- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It wasn’t easy trying to figure out which players to select in our all-time University of Florida draft.
So many names to consider, especially at positions like linebacker, defensive line, and receiver. But that’s to be expected after 106 years of Gators football.
It’ll be even tougher in another decade, as the school produces more All-Americans and great players. Some might be on the current roster -- and our task today is to project which four current Gators will be players that would get selected if we did a similar draft in 2023.
So, looking into our crystal ball …
DT Dominique Easley: He has split his time between end and tackle in his first three seasons but probably will play much more tackle in 2013. He doesn’t have spectacular numbers (67 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks), but the 6-foot-2, 285-pound senior has the skills to be a dominant tackle.
People raved about Percy Harvin’s first step and how that gave him such an advantage. Easley’s first step is just as quick. It’s just not as visible because of the position he plays. He gets off the ball quickly and can get into the backfield and throw off the timing of a running play or provide solid up-the-middle pass rush.
He needs to put together a dominant season like Sharrif Floyd did in 2012, and the Gators are relying on him to do so because of a lack of experienced depth at defensive tackle.
OT D.J. Humphries: We’re taking a huge leap here because Humphries is a sophomore who has started just two games at left tackle. But it’s easy to do that because there’s so much to like about the 6-5, 285-pound athlete.
It starts with his athleticism and footwork. He’s hard to beat around the edge because he’s so agile and quick and able to keep himself in front of his opponent. He’s got long arms, too, which helps him keep defensive ends from getting into his body.
He showed up as a freshman weighing only 250 pounds, and that was the only thing that kept him from taking over for Xavier Nixon as the starting left tackle. He just didn’t have the bulk and upper body strength to handle some of the older, stronger ends he was going to have to face. But he’s gained 35 pounds and gotten much stronger and hopes to be close to 300 pounds by the time the season begins.
He’s got all the physical traits, as well as the nasty attitude on the field that coaches love, to become an elite left tackle in 2013 -- and perhaps the best offensive tackle the Gators have had since Mike Pearson in 2001.
LB Antonio Morrison: Florida has had a pretty good run of middle linebackers in the past 13 years, and Morrison is going to be the next great one -- and possibly better than them all, including Brandon Spikes.
Morrison enrolled in January 2012 and played in every game last season as the top backup to Jelani Jenkins at weakside linebacker. It was evident pretty early that he was a burgeoning star. In fact, linebackers coach D.J. Durkin said he knew that the first time the Gators practiced in pads last spring because Morrison is one of the most physical players he’s ever seen.
Despite being 218 pounds, Morrison blew up everybody -- including fellow linebackers during position drills. He ended up starting three games in place of the injured Jenkins and finished with 34 tackles and one sack.
More importantly, he seems to always be around the ball. His hit on Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel caused a fumble and sparked the Gators’ fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory. Making big plays when the team needs it most is what defined Spikes as one of UF’s best players over the past 20 years, and Morrison should have a similar career.
CB Loucheiz Purifoy: The 6-0, 190-pound Purifoy is probably UF’s best all-around player. He’s a standout on defense and the Gators’ best special teams player, and now he’s going to spend time at receiver as well.
Although he still needs to improve his one-on-one coverage skills, he has established himself as one of the SEC’s best corners. He is by far UF’s most physical defensive back and a willing tackler. He finished fourth on the team last season with 51 tackles and added five pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He’s another player who seems to always be around the ball.
Various NFL draft experts project him as a first-round pick should he decide to forgo his senior season (2014).
His special teams play sets him apart as well, especially his role as a gunner on punt coverage.
He may be forced to spend significant time at receiver this fall because of the Gators’ lack of production at the position. He spent the first half of spring practice working there and gave UF’s defensive backs fits.
Regardless of where he lines up, though, Purifoy makes plays.
2dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough