There are four main junior targets that could elect to move on to the NFL after this season—defensive lineman Dominique Easley, safety Matt Elam, defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd and linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
They've all been important for the Florida defense this year.
FLOYD: The defensive lineman has found a home at defensive tackle this season. After playing out of position at defensive end out of necessity last season, Floyd has been disruptive and a run stuffer on the interior this year. He's fifth on the team with 37 tackles and leads the team with 10 tackles for a loss. He's also second on the team with five quarterback hurries.Floyd has proven capable of playing any spot on the defensive line, and that should help out his stock if he chooses to leave for the NFL Draft.
"I think a lot of clubs are picking where you have the versatility to play?more than one spot, that really helps you," Quinn said of Floyd's ability to play multiple spots. "Most teams base out of a?3-4 or a 4-3 and then a lot of clubs, even if you're a 4-3, there are a?lot of times where you will play a single-gap defense. Certain guys have the ability to play real square and strong on blocks, and then still have the ability to penetrate and play single gap.
"I think that's probably what they are talking to regarding Sharrif where he has the ability to have enough strength to anchor when you have to two-gap and really play square and get your hands on a guy. Then have the athletic ability to penetrate and move and chase when you are a single gap player."
Floyd's handling is something the Florida coaches are showing off in recruiting. If he elects to leave Gainesville after this season, he'll head to the NFL capable of playing any position along the defensive line that a coaching staff could want from him.
""A lot of guys that we are training here in both systems we think that's an advantage for the defensive linemen who are there getting exposed to they play square, play strong in a 3-4 and also penetrate and chase and move on the 4-3 stuff. He is having a terrific year in terms of the way he wants to play pad level and hand placement. He can be disruptive, and I think sometimes as a defensive lineman, it's not always measured in just a numerical stat."
"We are pleased with where he is heading, and he is working really hard at his skills to keep improving throughout the year. He and a number of other guys are showing that they are getting better and better as the season is going on."
ELAM: The safety has been a playmaker in the Florida secondary. Elam is third on the team with 52 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Playing up in the box on plenty of plays, Elam is second on the team with seven tackles for a loss.Elam has the knack for big plays in the Florida secondary. Whether it's being in the right spot to pull down an interception or anticipating a play in the backfield to make a tackle, Elam always seems to be in the right place.
"One of the things that shows is the explosive plays," Quinn said of Elam's tape. "The explosive hits, in terms of taking on blocks and defeating blockers and hitting ball carriers. He is a good blitzer. The closer he gets to the line, the more plays that he makes. One of the things that jumps out to me is he is a physical tackler. I think those are some of the things that jump out in his game, which is an important quality to have in a safety."
EASLEY: After sitting out against Kentucky and Vanderbilt with swelling on his knee after tearing his ACL last year, Easley is starting to get in a groove as the season comes to a close. He is 14th on the Florida team with 19 tackles this season. However, Easley leads the team with 3.5 sacks and has two quarterback hurries.Easley was limited in training camp and is just now starting to get comfortable on the field.
"I think early in the year, the will was there, but I don't know if he had enough practice to really be sharp in his skills," Quinn said. "His assignment was good, he knew what to do and how to do it. But that game speed of play (wasn't). For him, getting healthy was a big thing.
"For him, you could feel him kind of getting his stride. Even after the game, ‘this is the best I've felt.' That's kind of exciting for us to hear after this part of the season that after the last game this is the best he's felt moving forward. I'm certainly encouraged. Just the reps and feeling healthy again would be one of the things that's been good."
The Gators have also moved Easley between defensive end and defensive tackle. His explosiveness off the snap gets him into the backfield from either position, especially now that his knee is starting to feel back to normal.
He's an important part of the Florida defense. The plays he makes are big, but it's the energy and passion that's the most important part to the Florida defense.
"He brings a real energy and toughness to our team," Quinn said. "He can bring it. I think other guys can feed off that a little bit, the way that he plays and tries to finish. The one thing that always stands out to me is his effort. He's trying to chase a guy down, trying to make a play on the sideline, push the pocket, turn and get out on a screen. Those are the things that he brings to us that kind of effort and toughness. It really jumps out on the tape."
JENKINS: Injuries have hampered Jenkins' season more than any of the other three. He broke his thumb during the first half of the game at Texas A&M in week two and didn't return until the sixth week against LSU. Jenkins didn't make it through the first half before a hamstring injury earned him a spot on the trainer's table.He returned for the South Carolina game and has been healthy since. However, those injuries have kept him to seven games, and he didn't make it to halftime in two of those.
When Jenkins is on the field, it's easy to see the impact he makes. He's tied for 10th on the team with 23 tackles, while every player ahead of him in tackles has played every game this year.
Quinn said Jenkins' knack for the big play comes from his football instincts.
"(He knows) how to get themselves in position to make the hit," Quinn said. "That's true of Jelani, where he has anticipation of the when the ball is going to arrive or how to get his body in the right spot to make the hit, whether it's in line or outside. I think those (Elam and Jenkins) have good football instincts in terms of where the ball is going, now I can go run in and hit."