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Florida schools provide key NFL draft stories

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Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft provided some surprises and disappointments along with plenty of cases where the mock drafts were accurate. Players from Florida schools and native Floridians fell into all three categories.

Meeting expectations were the two who were always projected to be chosen within the top 12 picks. Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey was in the top five in nearly all mock drafts and his selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars at number five was well received.

Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III came in slightly higher than many projected when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took him with the 11th pick after trading down with the Chicago Bears. Fans of both schools and both pro franchises should be pleased.

One of the biggest surprises came from another Gator. Safety Keanu Neal was targeted as a mid-to-late second round pick, but the Atlanta Falcons took him with the 17th overall pick. Along with being a prospect with a strong upside, another important reason explains the selection.

“He’s a pure football player, one of the grinders,” said ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. “On a scale of one to 10 character-wise, Keanu Neal is a 15. A lot of that allowed him to move up on the board.”

The biggest surprise and disappointment surrounded another Florida native. Mississippi offensive tackle and Lake City, Florida native Laremy Tunsil was a top five or six pick on nearly everyone’s draft board.

A photo of Tunsil smoking an unknown substance through a gas mask went out through social media, plummeting his draft stock. Despite this and a seven-game suspension for taking improper benefits while at Ole Miss, the Miami Dolphins took Tunsil with the 13th pick.

“I’m going to show everybody what type of person I am despite all the mistakes,” said Tunsil after his selection. “Things happen for a reason. They’re getting a great man. I’m going to put everything on the line.”

So are the Dolphins. When a team’s running game is non-existent, like the Dolphins, perhaps it might be worth the risk.

In Coral Gables, a Miami Hurricanes player provided yet another draft surprise. Cornerback Artie Burns was projected as a late second round pick, but the Pittsburgh Steelers saw enough to take Burns with the 25th pick.

“We were very excited this young man was available,” said Steelers’ General Manager Kevin Colbert. “There’s tons of upside with him.”

The second and third rounds of the draft take place on Friday, while rounds four through seven are Saturday.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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