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Anthony Richardson leads the way — again — at Florida’s Pro Day

One last performance in Gainesville for the hometown star...

Syndication: USA TODAY Doug Engle / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last week, representatives from all 32 NFL teams were in Gainesville for Florida Pro Day. They pilled into the Heavener Football Training Center and the Condron Family Indoor Practice Facility to get an up close look at 11 former Gators football players — and one track star looking to get back on the gridiron.

Draft season is a long and winding process for prospects hoping to impress scouts, coaches, and general managers. The first step were the college all-star games. The Combine followed. Team meetings have been sprinkled in. And Pro Day is one of the last opportunities to impress on the field.

Among the NFL scouts and personnel in Gainesville were three head coaches: Carolina’s Frank Reich, Jacksonville’s Doug Pederson, and Seattle’s Pete Carroll. The Panthers hold the first overall pick, the Seahawks are fifth, and the Jags are 24th.

Pete Carroll has repeatedly said Seattle is doing a thorough dive on the quarterbacks in this class despite re-signing Geno Smith this offseason. Carolina is desperate to find its QB1 of the future and sent its entire offensive staff to watch Anthony Richardson.

Jacksonville doesn’t need a quarterback — obviously — but could use help along both lines, and Jaguars personnel were there to check out O’Cyrus Torrence and Gervon Dexter.

I was there as well, as part of NFL Network’s coverage of Richardson’s throwing session. It was my first time back in Gainesville since the new facility opened. It is as impressive a training and practice center as I’ve seen in my travels across college campuses for various Pro Days — in fact, it’s better than the vast majority of NFL practice facilities.

The Gators football program has a crown jewel that should help close the recruiting gap with Georgia and Alabama. Add in Florida’s ability to put many players in the league year after year and there is ample reason for Billy Napier to have this program back among the nation’s elite in the next couple of years. When I spoke with Napier after he finished NFL Network’s on-set interview, he told me it’s a process, but that he’s hopeful they can win a few more of the close ones in 2023.

Without these 11 players, that’s going to be a tall order. Here’s a recap of each player’s performance at Pro Day.

Anthony Richardson

QB / 6’4 1/4”, 246 pounds / Projected draft slot: Top 10

After putting on an all-time performance at the Combine, Richardson’s status as a top-10 pick is pretty much cemented. Most mock drafts have him no farther down the draft board than fourth or fifth overall. Knowing that, Richardson stood pat on all his testing numbers but decided to throw again.

Richardson is the quarterback prospect with the highest ceiling in this draft. You maybe can’t say the same thing about Florida’s indoor practice facility.

Including that throw off the roof — one that was deliberate, as Richardson laughed after the heave, later admitting he meant to do it to a la Kentucky’s Will Levis, who also threw a moonball to the roof during his pro day — Gainesville’s very own put on another show with his arm. Richardson threw 45 passes from a script that included long, short, and intermediate throws, including many off-platform and outside the pocket.

I thought you could see progress with his mechanics and footwork on the shorter throws. He still wasn’t perfect, but there is clear improvement from the season — and even from his Combine throwing session.

Richardson concluded a spectacular day with a ho-hum 70-yarder to Justin Shorter in stride, followed by his patented back flip as he celebrated with his teammates.

Richardson told us after the workout that he has been laser-focused on being more consistent as a passer. He said he wants to be the best quarterback in the world and that even though he knows he’ll never be perfect, he’s working toward perfection every day.

Back in March at the Combine, Richardson met with around 20 teams including all the teams in the top 10 and those looking for a quarterback. The night before Florida’s pro day, Richardson met with Vegas and Carolina for a second time. In the next week or so, Richardson will visit the Raiders and Panthers yet again, and will also take trips to Tennessee, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Baltimore.

Whoever ends up drafting Richardson is getting one of the biggest unknowns ever. Richardson has been called a unicorn, but that’s not accurate; everyone knows what a unicorn looks like. Instead, he is such a mythically talented football player that I’m not sure our brains are capable of processing exactly what he can eventually be if he maxes out.

Put simply: There has never been a quarterback prospect like him.

In three weeks, Richardson will walk across the stage in Kansas City as the fifth quarterback in Florida Gators history selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. The names preceding him on that list are a who’s who of Gators football royalty: Tim Tebow, Rex Grossman, John Reaves, and Steve Spurrier.

If Richardson goes first or second, unlikely but possible, he’ll become the highest drafted Florida quarterback ever — Spurrier went third overall in 1967. And if he goes first overall, he’ll be the first Gator ever to do so: The current highest selection is running back/corner Paul Duhart, selected second overall in 1945. (Duhart also went second after a season with the Green Bay Packers — three years after last playing for Florida, and two years after serving in World War II — because that was just how the whole world war thing played havoc with sports.)

Wherever he lands, Richardson is going to be successful in the NFL. I’m as sure of it as I’ve ever been of any prospect. How successful — and how quickly he attains the success —depends on the system and coaching. I don’t think he’s a long-term project who needs development either. He’ll benefit from sitting for a while — every quarterback who has ever entered the league does — but the workouts, combined with a hard review of his game tape, show a quarterback who can already do so much ... and, eventually, so much more.

O’Cyrus Torrence

OL / 6’5 3/8”, 331 pounds / Projected draft slot: Late 1st round or 2nd round

Much like Richardson, Torrence’s draft evaluation is pretty much cemented. The only question as to how high he is picked is the appetite of NFL teams to take an interior lineman in the first round.

Torrence ran the three cone drill in 8.13 seconds and did a positional workout at Pro Day. He aced the workout just as he did at the Combine. He told us after the workout that he wanted to show that even at his size, he’s not just quick but also fluid.

In addition to Combine meetings with most teams, Torrence met with the Titans, Saints, Falcons, Bills, and Rams around Pro Day. He has upcoming meetings with the Steelers and Commanders.

Torrence told us he is just trying to enjoy the whole draft process, as not many people get to go through it. As to the jump in competition after transferring to Florida, he said it was great for him to put on film doing the things he was doing in the SEC. He got a pretty good challenge, but he never wanted to lose a rep at all — and he hardly ever did.

Gervon Dexter

DL / 6’5 5/8”, 318 pounds / Projected draft slot: 2nd or 3rd round

Dexter looked good in the positional workout and is going to be a day two selection — possibly as high as the early second round. He was eight pounds heavier at Pro Day than when he weighed in at the Combine, but it might be mostly muscle, because he didn’t look slower or less explosive.

In addition to the positional workout, Dexter ran the three-cone in 7.5 seconds. Combined with his good 40 from Indy and his impressive size, he is one of the most athletic defensive tackles to enter the draft in recent history.

Dexter said he has met with over 20 teams throughout the process so really it’s wide open as to where he could land. Browns general manager Andrew Berry was watching the defensive line workout closely and Cleveland needs help alongside superstar edge Myles Garrett after former Gator Taven Bryan signed with the Colts. He has upcoming visits with the Eagles, Bills, Ravens, and Bears planned.

Brenton Cox, Jr.

OLB/Edge / 6’3 7/8”, 250 pounds / Projected draft slot: 4th to 7th round

In my recap of the Combine, I wondered about the relationship between Cox and UF. He was dismissed from the program after the Georgia game, and yet throughout the draft process, Florida’s social media accounts and website have included him among the rest of the draft prospects.

It says a great deal about Napier that Cox was back in the facility competing with his former teammates for Pro Day. Napier told the media he’s hopeful Cox is growing as a person and that he’ll get another opportunity in the NFL and make the most of it.

Cox certainly made the most of the Pro Day workout by starting the day with 29 reps on the bench press — a huge leap from the 24 he put up in Indy. He added a couple of inches to his broad jump but didn’t improve his 40 time. Once again he looked quick and explosive in positional drills with good bend and agility.

The fact that Napier welcomed Cox back should help assuage some of the worries NFL teams have about Cox’s off-the-field issues. I watched Napier walk over to Cox and his family following the workout. Napier told Cox he looked good out there and wished him well. It was a great moment to see between a coach and former player.

That said, being dismissed twice in three years from Georgia and Florida certainly limits Cox’s ability to move any higher than a possible day three selection.

Rashad Torrence II

S / 6’0”, 193 pounds / Projected draft slot: 4th to 7th round

Torrence really needed to improve his 40 time at Pro Day, but unfortunately posted a slower 4.75. That will definitely be a factor in pushing him down draft boards. At this point, I’d be surprised if he comes off the board before the fifth round, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t selected at all.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though, as Torrence posted an excellent three-cone time of 6.75 seconds. That shows off excellent quickness and agility, which is also on display in his positional workouts.

Torrence said he had met with the Bills and was going to meet with Tampa and Atlanta. Even if he falls out of the draft, Torrence will sign somewhere and have a shot to play in the league.

Justin Shorter

WR / 6’4”, 234 pounds / Projected draft slot: 6th to UDFA

While all eyes were on Richardson, Shorter made the most of his work with his former quarterback, showing off excellent hands by catching everything that came his way, including several deep passes.

Shorter weighed in five pounds heavier than he did in Indy, which may accelerate the talk of a move to a tight end/hybrid role. But I don’t think he has the route-running skills or quickness to work the middle of the field consistently. He worked off a very limited route tree at Florida.

I like Shorter as more of a pure X with deceptive speed and very good ball-tracking skills. I think evaluators are sleeping on him and he could find a home as a valuable third or fourth receiver late in the draft.

Trey Dean III

DB / 6’2”, 200 pounds / Projected draft slot: 5th to UDFA

After running the slowest 40 of any defensive back at the Combine, Dean had to do better at Pro Day. Sure enough, he improved his time to 4.69, shaving off over a half second. It’s still not great, but it’ll play. And maybe more importantly, it shows he worked hard over the past month and made progress.

Dean really impressed in the three-cone with a time of 6.58 seconds. That’s elite and added to his DB-best 25 reps on the bench press shows top-end athleticism. I’m almost certain he’ll be drafted and could go as high as the fifth round.

Ventrell Miller

LB / 6’0 1/2”, 235 pounds / Projected draft slot: 4th to 7th round

Miller is still recovering from foot surgery and did not work out. He measured in and was actively watching and cheering on his teammates throughout. He had no boot or brace on his foot and no visible limp or discomfort.

Miller has told teams he’ll be ready for rookie minicamps which are the first and second weekends in May. He’s meeting with teams and is likely a day three pick.

Richard Gouraige

OL / 6’5”, 306 pounds / Projected draft slot: 5th to UDFA

Gouriage didn’t get to work out at the Combine after suffering an injury in preliminary strength testing. I’m sure that disappointment helped motivate him through training leading up to Pro Day.

Gouraige put up 24 reps on the bench, which is decent. The rest of his numbers were below average, but that didn’t stop him from getting the biggest reaction out of his teammates during his 40.

Gouraige’s best attribute is going to be experience and durability. He has quick feet and good bend. Tackles are always in need so he’s going to be drafted and should land on a roster at some point in 2023.

Amari Burney

LB/S / 6’2”, 228 pounds / Projected draft slot: 6th to UDFA

Burney was Pro Day’s big winner in my book. After being snubbed without a Combine invite, he had a lot of pressure to perform. While his numbers weren’t elite, they show a tremendously athletic linebacker/defensive back hybrid with speed, quickness, agility, and strength.

40: 4.54

Vert: 33”

Bench: 22 reps

Broad: 10’

Burney still might not be drafted, but he’s going to get a chance one way or another. The biggest question mark will be what position he plays at the next level. He worked out with the defensive backs at Pro Day.

I think his best chance is as a box safety with the ability to play a lot in nickel and dime packages in coverage on tight ends.

Jordan Pouncey

WR / 6’1 1/8”, 210 pounds

Pouncey was never able to find more than a special teams role in Gainesville after transferring from Texas. But the beauty of Pro Day is that everyone gets a shot to shine in front of NFL scouts and coaches.

Pouncey’s numbers were okay. He clocked a 4.62 40, leapt 30 inches on vert, and posted a 7.40 second three-cone. He also ran routes for Richardson, but was mostly nondescript.

Pouncey’s a longshot but, well, don’t ever tell anyone not to chase their dreams.

Dedrick Vanover

Sprinter transitioning to corner / 5’8 3/4”, 170 pounds

Vanover was an interesting addition to Florida’s Pro Day lineup. The sprinter was the 2022 SEC Indoor champion in the 60m and Outdoor champion as part of the 4x100 relay. He holds a spot in the top 10 in Gators history in three different events.

Vanover didn’t play football in Gainesville, though, and hasn’t played on the gridiron since 2019. He did have four interceptions for D-2 Morehouse College in that final year.

Obviously expectations were high for the sprinter in the 40. Unfortunately, his unofficial time of 4.44 was one that probably produced more nods than turned heads: It was fast, yeah, but not nearly fast enough for a track star looking to make a splash in his return to football to get by on that alone.

It will be interesting to see if any team takes a UDFA flier on Vanover.