overall) to the Denver Broncos.
Of the two, Swain definitely ended up in the more enviable position. The Seahawks got over 1,000 receiving yards from Tyler Lockett and exactly 900 from rookie D.K. Metcalf in 2019, but no other player on the roster had even 350 receiving yards, and no other wide receiver broke 20 catches.
If Swain — known for his knack for getting open and making big plays while at Florida — can make the roster, he should have every opportunity to get snaps, not least because he was the only wide receiver taken by the Seahawks in this draft.
Cleveland does not enjoy the same status. He’ll be joining a Broncos roster that loaded up on pass-catchers in the 2020 NFL Draft, with John Elway spending first- and second-round picks on Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Penn State’s K.J. Hamler and then selecting Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam in the fourth round.
Even though Denver finished the 2019 season with Pro Bowl-selected rookie Courtland Sutton and not much else at wideout thanks to a midseason trade of Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos looked to have shored up their receiving corps before taking Cleveland, a big-play threat whose speed and physicality helped him make a number of crucial catches as a Gator even if he never truly starred.
Still, Cleveland getting drafted — if only in the draft’s final minutes — allows Florida to brag about being the only program in college football to produce three drafted wide receivers in 2020, a feat made especially impressive by the widespread pre-draft perception that this may have been the deepest draft class at wide receiver in NFL history and the post-draft reality that a whopping 35 receivers were drafted, more than any other position except for linebacker — but only if you combine the inside and outside positions.
It’s just the second time in Florida history that three wide receivers have been taken in the same draft, with the last such instance coming via a Wes Chandler-led trio in 1978.
And there might well be four Florida rookie wide receivers on NFL rosters in 2020, as Josh Hammond was among the Gators to find a home as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) in the immediate wake of the draft.
Hammond signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, jumping into a boat without much established at wideout other than D.J. Chark, while punter Tommy Townsend signed a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs and defensive tackle Adam Shuler joined the Arizona Cardinals.
Though UDFA contracts are generally — though not always — significantly less rich than those given out to draftees, the UDFA process also affords undrafted players to call their shots as signees, taking on the challenges of making whatever roster seems most appealing from their available choices.
Hammond staying in the state of Florida and getting a chance to crack the Jaguars’ WR rotation behind Chark seems sage, as does Townsend picking the team where longtime punter Dustin Colquitt, at 37, might be susceptible to a challenge from a younger leather-booter. Shuler joining the Cardinals might also work out, as he’ll get to work alongside fellow Gator Jonathan Bullard and could shore up the interior of a line that gave up just under 2,000 yards rushing and 18 scores on the ground in 2019, but it bears mentioning that Arizona also spent a pair of fourth-round picks on defensive tackles Leki Fotu of Utah and Rashard Lawrence of LSU.
A handful of other Florida players — most notably tackling machine David Reese — also went undrafted and could yet catch on as UDFAs, but have not been publicly acknowledged as signees just yet.
Update, 6:30 p.m. Eastern, April 25: As it turns out, Reese did not make it through the weekend without signing a deal, as he inked a pact with the Carolina Panthers.