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Florida prospects continue pursuit of NFL dreams at Scouting Combine, Pro Day

Dameon Pierce was among the former Florida performers with reason to smile.

NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

NFL Network ne’er-do-well and Alligator Army contributor Shawn Kopelakis brings tales from the NFL Combine and Florida’s Pro Day...

Florida’s Pro Day last Monday was a showcase for former Gators hoping to fulfill their dreams of playing in the National Football League. Scouts and assistant coaches from 28 of the 32 NFL teams gathered in Gainesville for an up-close look.

The NFL’s draft season officially kicked off a month ago with the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Pro Day is another step in the process that culminates with the draft at the end of April in Las Vegas.

This year’s Pro Day group of 15 draft-eligible Gators included four players who also competed at the Combine, nine others who didn’t receive an invite, and two more who were passed over last season. (Rick Wells was on the original list but did not work out on Monday.)

The headliner of the group is cornerback Kaiir Elam. He’s Florida’s only chance at a potential first-round pick, although most mock drafts now slot him into the second round.

But while most scouts were there to check in on Elam, other Gators were taking advantage of that attention. Malik Davis used the opportunity to post some eye-popping numbers as the star of the day; more on that below.

And each workout in the pre-Draft process — whether it be at the Combine, Pro Day, or an individual invite to a NFL team facility — is another chance to make a case for why a team should spend one of its valued draft selections on a player. And even if the league doesn’t come calling during the Draft, receiving a free agent invite to camp can lead to a practice squad spot or even a spot on the 53-man roster. Many Gators have gone the undrafted free agent route to eventual success, and any aspirant this year needs look no further than Brandon Powell, who just won a Super Bowl with the Rams, for inspiration.

The four former Gators who participated in the Combine — running back Dameon Pierce, defensive end Zach Carter, linebacker Jeremiah Moon, and Elam — impressed in many ways in Indianapolis. At Pro Day, all worked out in some fashion to keep the Combine momentum going.

But last Monday was a bigger day for the guys who didn’t receive Combine invites like Davis. They really needed to capitalize on the attention and make an impression, something a few of them definitely did.

Below is a summary of both the Pro Day and Combine workouts and results, with a deeper look at each Gators’ performance in order of their draft prospective. For fun, I’ve thrown in a former Gator player comparison for the top guys as well.

Kaiir Elam

Draft Profile: Possible 1st, likely 2nd

  • Height: 6’ 1 ½”
  • Weight: 191 lbs
  • Arm: 30 ⅞”
  • Wingspan: 76 ½”
  • Hand: 8 ⅞”
  • 40-yard dash: 4.39 seconds
  • Bench: 10 (Pro Day at 250 rather than 225)
  • Vertical: 37.5 (Pro Day)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.21 seconds (Pro Day)

Before the 2021 season, Elam was a projected first-round pick, and listed among the top five or six corners in the country. Some lackluster performances this past season, when he was beat on a few deep balls and flagged quite a bit, dropped him down draft boards.

I wonder, though, if his excellent 4.39 40 at the Combine started pushing him back upward.

He backed up the blazing speed he showed at the Combine by showing off quickness, fluidity, and change of direction during drills at Pro Day.

Playing corner in the NFL might be the toughest thing to do in all of sports. The best to do it seem to share a fighter pilot’s confidence — the sort that verges on or crosses over into arrogance — about them. Elam is no different.

Elam’s combination of size, speed, and physicality make him an enticing prospect. He has all the tools to be a lockdown corner in the league. He can excel in press and zone with single-high or two-high safeties.

My player comp for Elam is C.J. Henderson (6’1”, 204, 4.39). Henderson was a top-10 pick but has already been deemed a bust by the team that drafted him. Elam will try to match the first-round selection and avoid the pitfalls that have slowed Henderson’s career.

No matter where he ends up, I think he’s got a shot to be a star. His matchup last season with Alabama’s stud receiver Jameson Williams shows his elite potential.

Dameon Pierce

Draft Profile: 3rd to 5th

  • Height: 5’ 9 ⅝”
  • Weight: 218 lbs
  • Arm: 30 ¾”
  • Wingspan: 73⅝”
  • Hand: 9 ⅜”
  • 40-yard dash: 4.59 seconds
  • Bench: 21 reps
  • Vertical: 34 ½”
  • Broad: 9’ 11”

Pierce flew mostly under the national radar thanks to a lack of usage that baffled Gators fans. After his performance at the Senior Bowl, professional scouts were seeing what Dan Mullen seemingly couldn’t.

In Indianapolis, Pierce did nothing to hurt his prospects. He showed off his power in knocking out 21 reps on the bench press - and showed off his humor yelling out an expletive near the end.

Given his high top-end game speed, Pierce’s 40 time was probably a little disappointing. But he didn’t have a problem with it, opting not to re-run at Pro Day. Instead he showed speed and quickness in pass catching drills.

The middle of the pack 40 is not gonna keep teams away. Pierce is a bull with short-burst quickness. I love how he describes his style.

“I don’t run with good intentions” is an all-time quote. The tape backs it up.

Pierce is generally ranked outside the top five among running backs, and isn’t likely to crack that group and hear his name called in the first two rounds. But one football writer and draft analyst has Pierce at the top of his board.

And at this point, Farrar frankly sounds like he would pound the table for Pierce in a so-called war room.

If a few teams share Farrer’s analysis, Pierce could sneak into the second round. More likely, I see Pierce going anywhere from the third to fourth round. Almost every draft site has him graded as an eventual starter and some see the potential to be a game changer.

Regardless of where he goes, I think he’s going to have a good professional career. My player comp for him is Earnest Graham. Graham’s combine measurements were 5’9”, 225 pounds, and 4.50 40 time.

Graham went undrafted mostly because he did not have quite the elusiveness or brawn Pierce does. Graham played eight seasons in the NFL and totaled almost 3,000 scrimmage yards and 16 touchdowns. That feels like Pierce’s floor — with a much higher ceiling.

Zach Carter

Draft Profile: 3rd to 5th

  • Height: 6’ 4 ¼”
  • Weight: 282 lbs
  • Arm: 33 ½”
  • Wingspan: 80 ⅜”
  • Hand: 10 ¼”
  • 40-yard dash: 4.99 seconds
  • Bench: 19 reps
  • Vertical: 27 ½”
  • Broad: 9’ 2”
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.30 seconds (Pro Day)

Of the four Gators at the Combine, Carter had the most disappointing performance relative to his position group. Given that he is a tweener who doesn’t have the speed of the fleet edge rushers or the power of the dominant interior linemen, this wasn’t a surprise. But Carter has embraced the versatility of playing end and tackle.

Running a sub-5 40 was a must and he did it — if barely. He ran again at Pro Day but unofficially was just over five seconds.

Carter’s tape from Gainesville will show positional versatility that many NFL defensive coaches crave. That should help make up for a lack of top-end athleticism. He had a good Senior Bowl week, and scouts seem to understand he doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional tackle or end.

Carter had a lot of eyes on him at Pro Day and he delivered. His shuttle run showed explosiveness and good change of direction. He flashed in positional drills as well.

Some draft sites have him as a possible third-round selection and a rotational piece along the defensive front. Maybe he’ll end up lining up next to a former teammate on the frozen tundra?

My player comp for Carter is Jonathan Bullard (6’3”, 285, 4.93). Bullard was a much more productive player at UF, especially in a dominant senior season, and ended up being drafted early in the third round. Like Carter, Bullard lined up inside and outside in Gainesville and has had to shift between tackle and end throughout his six-year NFL career.

The key there? “Six-year NFL career,” maybe.

Jeremiah Moon

Draft Profile: 6th-7th

  • Height: 6’4 ¾”
  • Weight: 249 pounds
  • Arm: 35”
  • Wingspan: 83 ⅝”
  • Hand: 10 ⅛”
  • 40-yard dash: 4.76 seconds
  • Bench: N/A
  • Vertical: 40 ½”
  • Broad: 11’1”
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.55 seconds
  • 3-cone: 7.09 seconds

Moon was the least-accomplished Gator in Indianapolis, but he ended up having the best overall numbers. He has the potential to be one of those workout warriors that teams fall in love with during the evaluation process.

Moon was first among linebackers and fourth overall with a broad jump over 11 feet. He was second among linebackers and tied for third overall with a vertical over 40 inches.

Moon was the tallest linebacker at the Combine as well. After five years on the edge, he played last year as an off-ball linebacker, which registered with some scouts as one of the head-scratching moves Florida made in 2021.

Of course, Moon did have a career-best 49 tackles in 2021 — but he was always hoped on as a edge rusher, though he never had more than the combined 9.5 tackles for loss and sacks that he notched way back in 2019, and you can’t show many edge skills while lining up inside.

It’s a good thing Moon tested so well at the Combine, too, because his Pro Day was a bit of a bust. He appeared to tweak a hamstring on his second 40-yard dash attempt.

If Moon’s going to be drafted — and it’s a possibility, after his Combine workouts — it’ll most likely be as a special teamer and backup OLB. In fact, my comp for him is Jacksonville’s Lerentee McCray (6’2”, 250, 4.74). The former Gator has been a special teams ace and captain for seven seasons in the league.

Jean Delance

Draft Profile: 6th to undrafted

  • Height: 6’4 ½”
  • Weight: 303 pounds
  • Arm: N/A
  • Wingspan: N/A
  • Hand: N/A
  • 40-yard dash: 5.18 seconds
  • Bench: 21 reps (at 250)
  • Vertical: 28 ½”
  • Broad: 9’1”
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.62 seconds

Jean Delance had a nice week back in January at the Shrine Bowl. His Pro Day built on that.

Delance said he has trimmed down significantly since the season ended and added about 20 pounds of muscle to his frame. His shuttle run and vertical jump were impressive for an offensive lineman.

Delance was happy with how the day went, and he probably secured a draft spot somewhere in the final two rounds.

Delance knows he’s going to have to show he can play guard and tackle to catch on with a team late in the draft and find a roster spot. My comp for him is Jonotthan Harrison (6’4”, 300, 5.15 40). Harrison played all along the line in Gainesville and has continued that in the NFL. He was undrafted but was able to catch on with the Colts and log 42 career starts, and has had stints with all three New York teams since.

Delance would take that, I’m sure.

Malik Davis

Draft Profile: 7th to undrafted

  • Height: 5’9 ⅞”
  • Weight: 202 pounds
  • Arm: N/A
  • Wingspan: N/A
  • Hand: N/A
  • 40-yard dash: 4.71 seconds
  • Bench: 10 at 250
  • Vertical: 39 ½”
  • Broad: 10’ 7”
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.25 seconds

Davis was clearly the big winner at Florida’s Pro Day. After going without a Combine invite, he delivered on his first chance to show scouts his skills.

His 40 was below average for a running back, but the shuttle run showed the quick burst we saw at times on the field. Davis also showed off his excellent hands.

It is still a long shot for Davis to hear his name called during the draft, but he did everything he could in the IPF to bring it closer to happening. If he isn’t drafted, he’ll definitely get a camp invite with a chance of making at least a practice squad.

I can’t find an ideal former Gator comp for Davis. Chris Rainey minus the track speed? La’Mical Perine but not as powerful? I’m open to suggestions. I think he can make a roster and play in the league but he’s going to have to fight for it.

The rest of the Pro Day prospects

Daquan Newkirk led all Gators with 29 reps on the bench. Stewart Reese weighed in at 350 pounds, the heaviest of any Florida player. Both drew some attention from scouts at various points. Same goes with Antonio Valentino.

Although none of the rest of the former Gators will be drafted, there are other opportunities to play professionally. There were a handful of CFL scouts on hand. In addition, the USFL is back this spring, and it, a twice-revived XFL, and a separate United Football League are all set to play in 2023. All these will offer even more chances to keep the dream alive.

Sometimes, a chance is all it can take.