The parade started with Rick Casares in the 1950s.
The Chicago Bears drafted him out of Florida in the second round with the 18th overall pick of the NFL draft. Three years later, he was an NFL rushing champion.
Emmitt Smith, Neal Anderson, John L. Williams and Fred Taylor followed. Add James Jones, Errict Rhett, Lorenzo Hampton and, more recently, Mike Gillislee – and the University of Florida has become one-stop shopping for running backs by NFL teams. Gillislee scored five touchdowns for the AFC champion Patriots in 2017.
Smith, of course, is a four-time NFL rushing champion, the league’s all-time leading rusher and a Hall of Famer. He went to eight Pro Bowls – more than any other Gator. He rushed for 18,355 yards, and was joined in the 10,000-yard club by Fred Taylor at 11,695. Anderson went to four Pro Bowls with the Bears and posted three 1,000-yard seasons. Rhett also had a 1,000-yard season.
Williams and Jones were fullbacks with different responsibilities. Williams, a two-time Pro Bowler, had three 70-catch seasons for the Seahawks and Jones one for the Lions.
Smith and defensive end Jack Youngblood are the only two Gators in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But defensive end is another strength of the Gators. Youngblood, Trace Armstrong and Kevin Carter are all members of the 100-sack club. In addition, Jevon Kearse, Derrick Harvey and Dante Fowler are all former first-round pass rushers.
The Gators have had 47 first-round draft picks. The highest a Florida player has ever been selected was third overall, four times: quarterback Steve Spurrier by the San Francisco 40ers in 1967, wide receiver Wes Chandler by the New Orleans Saints in 1978, defensive tackle Gerard Warren by the Cleveland Browns in 2001 and Fowler by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015. Smith, by the way, was the 17th overall pick of the 1990 draft by the Cowboys.
A 48th potential first round draft pick looms in 2018 with defensive tackle Taven Bryan. He’s 6-5, 291-pounder who elected to skip his senior season to turn pro after collecting 40 tackles and four sacks in 2017.
Here is the University of Florida’s all-time NFL team:
QB Steve Spurrier, 10 years, 1,151 career passes, 230 punts
HB Emmitt Smith, Hall of Fame
FB Rick Casares, NFL rushing champion 1956
WR Wes Chandler, 559 career catches, 56 touchdowns
WR Cris Collinsworth, 417 career catches, 36 touchdowns
TE Mike Mularkey, future NFL head coach
OT Lomas Brown, 7 Pro Bowls
OT Max Starks, 10-year starter, 2 Super Bowls
G Dan Fike, 8-year starter with Cleveland
G Cooper Carlisle, 8-year starter with Cleveland & Denver
C Maurkice Pouncey, 6 Pro Bowls
DE Jack Youngblood, Hall of Fame
DE Kevin Carter, NFL sack leader 1999
DT Gerard Warren, 10-year starter with 4 teams
DT Ellis Johnson, 10-year starter, 51 career sacks
OLB Wilber Marshall, 3 Pro Bowls, 2-time Super Bowl champion
MLB Mike Peterson, 14-year starter with 3 teams
OLB David Little, 12-year starter with Pittsburgh
CB Bernie Parrish, 8-year starter, 31 Interceptions
CB Joe Haden, 2 Pro Bowls, 20 interceptions
S Reggie Nelson, 2 Pro Bowls, 36 interceptions
S Louis Oliver, 8-year starter, 27 interceptions
K Don Chandler, 1960s NFL all-decade team
P Bobby Joe Green, 14-year punter, NFL champion 1963
KR Percy Harvin, 5 career KO returns for TDs