GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sharrif Floyd boarded a flight for Indianapolis on Friday morning where he will participate in the NFL Combine.
Floyd’s draft stock was already soaring long before he took off.
Since Floyd played his final game for the Gators in the Sugar Bowl and declared for the draft afterward, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive tackle has been one of the draft’s top climbers.
Mike Mayock, a former defensive back at Boston College and one of the most respected draft analysts for his work with the NFL Network, has moved Floyd into his top five prospects in the entire draft.
Mayock’s evaluation of Floyd — projected as a middle-to-late first-rounder, early second-rounder when the season ended — changed when he started to get deeper into film study of Floyd’s games last season.
“The first tape I watched on him was Florida State, and I thought he dominated the game,” Mayock said of Florida’s 38-26 win in late November. “He looked like he got hurt in the second half, came back in and dominated again.
“What is most important about this kid is his explosion. He reminds me — and I’m not going to say he’s ever going to be Warren Sapp — but it’s that type of first-step explosion. He can get an edge as a pass‑rusher. He’s strong enough to push the pocket. He’s stout against the run, and he can run sideline-to-sideline.”
Floyd arrived at UF in 2010 as one of the nation’s most coveted prep defensive linemen. He played as a true freshman and then spent much of his sophomore season at defensive end due to a lack of depth in Will Muschamp’s first season.
Floyd moved back to his natural defensive tackle position as a junior and blossomed, finishing with 46 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, three sacks and six quarterback hurries.
Muschamp knew he had a player with tremendous upside when he took over the program in 2011.
“We all knew his natural position was inside and we needed to get to that point,” Muschamp said. “For some obvious reasons we had to play him outside [my first year]. Sharrif understood the importance of the weight room.
“The NFL is a big man’s league, and you better be able to play on the line of scrimmage. He got very strong and he continued to progress.”
Floyd’s difficult upbringing as he developed into a high school All-American in Philadelphia has been well-documented.
He has spent the past several weeks at in Bradenton, Fla., preparing for the draft, working out six days a week to get in shape for the combine.
He has already made plans to be in New York on draft night, something he dreamt about during those tough years growing up when the opportunity seemed so distant from the harsh reality of his daily life.
“I’ve been getting ready all my life for a situation like this, so there’s not a sense of nervousness,” Floyd said of the combine. “It’s more of a ‘ready’ thing for me. It’s kind of a great situation to be in right now, but even so, a lot of people don’t get a chance to even make it to the NFL, let alone get drafted. I’m blessed to be where I am in that draft and very appreciative.”
Floyd stopped by Florida’s football offices late this week for a combine primer, practicing his interview skills and asking Muschamp and others about what to expect at the NFL’s annual player-evaluation event.
Muschamp isn’t surprised that Floyd’s draft stock has improved significantly the past few weeks.
“After watching him progress through the season and continue to play consistently well throughout the year, I knew he would be a first-round pick without anyone else’s opinion,” said Muschamp, who spent a season in the NFL as a Miami assistant. “When the season was over, I called several general managers and people that make the decisions in the National Football League, and they all pretty much told me he would be a first-round pick.”
Former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who left to become Seattle’s defensive coordinator recently, spent 10 years as an NFL assistant prior to joining Muschamp’s inaugural staff.
He sees Floyd as a premiere defensive tackle in the NFL who can be a game-changer up front with his combination of size, speed and sound technique.
“Inside, he’s got real quickness for a big guy. For a 305-pounder, he kind of moves like a 275-pounder,” Quinn said. “He’s got power in his lower body that he can sustain and anchor on blocks. He can push the pocket as a rusher. I think he’s got value that he can play all downs. Sometimes a defensive tackle might only be a first- or second-down player, but he’s really an all-downs player.”
NFL scouts, coaches and general managers will offer their takes on Floyd at the combine. Muschamp expects Floyd to pass the eyeball tests in the intense and pressure-packed environment.
“He’s going to do very well,” Muschamp said. “It’s not just drills and skills on the grass. You are going to be interviewed and your body is like a piece of meat. They are going to put you through every test and pull every joint and check every bone to see where you are.”
In his three seasons at Florida, Floyd became a fan favorite. Part of that was due to his impoverished background and determination to better his lot in life. Part of that was due to his play on the field. And part of that was Floyd’s unselfish attitude and approachable manner off the field.
Soon after he finished his time at Florida, Floyd took out half-page ads in the Gainesville Sun and Independent Florida Alligator newspapers to thank fans for their support.
He didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye.
“Gator Nation showed a lot of support even when we were down,” Floyd said. “I felt as though a lot of players have come through and haven’t done that in a while or not at all. I figured let me leave something for the Gator Nation, let them know that I’m not just walking away from this wonderful program, let them know that I understand as hard as it is on us, it’s hard for them too. They’ve got travel, get to other states just to see us.”
The gesture was well-received on social media, much the same way Floyd’s natural talent is appreciated by NFL evaluators.
Mayock continues to rave about Floyd.
“When he is fresh and can run, it’s really special,” Mayock said. “I love watching his Florida State tape. Again, I think he’s a top-five talent in this draft, and I think his best position is defensive tackle on the four‑man front.”
Floyd has been in a bubble the past few weeks during training. His only off days were on Saturday afternoons and Sundays.
Otherwise, he could be found in the weight room or on the practice fields in Bradenton taking the final steps toward his ultimate dream: playing in the NFL.
What little he has heard of the outside chatter, Floyd tries to keep in perspective.
“I hear about it, but at the end of the day, I’m still locked in on what I have to do,” Floyd said. “Every year you watch and see these guys who get talked about, and then out of nowhere they are not talked about anymore. I try not to focus on it and stay positive and keep my eye on the goal, and right now it’s to impress a lot of people at this combine.
“Obviously that’s a great place to be, in the first round. Hopefully it is in the first round. I mean, who doesn’t want to go in the first round?”