WHAT AWAITS GATORS AS THE NFL DRAFT APPROACHES
C.J. Henderson: When it comes to coverage skills, he might be the best corner in the draft which is why his stock keeps improving. Mel Kiper has moved him up to the 12th player taken in the first round by the Las Vegas Raiders. Somewhere between 12th and 15th seems likely. He runs great (4.38 at the combine), has a great vertical (37.5 inches) and the kind of size the NFL likes in its corners (6-1, 204). There are questions about his ability to wrap up receivers and put them on the ground but no questions at all about his ability to cover.
Jonathan Greenard: He probably didn’t run as well as he hoped at the combine (4.87 40 which isn’t bad but isn’t great either) but there is a ton of tape on him making play after play behind the line of scrimmage. He missed the 2018 season at Louisville with an injury but against better competition as a grad transfer at Florida he had an exceptional year and played his best football against the better teams. He’s got a quick enough first step that he can project as a hand on the ground DE or an OLB in a 3-4 alignment. He’s a late second to mid-third round guy whose draft stock is enhanced by being such a high character guy.
Jabari Zuniga: Any apprehension the scouts had about his injury-filled 2019 season was dispelled at the combine where he ran a 4.64 40 and had a 127-inch standing broad jump. Athletic guys who are 264 pounds who can run and jump like that not only get drafted but get a chance to play from day one in the NFL. He plays the run well and when he’s healthy he can beat tackles off the edge. Most mock drafts have him going in the third round but the right team with a need for an edge rusher might take him in the late second. He won’t be on the board after the third round, though. Count on that.
Van Jefferson: Figure Jefferson will go in the third round, which means he’s a top 100 draft pick. At the combine it was discovered he had a fracture in his foot, which should be well healed by now. No combine workout might have hurt him except for the fact he showed the scouts what he can do every day at Senior Bowl practice. It doesn’t hurt that his dad Shawn is a former NFL wide receiver who is currently the wide receivers coach of the New York Jets. The fact he’s been around pro football all his life will ensure he won’t last beyond the third round. He can catch, runs precision routes, blocks like a demon and loves special teams.
Lamical Perine: Perine figures to go somewhere between the late third and late fifth rounds. He followed up his good Senior Bowl practices with a solid combine. Although he ran a 4.62, scouts know there is 40 speed and football speed. They’ll see the tape of long runs against Auburn (88 yards) and Virginia (61) and know he can outrun very fast DBs once he gets into the clear. He will go ahead of a lot of running backs who had a higher college profile because he’s an exceptional pass catcher. Running backs who don’t fumble and who can catch the football make NFL teams.
Tyrie Cleveland: Most of the mock drafts have him going in the sixth or seventh rounds. He ran a 4.46 and had a 39.5-inch vertical at the combine which will certainly help him. He’s a legitimate 6-2 with big hands and that will help also. He didn’t catch as many passes in his UF career as scouts would like to see, but the scouts also see the way Florida spread the ball around and know that when the ball came his way he caught it. He is an exceptional blocker which will help him along with his willingness to play special teams.
Tommy Townsend: Punters (a) rarely turn NFL eyes at the combine and (b) rarely get drafted but Townsend has stats and tape that will get him into more than one NFL camp as a free agent. Making a team depends on hang time and the ability to drop a downable ball inside the 15.
Freddie Swain: Swain had a very good combine where he ran a 4.46 40 and had a standing broad jump of 124 inches. He did well enough at the combine that scouts wanted to see more of him at pro day. He still has a chance to find his way into the last two rounds, but he will get multiple free agent contract offers. The tape doesn’t lie, particularly of games like Auburn where he showed he can blow by DBs who are going to get paid to play on Sundays. Swain won’t get drafted as a punt returner, but the fact he caught punts and didn’t fumble showed he can concentrate and bring the ball in under pressure. He played on Florida’s other special teams, too, so he’ll be on somebody’s roster next year.
Josh Hammond: Hammond didn’t get invited to the Senior Bowl nor was he invited to the combine. His chances of working his way into the last couple of rounds of the draft were hurt when UF cancelled his pro day so he didn’t get to show the scouts how precisely and smoothly he runs pass routes. It’s highly unlikely that he will be drafted, however, there is plenty of tape on him catching the ball, blocking and playing special teams. There is always room on a roster somewhere in the NFL for a spare receiver who is happy to play special teams.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE GROUP OF FIVE SCHOOLS?
According to Forbes Magazine, Florida State University averaged $96 million in yearly football revenue with an average of $40 million per year in profit for the fiscal years 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18. FSU’s profits were ranked 15th best among Division I schools but they pale in comparison to the University of Florida, ranked ninth with three-year average revenues of $117 million with an average profit of $69 million.
Just down the road from Gainesville is the University of Central Florida, which is one of the largest schools in the country with a student population of more than 69,000. UF had more profit from football than UCF’s entire athletic budget – somewhere north of $56 million – in the 2017-18 fiscal year. Over in Tampa, the University of South Florida athletic department looks 90 minutes down I-4 at UCF with envy. USF had a budget of $48.4 million in 2017-18 and doesn’t have facilities in the same league as UCF.
Both UCF and USF would kill to be in the same league with FSU when it comes to budget and revenue. What Florida budgets and makes off athletics is a pipedream, which emphasizes the dilemma that faces Group of Five schools. Without big TV contracts and conference networks to stroke big checks every year as they do in the Big Ten and SEC, the Group of Five schools operate on a relative shoestring compared to their big brothers in the Power Five conferences.
It’s not an insult to call the Power Five schools The Haves and the Group of Five schools The Have Nots. With the corona virus shutdown of collegiate athletics, every sports program in Division I is taking a serious hit, but The Haves will survive if college football cranks up in the fall or even as late as February. That can’t be said about The Have Nots. Even delaying the season until February will teeter a good many Group of Five athletic departments on the verge of insolvency with many of them having to consider seriously scaling back or suspending large portions of their scholarship sports programs. Per USA Today, a cancellation of the college football season would be a $4.1 billion hit to college athletics. Most, if not all of The Haves would survive to play another year. Most, if not all of The Have Nots would be sucking wind and a good many would go belly up.
Football is the economic engine that drives the train of Division I football playing athletic departments and that is precisely why the commissioners of the American Athletic, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American conferences and Conference USA have sent a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert requesting temporary relief from financial aid requirements while at the same time asking for a moratorium placed on any new schools trying to move into Division I. The letter by these commissioners was sent on behalf of all 350 schools in Division I, even those that don’t have football although the non-football schools don’t face the imminent threat of tanking without football.
Under current NCAA rules, every Division I program must sponsor at least 16 varsity sports and it is scholarships that is at the heart of the letter from the Group of Five commissioners. They’ve asked for at least a temporary suspension of rules that require Division I schools to offer a minimum of 200 athletic scholarships per year or spend at least $4 million a year on scholarships. The commissioners requested that the schools be allowed to provide at least 90% of the maximum number of scholarships for football since it will be football that allows them to regain their financial footing. Also asked for is a lifting of the rule requiring an average of at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance at football games.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson stated these requests are being made to give schools the ability to find creative solutions to the financial dilemma they will be facing in the very near future.
“How can we maintain the sports that we have but not fund or spend what we have spent in the past?” Thompson asked.
What was not addressed in the letter to Emmert was the potential for endless lawsuits should 90% of all football scholarships get funded while scholarships to women’s sports, 99% of which operate in the red, get curtailed. Title IX is a beast that hasn’t been dealt with but it will. And, if scholarships for men’s sports get cut back while all women’s sports funded, there is the potential for another round of lawsuits.
Whatever decision Emmert and the NCAA make probably won’t satisfy everyone, but the Group of Five commissioners will need immediate help to keep their athletic programs afloat. Before there was such a thing as the corona virus there was a need for Division I to reorganize, a need that will still be there when the threat of the virus is over and done with and things begin to return to some semblance of normal. This, however, isn’t the time to make decisions about which schools other than those in the Power Five conferences should play in Division I and which ones need to set their sights lower to Division IAA.
For now, Emmert and the NCAA need to come up with a survival plan. Get through this year and then tackle the other issues.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: I’m not making this up. Former Georgia running back D’Andre Swift compares himself to Christian McCaffrey. I’ll believe that when I see it … A number of NFL teams are making changes to their uniforms but the Indianapolis Colts will keep the same look. For some reason I can’t ever see the Colts, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers making any changes to their uniforms. To do it just wouldn’t be right … I’ve been to a number of baseball’s new ball yards, but the two stadiums that stand out the most to me are Dodger Stadium and Camden Yards. As for the NFL, if you’ve never seen a game at Lambeau Field, you’ve missed out on something special. I’d rather see a game at Rupp than at Cameron. Kentucky fans are at least courteous. Duke fans are obnoxious. The best place to see a game was once Carmichael Auditorium at UNC. The Dean Dome is okay, but it’s not the same as Carmichael.