- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Former Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam have traded orange and blue for purple. In Floyd's case, it came a little later than most everyone thought, and nobody's quite sure why.
The Minnesota Vikings took Floyd with the 23rd selection of the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night. Roughly an hour later, the Baltimore Ravens selected Elam with the round’s final pick. Elam was regarded as a borderline first-round selection, but Floyd was projected by several draft analysts to be a top-five pick and his freefall down the draft board was the night’s biggest surprise.
The 6-foot-3, 297-pound Floyd was considered the top defensive tackle in the draft but Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson (No. 13 to the New York Jets) and Utah’s Star Lotulelei (No. 14 to Carolina) were taken before him. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock reported that a team executive told him the drop was because of character concerns.
UF coach Will Muschamp said he doesn’t understand why anyone would say that.
"I was with the young man for two years and he’s as good a young man as we’ve had on our football team and in our locker room," Muschamp said. "He’s as good a kid as I’ve been around. There’s absolutely no character issues. I don’t know where that comes from, from people grasping at straws when a guy slides a little bit in the draft."
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said his team found no off-the-field issues with Floyd and former Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings’ second first-round pick.
"Very clean," Spielman said in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "We met with both of them numerous times. There were not personal issues, no off-field issues when it comes to what we look for in bringing [players] into our building."
Floyd did miss two games at the beginning of the 2011 season because he was suspended by the NCAA for violating the NCAA’s rules regarding preferential treatment for athletes. He received $2,500 over several months from a person other than a family member or legal guardian while in high school. According to the NCAA, Floyd used the money for living and transportation expenses and also received impermissible benefits in the form of transportation and lodging for unofficial visits to several schools.
Floyd spent his final two years in high school living with a coach, a guidance counselor and a friend after he left his home because of family issues. He received the money from the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation, which helped him with travel expenses for about 15 unofficial visits along the East Coast while Floyd was at Philadelphia George Washington High School.
However, Floyd was never arrested or cited by police for any violation during his three years in Gainesville.
Although Floyd told ESPN Radio that he had a "bag of Lay’s" on his shoulder -- instead of just one chip -- because of his draft slide, he also said he wasn’t panicking when his name didn’t get called 22 times.
"At some point I knew it was coming and I was waiting for the best fit to pick me," Floyd said. "I didn’t really come into this thing thinking I was going to go to a specific place. I came in waiting for the best fit for me and, you know, that is how I looked at it. I didn’t look as I was going somewhere else. I was waiting for the best ballclub to pick me and I’m happy Rick Spielman found it in himself to pick me."
Said Muschamp, who was in New York with Floyd: "I’m sure it’ll feed his fire a bit as motivation. At the end of the day he’s a first-round draft pick and that’s a heck of an accomplishment."
Scouts Inc.’s Todd McShay said before the draft that the team that ended up with Floyd is getting a player who improved significantly in his final season in college, especially in terms of his strength. Floyd had 46 tackles, 3.0 sacks, and a team-high 13 tackles for loss in 2012. That’s twice as many sacks as he had as an end in 2011. He also forced a fumble and blocked two kicks.
The 5-10, 208-pound Elam has big shoes to fill in Baltimore. The Ravens lost both starting safeties from their Super Bowl championship team. They released Bernard Pollard (he later signed with Tennessee) and Ed Reed signed a free-agent contract with Houston.
Elam had 176 tackles, six interceptions, five sacks and three forced fumbles in his three seasons at UF. He had 76 tackles, four interceptions, and two sacks in 2012.
"I think that they’ve drafted well," Muschamp said. "[Ravens general manager] Ozzie Newsome is as good as anybody on draft day. They’re going to have some good players. They had a void with the two safeties they lost in free agency. He [Elam] is very mature and very smart and he’ll transfer that to the NFL."