GAINESVILLE — A year ago, Florida cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy were touted as potential first-round NFL Draft prospects, but even after 35 cornerbacks heard their name called over the three-day event, Roberson and Purifoy did not.
Plagued by injuries, off-the-field issues and inconsistent junior campaigns, Florida’s two mercurial underclassmen went unselected on the final day of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Saturday’s freefall, inconceivable before UF’s abysmal 2013 season, was particularly shocking for Roberson, who projected as a second- or third-rounder by multiple analysts up until Thursday’s first round.
Roberson struggled during the evaluation process (clocking a poor 4.61 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine), but the 6-1, 190-pound cornerback flashed on tape as a fluid-cover guy with natural ability, but the former Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas standout couldn’t find a home as a late-round gem.
Purifoy, once touted as a workout wonder, also bombed the pre-draft process, costing himself money with considerable character concerns with several run-ins with the law. The two defensive backs became the second and third former Florida players since 2011 (Will Hill) to go undrafted as early entree underclassmen.
But Saturday wasn’t a total disaster for several other former Gators.
Jaylen Watkins, Florida’s senior cornerback who ascended during the evaluation process as much as Roberson and Purifoy flopped, was selected No. 101 — the first overall pick of the fourth round — by the Philadelphia Eagles.
A versatile defensive back capable of playing three positions, Watkins ran 4.41 seconds 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and shined during the Senior Bowl workouts.
“When we started this process a year ago, we were talking about Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, and Jaylen Watkins, not surprisingly because after you study the tape this year and looked at some of the 40 times, not surprising he’s the first of these Florida corners to come off the board,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said during draft’s telecast.
In all, three former Gators were selected in rounds four through six, as Florida totaled four draftees over the event’s three days — half as many as last season.
The New Orleans Saints nabbed junior linebacker Ronald Powell, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in 2010, in the fifth round with the 169th overall pick. Senior guard Jon Halapio, who played the entire 2013 season with a torn pectoral, went to the New England Patriots 10 picks later in the sixth round (No. 179), joining former teammate and the Pats’ first-round pick defensive tackle Dominique Easley (No. 29 overall).
Following the draft’s conclusion, multiple former Gators signed free agent contracts, according to their Twitter accounts. Defensive tackle Damien Jacobs signed a deal with the Buffalo Bills, and Trey Burton, a possible H-back in the NFL, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Speedy wide receiver Solomon Patton, signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to multiple reports.