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Anthony Richardson’s the star, but other Gators could shine at NFL Combine

There’s no question which Gator will be the most-watched in Indianapolis. But others might turn heads.

NFL: MAR 03 Scouting Combine Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NFL Draft season officially kicked off with a slew of college All-Star games in January and early February, but it jumps into high gear this week with the Scouting Combine beginning in Indianapolis. Nine former Florida Gators were invited to the league’s annual showcase and will have the opportunity to impress hundreds of scouts, coaches, and executives ahead of the 2023 draft.

This year, 319 college football players were invited to attend the Combine, slightly down from previous seasons. Florida held strong, though, with those nine former Gators tying for third among all programs behind — shockingly — Alabama (13) and Georgia (12).

It is quite a surprise to see a mediocre 6-7 UF squad landing that many players in Indy, and it speaks to the sense of disappointment and underachievement that has settled in Gainesville the past couple of seasons. Historically, Florida is always among the leaders in Combine invites, first-round draft picks, and overall draft picks, but you’d expect back-to-back losing seasons to have had an impact. The NFL disagrees.

All nine Gators in Indy have a decent shot at being selected in the draft, and we have insights on what they’ll hope to accomplish and where they are projected to be drafted.

But, of course, we have to start with the player that has had everyone abuzz for the past week if not longer.

Anthony Richardson

Position: QB

Projected Draft Slot: Early 1st round

Anthony Richardson’s decision to declare early for this year’s draft was met with mixed reviews back in December. But he will ensure that for the fourth straight year, and the 10th of the last 11, a former Gator will be selected in the first round.

Back in December, I wrote that Richardson was going to be a lock for a top-15 spot in the first round and might slide into the top five. After weeks of evaluations like these, I’m more confident than ever in that prediction.

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. To win, to have sustained success, you have to have a special player at the position. Richardson’s immense physical gifts mean he has a chance to be a superstar in the league. If you are a team looking for a quarterback, drafting Richardson and having him live up to his potential will transform you into a Super Bowl contender, just like hitting on Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow did for the Chiefs and Bengals, respectively.

I covered Richardson’s flaws in that same post two months ago and am not downplaying them now. He has a lot of work to do to live up to the hype. But after going back and watching most of his play this past season, many are seeing that he’s not as raw as originally thought.

Great thread here on some of the hidden things Richardson did this season reading and understanding coverage and concepts. Of course, these highlights are from his best game against Tennessee and were too often missing in other games.

Richardson’s raw Combine numbers are going to be among the best ever for a quarterback. I believe his 40-time will be in the 4.4s. With his 6’5”, 235-pound frame, that could be the most impressive combination we’ve ever seen by a QB.

Richardson’s biggest test — as is the case for most prospects — will come in his individual meetings with teams. Drilling down into his football acumen and personality, evaluators will be looking for reasons to dismiss his physical gifts. If Richardson can shine at the white board and impress in conversation, he’ll reinforce the notion that he has the greatest upside of any quarterback in this class.

And if early returns are any indication, Richardson is impressing many.

O’Cyrus Torrence

Position: OL

Projected Draft Slot: Mid-to-late 1st round

Torrence was an NFL player before transferring to Gainesville last spring, but he likely secured his first-round status by going up against SEC competition and earning All-American honors.

Torrence might be the best run blocker in this class — and, oh, by the way, he also did not allow a sack at Louisiana or Florida. He’s one of the strongest players in the class and moves well for a lineman of his size. Coming off a good week at the Senior Bowl, he won’t have to do much this weekend to secure his place in the first round.

Torrence will be a day one starter in the league and barring injuries, he will play on Sundays for a long time.

Gervon Dexter

Position: DL

Projected Draft Slot: 3rd/4th

Dexter’s collegiate career in Gainesville is certainly underrated. In the midst of so much defensive chaos and turmoil over the past three seasons, he was one of the best Florida defenders on the field just about every time out. And yet, at the same time, it does feel like the five-star never quite reached the elite expectations placed upon him.

As Dexter turns the page and enters the NFL, his combination of size and length along the interior defensive line makes him intriguing. The thought was that if he flashed with speed and quickness in Indianapolis, he could creep up into the second round.

His athletic performance certainly wowed potential future Hall of Famer Calais Campbell.

Dexter will also need to dispel the idea that his motor does not run hard all the time — something that probably takes more than impressing in shorts. Even so, his ability to take on double teams inside, set the edge outside, and penetrate and make plays behind the line of scrimmage mean he shouldn’t get past day two.

Rashad Torrence II

Position: S

Projected Draft Slot: 4th-7th

Torrence was the most surprising Gator to declare for the draft. With a couple of years of eligibility left, he had a chance to return to Gainesville and improve on some of the inconsistent tackling and coverage that plagued his career.

That said, he was Florida’s most productive safety, playing bigger than his size in attacking downhill from the deep safety spot. A strong 40 and some impressive agility in Indy will help him secure a draft spot.

Ventrell Miller

Position: LB

Projected Draft Slot: 4th-UDFA

If you watched Florida’s defense at any point in the past few years, you fell in love with Ventrell Miller. And you’re also aware of just how snakebitten he’s been with injuries.

After coming back for a sixth season, Miller again flashed on the field as one of the better run defenders and surer tacklers to ever play in Gainesville. But he once again couldn’t finish out a season, succumbing to his body’s limitations. He had bone graft surgery on his right foot just before Christmas.

As my friend Cameron Wolfe reports, Miller will be at the Combine to meet with teams but obviously won’t work out. He’ll have to display his strong leadership skills and heart, while assuring coaches and scouts his body can hold up to the professional game.

Florida’s Pro Day later in March will be crucial for Miller. If he can get on the field, show off his lateral speed and quickness, he’ll convince a team to take a chance on him. But given his injury history, it’s likely he’s a day three pick and might even slide all the way out of the draft.

Brenton Cox, Jr.

Position: OLB/Edge

Projected Draft Slot: 4th-7th

It’s a little weird for Florida to tout Cox as one of its nine at the Combine considering his dismissal from the program halfway through last season. But whatever the issues were, it’s the right thing to do. Let bygones be and do whatever it takes to help the young man have a successful future.

There is no doubt Cox is an immense talent as an edge rusher. There weren’t many in the country more explosive off the edge than him the past two seasons.

Now, finishing the play? Well, that was a different story.

That was just one of dozens of would-be sacks and game-changing plays that slipped through Cox’s hands over the past couple of seasons. If he can clean that up and show the ability to not just get to quarterbacks and running backs but to get them to the ground consistently, he can be an impact defender in the NFL. The Shrine Bowl was a start.

Cox will also have to answer for his dismissal and take ownership of why he couldn’t stick at either Georgia or Florida.

Trey Dean III

Position: DB

Projected Draft Slot: 5th-UDFA

As a recruit, Dean seemed destined to be the next great defensive back in Florida’s DBU legacy, but as a Gator, he could never quite live up to the hype. He enters the Combine with many of those same issues preventing him from moving up draft boards despite his obvious physical talents.

Dean moved all around the defensive backfield in Gainesville, partly due to his versatility and partly due to not being able to lock down a starting position over others. At times, missed tackles made him a liability at safety. At others, inconsistency in coverage hindered him at corner and nickel.

That ability to play anywhere in the defensive backfield could help him in the draft process. Perhaps more importantly, Dean’s size and strength make him a candidate to fill more of the hybrid box safety role that is common across the NFL.

He had a strong week in Las Vegas at the Shrine Bowl, earning All-West practice honors at safety and then taking home the defensive MVP of the game.

Dean showed off his speed, strength, and athleticism all week. He’s hoping to build off numbers like these at the Combine.

Dean is going to shine during testing and could even threaten the record for most reps on the bench press by a defensive back. With a great showing during his workouts and interviews, he could sneak into the fourth round — although I’d expect a fifth or sixth round grade.

Richard Gouraige

Position: OL

Projected Draft Slot: 5th-UDFA

Gouraige will be looking to showcase his quick feet and lateral quickness in Combine drills and testing. With a good performance, he can secure a draft spot on the third day of the draft.

Justin Shorter

Position: WR

Projected Draft Slot: 6th/7th/UDFA

Shorter could be one of the bigger winners at the Combine this weekend. After a strong showing at the Shrine Bowl, he’ll have more eyes looking to see if his combination of speed and size can play in the league.

If Shorter can run a good 40 and show off great hands, he’s going to climb up draft boards from late-round project to mid-round sleeper.

Times/Days for Workouts

Thursday, March 2 (3 p.m.): DL/LB

Gervin Dexter, Brenton Cox, Jr.

Friday, March 3 (3 p.m.): DB/ST

Rashad Torrence II, Trey Dean III

Saturday, March 4 (1 p.m.): QB/WR/TE

Anthony Richardson, Justin Shorter

Sunday, March 5 (1 p.m.): RB, OL

O’Cyrus Torrence, Richard Gouraige