The 2020 NFL Draft was good to the Florida Gators as Dan Mullen’s squad helped set multiple records. The Southeastern Conference made it 14 straight years with the most draft picks of any league, 63 in total, one short of the 64 record set by—you guessed it—the SEC in 2019. The SEC had six of the Top 10 picks, including Gators corner CJ Henderson at No. 9 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here is the Gators full list of draftees:
C CJ Henderson, 1st round, 9th overall, Jacksonville Jaguars
WR Van Jefferson, 2nd round, 57th overall, Los Angeles Rams
DE Jabari Zuniga, 3rd round 79th overall, New York Jets
EDGE Jon Greenard, 3rd round, 90th overall, Houston Texas
RB Lamical Perine, 4th round, 12th overall, New York Jets
WR Freddie Swain, 6th round, 214th overall, Seattle Seahawks
WR Tyrie Cleveland, 7th round, 252nd overall, Denver Broncos
In a receiver rich draft class, Florida was the only school to have three wideouts drafted. It’s the first time since 1978 that the Gators have sent three receivers to the league through the draft and UF now joins Tennessee and LSU as the only SEC institutions to have three receivers drafted in more than one year during the modern draft era. It’s the first time since 2009 that the Gators have had more than one receiver drafted. That 2009 draft class featured Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, both products of their offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen.
The three drafted receivers along with Josh Hammonds immediate signing with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent, means that all four senior receivers found an initial spot on NFL rosters. Strictly production wise, the run on Gator receivers—and particularly Jefferson in the second round—was labeled as puzzling by analysts and pundits. The 11 receivers taken before Jefferson averaged 67 receptions for 1,066 yards and 10 touchdowns. Jefferson posted 49 receptions for 657 yards and six touchdowns in 2019.
But those now preparing to live out their dreams don’t care and for Dan Mullen and position coach Billy Gonzales, it’s point proven of a message they’ve been preaching since arriving back in Gainesville.
Trust us to split the reps, they preached. Make a commitment to do this truly as a team and while your statistical numbers will go down, your overall positive tape will go up and it will work out better for the team and individually in the long run.
“I think it’s a huge deal,” said Mullen while on a Zoom call with local reporters on Monday.
“When guys look at it—and our guys, thankfully they bought into it and now they all reap the rewards on it and I think that especially, you know you get out on the recruiting trail and you’re looking at people that are—you’re calling these different receivers and they’re like ‘well coach this school, they had the one guy get all these catches’ and I said ‘ok well what if you’re not the one or how many different people are saying they are the one?’ And you come play at Florida, you’re not only gonna get coached, you’re gonna get developed.
“[Here, you] have the opportunity to go and get touches on the field and the opportunity to go on to the next level and play in the NFL. And I think that is one, that’s such a huge selling point. I think now it’s a really easy selling point for our younger guys at this point cause they saw ‘hey these older guys all bought in. They bought in to go out there, play as hard as you can, don’t worry about your individual stats. Hey get involved in special teams. And now four of them are moving on to the NFL.
"I think one of the other big point that is really, you know I’m gonna promote that has been kinda overlooked is not only did we have four go to the NFL, all four have graduated college. And I think that is something that is really special and unique.”
Henderson’s selection in the Top 10 was another selling point for something Mullen and staff have been trying to explain to their team for the past two and a half years now. If you’re going to leave early, make sure it’s worth the risk. A year ago, leading into the 2019 draft, five juniors elected to forego their senior year and declare early for the pro’s: Chauncey Garnder-Johnson, Jawaan Taylor, Jachai Polite, Vosean Joseph and Jordan Scarlett.
Taylor fell out of the first round into the second but started as a rookie. Gardner-Johnson was taken in the fourth round but started seven games while heavily contributing in all 16. Joseph and Scarlett both landed on rosters in late rounds and contributed enough to be resigned. Polite was projected as a first rounder but fell to the third. He bounced among three teams in as many weeks and now sits on a practice squad.
At the time Mullen wouldn’t name names but made it clear he thought too many of his players were listening to the wrong council on whether or not they should leave early. He has consistently preached that if you’re going to declare as a junior, you should be positive that you’ll be a first or second round pick and that you won’t be pushed down by a crowd of others at your position. The difference in those picks versus others amounts to millions of dollars. Albeit, guys like Gardner-Johnson look to be playing themselves into a better contract after their rookie ones are finished—but that last five years.
When it came time to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, only one Gator junior put his name in the ring; corner CJ Henderson. He was a projected first round pick and the perfect example of what Mullen was trying to show the guys in his program. Henderson gauged his draft grade, gauged the amount of other corners available in the draft, knew his tape could back up his grade, performed well at the Combine and proved his early departure the right choice. Mullen couldn’t be prouder.
“The year before we had several guys leave early for the draft. No body went in the first round and so there’s some, you could look maybe some good, maybe some bad decisions. But I think you look at the roster this year and I think the guys making good, positive decisions in what they do. That’s what you want, guys that are going to leave early, have that opportunity to leave early, to go be a top 10 pick, absolutely.
“I think CJ handled it the right way. His family handled it the right way. They made very informed decisions and made a great decision for his future and for their family’s future, to have a long, lasting impact for his family in generations to come.But I think they are, I think he is a guy that's going to have the opportunity, just because of his attitude, not just his talent, but his approach within his preparation, how he handles himself on a daily basis. He’s certainly going to have the opportunity to start Day One.”
Mullen admits between the 12 first round picks he now has to his name and 10 to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s that it’s a nice recruiting tool. Right or wrong, a program is often defined by the amount of players it can send to the NFL. With seven players drafted this April and many more signed as free agents, the Florida Gators are well represented in the NFL. After two full seasons under Dan Mullen’s Gators program, the messages from the head coach are being heard, the buy-in is high and the pay-off is evident.