Over the past decade or so, the Gators have been known for having a ferocious defense. Their secondary has been second to none. The top 10 defensive backs that have come out of Florida from ten to one reads like this.
First, an honorable mention of Marcus Roberson, a guy who would’ve benefitted from staying one more year at Florida. He went undrafted, and got picked up by the St. Louis Rams. Roberson had a very quiet rookie season, but did accomplish the feat of hauling in his first career interception. It came against Russell Wilson in the last game of the season. I had a tough time deciding between he and Will Hill for the number 10 spot, and ultimately went with Hill.
10. Will Hill (Safety)
Will Hill was a guy that was a piece to the puzzle at Florida. He didn’t have as good of a career at Florida as Ahmad Black, whom was the other starting safety opposite of him, but Hill has fared well in the NFL despite some off the field question marks coming out of Florida. Hill went undrafted after declaring for the draft before his senior year, but got a chance to play for the Giants for two years before being picked up by Baltimore, which is where he is currently playing alongside another former Gator safety, Matt Elam. Will HIll played three years at Florida and accumulated a total of 144 tackles, 4 interceptions, and 1.5 sacks. When Hill got his hands on the football, he knew what to do. Although while at Florida he never did bring an interception all the back to the house, he averaged just under 40 yards per INT return. Since coming into the NFL, Hill has three interceptions, two of which he brought back for touchdowns.
9. Josh Evans (Safety)
Evans Played four years for the Gators, and he was drafted in the 6th round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013. At Florida, Josh Evans played Free Safety, and Matt Elam played strong safety. Elam liked to play up closer to the line of scrimmage, therefore Evans often played very deep. In 2012 the Gators played mostly cover 1 or cover 3 schemes, so Evans was seemingly always playing center field. He was able to come up with five interceptions and one fumble recovery at Florida. His stats may have been underwhelming, but Matt Elam would not have been able to cheat in run support so much, if he didn’t have Josh Evans covering his back behind him. Josh Evans is the starting Free Safety for Jacksonville after taking over the starting role at the end of his rookie season. Evans is really on this list for the impact he has made for Jacksonville. If he continues to progress at the rate that he has, this is a guy that could be very special in the NFL.
8. Ahmad Black (Safety)
Black was part of possibly the best secondary ever assembled at the college level. The other three guys will be revealed later. He was able to get 13 interceptions at Florida, and took 3 of them into the endzone for touchdowns. Black was drafted in the 5th round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was a starter for the Bucs in his second season in the league, and grabbed two interceptions that year. In 2013, the Bucs decided to go in a different direction and Ahmad Black became a free agent. That’s crazy. Black has the talent to play in the NFL. No doubt. But his size may be holding him back. If he doesn’t get picked up this offseason, he may have to explore alternative leagues such as maybe the CFL if he wants to keep playing football. Either way there’s no disputing what he did at Florida.
Here are some highlights of Ahmad Black as a Gator. The guy is a beast.
7. Keiwan Ratliff (Corner)
Yes, Ratliff was from a little further back. He left Florida after the 2003 season, but he was one of the best all around players that Florida has had. Ratliff had nine interceptions in his senior season and brought two back for touchdowns. Ratliff was the Gators’ punt returner and accumulated 860 punt return yards. He also returned some kicks as an underclassman and had 235 yards as a kick returner. That’s over 1000 yards as a returner. *Billy Mays voice* “But wait. There’s more!” Keiwan Ratliff had two offensive touchdowns and 142 yards. He was drafted in 2nd round of the 2004 NFL draft, and played in the NFL from ‘04 to 2010, mostly as a punt/kick returner. He never had a big impact on the NFL, but what he did at Florida was sick.
That’s all that there is to say. Let’s let his highlights do some talking for him.
6. Major Wright (Safety)
Another fourth of the best secondary ever assembled. Major Wright came in as a freshman and made his presence felt. Wright played more of a run supporting role in his freshman and sophomore seasons having 67 and 66 tackles respectively. His sophomore season was absurd. He won a national championship that year, and he set the tone of that game with a hit that comes to mind every time his name is said. (The video of the hit is below.) In his sophomore season he intercepted 4 passes, one of them for a touchdown. His Junior season added to his draft stock and he was taken in the 1st round of the 2010 draft by the Chicago Bears. He didn’t see much of the field during his rookie season, but he played very well over his next three seasons. 9 interceptions and 3 touchdowns. 2013 would be his last season with the bears and his stat line read like this: 101 tackles, two forced fumbles, two interceptions, and one touchdown. Why did the Bears let him go you ask? I don’t know, but Tampa Bay picked him up, and Wright only started 7 games for the Bucs. I couldn’t tell you why Wright isn’t seeing the field like he used to, but when he was on the field, he was making plays.
5. Vernon Hargreaves III (Corner)
VH3 was the number 1 defensive back coming out of high school, and ESPN had him ranked #3 in the country in the ESPN300. Through his first two seasons at the University of Florida, Hargreaves has intercepted 5 passes. He has been the definition of a lockdown corner. This guy has the potential to climb up to at least the top 3 in this countdown, but due to the fact that he is still only a sophomore in college, he only makes it to the #5 spot. He still must play one more year at Florida; he is almost a lock as a first round pick after his junior season. This kid’s future is very bright.
Here is a highlight tape from his freshman season.
4. Janoris Jenkins (Corner)
Jenkins is one of my two favorite Gators of all time. It was devastating when Jenkins was released from the team because of a third failed drug test after a tremendous junior season at Florida. He was another part of that sick secondary that was alluded to earlier. In his three years as a Gator, he got eight interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Jenkins was drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Rams in the 2012 draft out of N. Alabama. There was no doubt that this guy had first round talent, but character issues (failed drug tests) made him sink to the 39th overall pick. It was a steal for St. Louis, and Jenkins made quite the case for defensive rookie of the year with his four interceptions. He added a fumble recovery to that, and returned three of those interceptions for touchdowns. Jenkins had a massive impact from day one in the NFL. He is a future pro-bowler. Take a look at what he did during his rookie season in the NFL.
3. Reggie Nelson (Safety)
Reggie Nelson played free safety for the Gators through the Chris Leak days and was part of the 2006 national championship team. Nelson was drafted in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In his last season at Florida, Reggie Nelson had six interceptions. Reggie Nelson has had the most consistent NFL career so far out of all of the guys on this list. He was a starter from day one in Jacksonville before signing with the Bengals in 2010. In Nelson’s eight NFL seasons, he has 22 interceptions. This year he has set his career high in tackles with 94 at the end of the regular season. Reggie Nelson was known as “the Eraser” during his time at Florida, and he has proven he is still a hard hitter in the NFL. Here is a tape that highlights Nelson’s best hits through the 2011 season.
2. Joe Haden (Corner)
I spent a while deciding on whether Haden should be the number one guy on this list, or number two. Ultimately, Haden ended up as the second best Gator defensive back. This is a guy that is just a freak athlete. Urban Meyer had him playing some wide receiver in his freshman season, but due to the depth the Gators had there with Percy, Louis Murphy, Riley Cooper, ect., Haden moved to back to the defensive side of the ball. (Imagine that! The Gators had depth at Wide Receiver!) This move would prove to be the right one. Joe Haden was the last piece of the best secondary assembled that was mentioned earlier. Opposing teams didn’t throw at Haden much – understandably so – but when they did, Haden made them pay with eight interceptions. Haden was drafted by the Browns with the 7th overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Just last summer, Haden was given what was then the most expensive contract ever given to a defensive back. That deal speaks for the impact that he has made in the NFL. Think about what he did against college kids! Haden shut down an entire side of the football field. He was able to completely take the opponents best receiver and simply make him a non-factor.
1. Matt Elam (Safety and Nickel)
There no better word to describe this guy other than a “PlayMaker”. Matt Elam was the best open field tackler in the NCAA. Elam declared to the NFL draft after his junior season, and has been a starter for Baltimore ever since. He had 11 tackles for a loss in both his sophomore and junior seasons. 22 tackles in the backfield for a safety is absurd. Elam did play nickel when the Gators brought out an extra DB. From the nickel position, Muschamp loved to blitz Elam, and he was very successful. He hit ball carriers harder than most linebackers, and he was just as good at defending the pass. Elam picked off 6 passes in his last two years at Florida. His instincts at the safety position were unmatched. That, along with his athleticism, playmaking ability and how hard he hit assured the Ravens that he was worth their first round pick. Those characteristics also landed Elam the title of best Gator DB.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Blake Giusti