Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins became the team’s fourth junior to declare for the NFL draft.
Jenkins, a three-year starter, will join safety Matt Elam, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and tight end Jordan Reed as Florida players coming out early. They have until the Jan. 15 deadline to make their decisions official by filing paperwork with the NFL.
Some of those departures were expected, but Jenkins’ is somewhat surprising. Two weeks ago, a source said the staff anticipated having him back. He is not expected to be picked any earlier than the middle of the draft.
Florida coach Will Muschamp did not comment on Jenkins’ decision other than to wish him luck.
As good as he has been during his career, he was limited this season by a broken bone in his thumb, a hamstring injury and foot surgery. He still is recovering from the surgery and did not play in the Sugar Bowl last week.
He played nine games this season and had 25 tackles. His best performances came against Florida State (two sacks and an interception) and Louisiana-Lafayette. He ended the ULL game by returning a blocked field goal for the winning touchdown in the final seconds.
The Gators do not have an obvious replacement for Jenkins. True freshman Antonio Morrison started for him at weak-side linebacker when Jenkins was out, but defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said recently the team plans to move Morrison to middle linebacker.
Between seniors and early entrants to the draft, Florida is losing at least 12 starters from a team that went 11-2 last season.