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Florida Gators in the NFL: 18 former Gators likely to be active for playoffs

Almost every NFL team left has a Gator on the roster.

NFL: NOV 29 Cardinals at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Shawn Kopelakis has a few more of these in him than the Falcons have targets for Kyle Pitts...

The longest regular season in National Football League history is in the books. Forty-seven former Gators spent time on an active roster according to my count. Another four were on practice squads at some point without being elevated. Three more spent the season on injured reserve and were never cleared medically to return.

As we move to the postseason, there are 18 Gators on playoff team active rosters, four are on playoff teams’ practice squads, and one is on injured reserve. If you are looking for a rooting interest with your favorite team already out — hello, darkness and/or my fellow Dolphins fans — here’s a summary of your options.

Packers

Green Bay are the betting favorites to not only make it out of the NFC but to win the Super Bowl. T.J. Slaton has had a good rookie season as a backup to Pro Bowl nose tackle Kenny Clark. He carved out a rotational role along the defensive front in every game.

Shawn Davis was recently promoted from the practice squad, but only saw action in one game. It’s unlikely he’ll be active in the playoffs, but if he is, look for him on special teams.

Bucs-Eagles

Kyle Trask spent the entire season on Tampa’s 53-man roster and yet never put on a game uniform. He was inactive every week as the third-stringer behind Blaine Gabbert and some other guy. I believe only three players this season were on an active NFL roster for all 17 games and yet never actually active on game day, effectively redshirting: Trask, Rams third-string QB Bryce Perkins — who started against Trask in the 2019 Orange Bowl, remember — and Texans QB Deshaun Watson, obviously in a far different situation.

After seeing many Florida alumni in Philadelphia over the years, the Eagles are one of two playoff teams without a Gator.

Cowboys-49ers

The third-seeded Cowboys are once again title contenders thanks in part to a rejuvenated defense led by former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Linebacker Keanu Neal is fourth on the Cowboys in tackles despite missing three games.

Marcell Harris is another safety-turned-linebacker - like Neal - who has played the best football of his career for San Francisco during their second-half turnaround. Harris is one of only three 49ers with at least one sack and one interception.

Jon Halapio has spent the past three months on the Niners practice squad. He’s a veteran who serves as insurance in case of injuries on the offensive line.

Rams-Cardinals

Monday night is probably the game of the week for Gator fans. I’ll be at SoFi Stadium covering the game as five former UF stars battle it out.

The Cardinals have Pro Bowl alternates D.J. Humphries and Max Garcia anchoring the offensive line in front of Kyler Murray. Rookie Marco Wilson has been a day one starter at corner and should return from a shoulder injury.

Van Jefferson stepped into the Rams’ No. 2 receiver role when Robert Woods went down earlier this season and put up over 800 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Jefferson also had a touchdown in each of L.A.’s first two meetings against Arizona.

Meanwhile, Brandon Powell hasn’t just shored up the Rams return game — he’s electrified it. He’s been a big play threat on just about every kick.

Titans

The Titans might not be favorites like the other No. 1 seed, but they are a very good team with a chance in the wide-open title chase. Janoris Jenkins has battled injuries and inconsistent play for most of the season but is playing his best football the past month. If Tennessee is going to make a run in them, they’ll need the playmaking Jackrabbit.

Chiefs-Steelers

The Chiefs are familiar faces this time of year, and so are a couple of Gators. Demarcus Robinson is looking to play in his third straight Super Bowl, while Tommy Townsend goes for number two.

You may be surprised to know that Joe Haden has played in only one playoff game in his career. Of course, he spent his first seven years in Cleveland and never sniffed the postseason there, but he’s now been a Steeler for five seasons; surely, that would come with some significant playoff experience, right?

But Pittsburgh was knocked out in its first game in 2017 — the only game Haden’s played in — and he missed last season’s Wild Card loss with an injury. I’m guessing he’ll be fired up Sunday night and looking for his 30th career pick — which would be his first in the playoffs.

Donovan Stiner and Chaz Green have been on Pittsburgh’s practice squad all season and are not likely to be called up in the playoffs.

Bills-Patriots

Bryan Cox, Jr. is the lone Gator on the Bills, but he’s spent the entire season on injured reserve after rupturing his Achilles tendon during minicamp last summer. It was a cruel fate for a guy looking to find a regular role in the league, but if Buffalo wins it all, he could earn a Super Bowl ring.

The best former Gators player in the postseason is probably Trent Brown. On Saturday night, keep an eye on the right side of the Patriots’ offensive line — or maybe the left side, as Brown might slide over due to injury — and watch him toss defenders around.

And if New England wins, make sure to use a good picture of Brown, because the big man will be watching.

Bengals-Raiders

The Bengals are a popular bandwagon pick as the new, exciting kids on the playoff block. Joe Burrow and Jamar Chase are the reasons why, but Gator Nation has been rooting for Cincinnati because of Evan McPherson. The rookie has three game-winning kicks in the regular season so we know he won’t be rattled if the game comes down to his leg.

Vernon Hargreaves went from the outhouse in Houston to the penthouse in Cincinnati. He probably won’t play much as the Bengals’ fourth corner, though. Fred Johnson also isn’t likely to see the field a lot after playing limited snaps as Cincy’s third tackle.

The other playoff team without a Gator, though, is Las Vegas. So if you aren’t a Raiders or Eagles fan, you should be rooting against both: If and when they are eliminated, Florida will be assured of having a player on at least one of the Super Bowl teams for the 20th straight season.

The Weekly Kyle Pitts Tracker

A stellar rookie campaign for Kyle Pitts came up just short of the rookie tight end receiving yards mark. After cracking the millennium mark in Week 17, Pitts needed 59 in the finale to break a record held by Mike Ditka, but had only two catches for nine yards, no doubt partially slowed by a hamstring injury.

Pitts became only the second rookie tight end ever with over 1,000 yards and the first to pair it with over 65 receptions. He also made the Pro Bowl as a 21-year-old, and earned laurels from Pro Football Focus, among others. It was still a pretty good year, I think.

And still, I can’t help but feel the Falcons seemingly had no clue how best to utilize him week-to-week.

Player of the Week

Carlos Dunlap closed out his 12th season with a vengeance. He had eight sacks in the final six games, including two in the Seahawks’ upset of the Cardinals in Week 18. His second sack was Gator-on-Gator crime, too, as he was working against D.J. Humphries.

After Dunlap spent the first half of the season dropping into coverage more than he ever had in his career, he went to the coaching staff and asked for a bigger role rushing the passer. It worked and now Dunlap sits just four sacks shy of 100 for his career.

Play of the Week

Playing with a receiver like D.K. Metcalf has to be fun. Freddie Swain’s fourth touchdown of the season and sixth of his career might have been his easiest as a pro.

Probably won’t get easier than that one against Kentucky for his football career, though.

Here are all of the Week 18 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

  • Carlos Dunlap, SEA, DE

Week 18: 2 sacks, 3 tackles, 3 QB hits, 2 TFL, 1 pass defended, 43 snaps (57%)

  • Trent Brown, NE, RT

Week 18: 61 snaps (98%)

  • Freddie Swain, SEA, WR

Week 18: 1 rec, 25 yards, 1 TD, 2 punt returns, 10.0 avg, 19 snaps (33%)

  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, NO, S

Week 18: 4 tackle, 1 pass defended, 43 snaps (86%)

  • Keanu Neal, DAL, LB

Week 18: 5 tackles, 45 DEF snaps (61%), 4 ST snaps (13%)

  • D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT

Week 18: 76 snaps (100%)

  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR

Week 18: 2 rec, 31 yards, 45 snaps (69%)

  • Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE

Week 18: 2 rec, 8 yards, 37 snaps (74%)

  • Demarcus Robinson, KC, WR

Week 18: 3 rec, 19 yards, 41 snaps (53%)

  • C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB

Week 18: 4 tackles, 60 snaps DEF (100%), 8 ST snaps (29%)

  • Max Garcia, ARI, C/G

Week 18: 76 snaps (100%)

  • Janoris Jenkins, TEN, CB

Week 18: 3 tackles, 55 snaps (96%)

  • T.J. Slaton, GB, DT

Week 18: 2 tackles, 33 DEF snaps (56%), 10 ST snaps (36%)

  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Week 18: 68 snaps (100%)

The Limited

  • Joe Haden, PIT, CB

Week 18: 3 tackles, 26 snaps (37%)

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., ATL, OLB

Week 18: 3 tackles, 27 snaps (38%)

  • Eddy Pineiro, NYJ, K

Week 18: 1/1 FG, Long 49, 1/1 XP

  • Brandon Powell, LAR, WR

Week 18: 2 punt returns, 20.0 avg, 2 kick returns, 18.0 avg

  • Vernon Hargreaves III, CIN, CB

Week 18: 3 tackles, 29 snaps (44%), 5 ST snaps (20%)

  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Week 18: 2 punts, 50.5 avg

  • David Sharpe, BAL, T

Week 18: 11 OFF snaps (15%), 3 ST snaps (9%)

  • Fred Johnson, CIN, G/T

Week 18: 12 snaps (22%)

  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR

Week 18: 3 OFF snaps (6%), 15 ST snaps (60%)

  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE

Week 18: no stats, 7 snaps (10%), left in 2nd quarter with foot injury

  • Josh Hammond, JAX, WR

Week 18: 5 OFF snaps (7%), 2 ST snaps (9%)

  • Stone Forsythe, SEA, T

Week 18: 6 ST snaps (19%)

  • Feleipe Franks, ATL, QB

Week 18: Active but did not play

The Inactive

  • Marcell Harris, SF, LB/S

Week 18: Inactive (Achilles)

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Week 18: Inactive (Groin)

  • Kadarius Toney, NYG, WR: Inactive (Shoulder)
  • Marco Wilson, ARI, CB: Inactive (Shoulder)
  • Jarrad Davis, NYJ, LB: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Jonathan Bullard, ATL, DL: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Lerentee McCray, JAX, OLB: Covid-19/Reserve List
  • Jabari Zuniga, NYJ, DE: Inactive
  • Taven Bryan, JAX, DE: Inactive
  • Shawn Davis, GB, S: Inactive
  • La’mical Perine, NYJ, RB: Inactive
  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB: Inactive
  • Teez Tabor, CHI, S: Injured Reserve (Ankle)
  • Alex Anzalone, DET, LB: Injured Reserve (Shoulder)
  • Marcus Maye, NYJ, S: Injured Reserve (Achilles)
  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB/TE: Injured Reserve (Collarbone)
  • Jon Bostic, WAS, LB: Injured Reserve (Chest)
  • Jonotthan Harrison, NYG, OL: Injured Reserve (Achilles)
  • Quincy Wilson, NYG, CB: Injured Reserve (Ankle)
  • Bryan Cox, Jr., BUF, DE: Injured Reserve (Achilles)

The Practice Squad

  • Jordan Scarlett, MIA, RB
  • Brian Poole, IND, CB
  • Duke Dawson, DEN, CB
  • Jon Halapio, SF, G
  • Donovan Stiner, PIT, S
  • Chaz Green, PIT, T