• Ainslie Lee

Gator Made: Former Gators learn their NFL fate in 2020 draft

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

“Today’s lunch is w/ one of the best corners in the draft,” ESPN’s Maria Taylor wrote on her Instagram on Tuesday.

Taylor’s social media tease didn’t go without notice. In fact, the interviewee was one of the first to respond. 

“The best,” CJ Henderson quickly corrected in the post’s comments. 

Once Henderson met with Taylor on her virtual show with SEC Network, she seeked clarification -- which Henderson was eager to offer. 

“I’m the best because I go against the best week in and week out,” Henderson explained. 

And now the battle-tested former Gator will be calling Jacksonville home after being selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars as the No. 9 overall pick in the draft.

By drafting Henderson, the Jaguars have now selected six former Gators in the first round.

Henderson was one of 58 draft prospects invited to the NFL Draft’s virtual green room on Thursday. In lieu of the traditional draft process, for the first time in history, the 2020 NFL Draft was fully virtual -- all thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Tallying the fifth-most first-round draft picks among NCAA schools with 51, Florida has now seen 18 former Gators go in the first round since 2007.

Henderson joins an elite group of defensive backs to come out of the University of Florida and be drafted in the first round. Both Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal were taken in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. 

The buzz around Henderson comes after three successful years in Gainesville.

As Florida’s Dan Mullen has said, “You’ve got to be a baller to be No. 1.” And Henderson donned that coveted jersey number in 2019, after sporting No. 5 in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. 

According to Pro Football Focus, when in single coverage, Henderson played 172 snaps in his career at Florida. Of those, Henderson was only targeted 49 times and allowed just a single touchdown. 

And now, after running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL Combine and repping 225 pounds 20 times on the bench, Henderson earned himself a prospect grade of 6.72. 

In layman's terms, prospects are graded on an eight-point scale. In Henderson’s case, a 6.72 indicates that he is a “Year 1 quality starter”.

While Henderson is the only former Gator who will be in the virtual green room, there are others who will likely hear their name called through the three-day stretch of the draft. 

Van Jefferson

As a transfer from Ole Miss, Jefferson is another guy Gators fans wish they got to see more of. 

As a polished receiver, Jefferson led Florida in receptions. After hauling in 49 catches for 657 yards and six touchdowns in 2019, Jefferson earned an invite to the NFL Combine. However, before putting his skills on display, Jefferson suffered a broken foot. 

Nonetheless, the Los Angeles Rams saw all they needed to on Jefferson’s tape. On Friday night, Jefferson heard his name called.

With the 57th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Rams snatched up Jefferson in the second round — giving Jared Goff a proven target.

Jabari Zuniga

Serving as Greenard’s counterpart, Jabari Zuniga was just another force to be reckoned with on Florida’s defensive line. 

Despite being hindered by injury in 2019, Zuniga still managed to net 14 tackles (seven for a loss) in just six appearances. However, after a 4.64-second sprint in the 40-yard dash and 29 reps from the bench, Zuniga managed a 6.29 prospect grade. 

Zuniga, who was expected to find his new home in the second round, ended up sliding to the early third round.

With the 79th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the New York Jets selected Jabari Zuniga.

Jonathan Greenard

A one-hit wonder for Florida in 2019, the Gators were only able to reap the benefits that Greenard brought from Louisville for one year. 

Greenard’s 52 total tackles in 2019, 15.5 of which were for losses, earned Florida’s edge rusher an invite to the combine. There, Greenard sprinted the 40 in 4.87 seconds and repped 225 pounds 22 times on the bench. 

With a 6.21 prospect grade, Greenard was expected to hear his name called in the second or third round of the NFL Draft, though he ultimately slid to the third round.  

Stealing him away in the third round, the Houston Texans selected Greenard with the 90th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Other Gators

  • Florida’s bell-cow running back from 2019, Lamical Perine, was expected to slide to the sixth round by many mock drafts. However, the former Gator learned his fate much sooner after being taken by the New York Jets in the fourth round with the 120th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

  • Freddie Swain, a productive receiver in Dan Mullen’s offense, heard his name called in the sixth round -- earlier than expected. With the 214th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks selected Swain.

  • Tyrie Cleveland, the Gator receiver known for his successes against Tennessee, snuck into the draft after the Denver Broncos stole Cleveland with the 252nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

  • Florida’s gutsy punter, Tommy Townsend, is likely to join his brother in the big leagues. Though Townsend didn't hear his name called in the draft, he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent on Saturday evening.

  • Josh Hammond, who displayed some of the best hands within Florida’s deep receiving corps, as expected, signed as an undrafted free agent. Hammond will join Henderson in Jacksonville.

  • Defensive leader David Reese served as the quarterback of the Gators’ defense. He will likely sign as an undrafted free agent.

  • Adam Shuler, another piece of Florida's stout defensive line, signed with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent.

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