Every year in late February to early March, the NFL invites draft prospects from colleges all across America to Indianapolis to participate in the NFL Draft Combine. This year, four former Gators were invited to show off their abilities to scouts and front office personnel from all 32 teams in hopes of getting on their radar to be selected come draft day.
The four Gators participating, which consisted of cornerback Kaiir Elam, running back Dameon Pierce, defensive lineman Zach Carter and outside linebacker/EDGE Jeremiah Moon, all were significant contributors throughout their time at UF and have the potential to be good and maybe even great players at the next level.
Dameon Pierce, RB
The first Gator to perform was running back Dameon Pierce, who did so on Friday with the running backs and offensive lineman. Pierce measured in at 5-foot-10 218 pounds officially and finished with a 40-yard dash time of 4.59 seconds, which was a middle to bottom level time amongst all running backs but expected as he is not known for being a blazing runner. Pierce was one of the few backs to do the bench press, however, putting up 21 reps and giving us a memorable performance when he told the spotter "don't touch that [bleep]" while finishing his lift.
He also performed well in both the vertical and broad jumps, jumping 34.5 inches and 9 feet 11 inches, respectively and did not participate in the 3 cone drill or the 20/60 yard shuttle runs.
In his final year as a Gator, he rushed 100 times for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 19 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns, wrapping up a year in which Pierce was widely seen as being vastly underused by Dan Mullen and his staff. For Dameon, however, it's not his combine numbers nor his Senior season numbers that are going to define his draft position.
Instead, Pierce has garnered much attention for his blocking ability and explosiveness through the hole, as well as having fresh legs due to his non-heavy usage at UF. These are all things that you look for as a scout in a college running back and it's not just his attributes that have made him a hot name heading into the draft. Following a stellar showing at the Senior Bowl, one in which he was named the top running back of the week by CBSSports.com's Dave Richard due to his strong, powerful running and exceptional pass blocking during the week's practices, Dameon's stock has risen and he has become one of the higher-rated running backs in the draft.
Currently, he is widely regarded as a 3rd-to-4th round pick in next month's draft with the possibility of going even higher if things go his way. Most experts have him as being a quality back in the league, with the potential to become an every down back with the skill set he possesses. Regardless, expect Dameon's stock to continue to rise and don't be surprised if he gets taken earlier than the 3rd or 4th rounds come draft time.
Zach Carter, DL
The next Gator to perform in Indy was defensive lineman Zach Carter, who went on Saturday with the defensive lineman and linebackers. Carter measured in officially at 6-foot-4 282 pounds and ran a sub-5 40-yard dash, running a 4.99 second 40. This is a good time for Carter, as even though he is listed as a defensive end, he primarily played defensive tackle in college so breaking five seconds was impressive.
He finished below-average compared to the other defensive ends in the other drills he participated in but very well compared to the other defensive tackles, putting up 19 bench press reps, jumping 27.5 inches in the vertical jump and 9 feet 2 inches in the broad jump. Like Pierce, he did not participate in the 3 cone drill or the 20/60 yard shuttles.
Carter performed very well in the on field defensive lineman drills, moving around very well and even getting some applause after the first drill. You can go see his performance here as part of the NFL defensive lineman best moments of this year's combine.
Zach had a productive Redshirt Senior season as a Gator, finishing with 32 tackles, eight sacks, two passes defensed and a forced fumble. He primarily played defensive tackle as a Gator, but has been seen as a potentially very versatile player at the next level. According to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, "Carter is viewed as position versatile, with the ability to play defensive end in an odd or even front." He also went onto say, "Some evaluators like his girth and envision him adding weight to become a full-time three-technique in a one-gapping front."
A personnel executive from an NFC team said about him as well that, "He's going to be at different positions depending on the team and the scheme...". So in summary, Carter has been widely regarded as a versatile prospect on the defensive line and as a 4th-5th round pick. Following his solid showing at the combine, I don't expect that to change and he even could see his stock rise if things go well.
Jeremiah Moon, EDGE/LB
Like Zach Carter, Jeremiah Moon also participated on Saturday with the linebackers and defensive lineman. Moon, who enters the draft after six years as a Gator, impressed scouts immensely with his size and athleticism in Indy. Moon measured in at 6-foot-5 249 pounds officially along with having exceptional length with his arms measuring in at 35 inches.
While he impressed everyone with his size, his numbers and performance in the drills are what made him stand out. Moon ran a 4.76 40-yard dash, jumped through the ceiling with a 40.5 inch vertical jump, good for fourth overall in the combine, lept 11 feet 1 inch in the broad jump, also fourth overall, ran a 7.09 in the 3 cone and 4.55 in the 20-yard shuttle. He did not participate in the bench press or 60-yard shuttle. On the field, Jeremiah showed out in the drills, showcasing his athletic ability and size to every scout in attendance. What's most impressive of it all, though, is how good of numbers he put up with his 6-foot-5 249 pound frame to go along with his lengthy physique. Jumping 40.5 inches is no easy thing to do, so when you have a guy doing it at that size teams take notice.
Moon has a lot of experience under his belt as well, being a six-year player at Florida. He was a contributor in almost every season he was a Gator outside of his freshman year and had his best year as a sixth-year Senior in 2021, posting 49 tackles. 3.5 TFL, two sacks, a pass defensed and a forced fumble. This is good for Moon, putting his strongest season together right before entering the draft. Having six years SEC experience is an extreme plus as well, as you can't be just anybody to be a consistent contributor on the defensive side in this league.
As of right now, Moon is widely considered to be an undrafted to 6th or 7th round guy. However, after the stellar combine numbers that he put up along with his size and experience playing both linebacker and rushing off of the edge, he has the chance to see his stock rise over the next month-and-a-half as the draft moves closer. His tackling ability and length gives him great upside as well and teams could see that as a guy who could develop into a talented edge rusher or even a traditional linebacker.
The only knock on Moon and likely the reason he isn't projected higher in the draft after his impressive testing numbers is his durability. In six seasons at Florida Moon never played a full year. So while he does have good film and freaky testing numbers, the availability issue could be what holds him back from being an early round pick.
Kaiir Elam, CB
The last of the four Gators that showed off his skills at the combine was the most highly touted of the group, cornerback Kaiir Elam. Elam, who was one of the most highly rated corners coming into this season and being a projected Top-15 pick, has seen his stock slip over the course of the last year or so following a season where he missed a number of games due to injury. The combine was a big chance for him to show the scouts his ability on the field and perhaps improve his stock that has slipped as of late.
Kaiir measured in officially 6-foot-1.5 191 pounds, with arm length measuring roughly 31 inches. His 40-time was very good, coming in at 4.39 seconds, above average for this years cornerback class. That is the only drill he participated in but performed well on the on-field drills, showcasing great footwork and technique along with good burst out of his cuts.
The reason Elam's stock has slipped, however, was due to his lack of consistency in 2021 along with his less than stellar numbers. For the season, he finished with 29 tackles, 1.5 TFL, one interception and six passes defensed. This is a sharp decline from the 2020 season, where he had 39 tackles, one TFL, two interceptions, 13 passes defensed and one fumble recovery. On top of this, he had the tendency to "get a little lazy with his technique" as one NFC area scout put it on NFL.com and had some instances where he was beat deep, which led to him having to grab.
However, he is still an insanely gifted defensive back. And scouts know it, too. That same scout that I just mentioned above went onto say, "but he will be fine. I like him." Regardless of how he performed in his final collegiate season, Kaiir has a ton of talent and ability that is combined with great length and speed, all things that you look for in a good NFL cornerback. While he struggled a bit in 2021, scouts know that he is a guy that can get back on track and when he does, could become a star at the next level.
Currently, he is widely projected as a fringe first round to second round guy, with most analysts having him going in the second at this point in time. Getting someone like Kaiir in the second round would be a god send for any team, as you are getting a guy that has played in the best conference in America for three years and was a star in it for most of his career. Regardless of where he ends up being drafted, expect to see Kaiir playing a lot on Sunday's for years to come and maybe even blossoming into an elite level NFL corner.
After all of the combine festivities have settled, all four Gators that participated put themselves in good positions and maybe even improved positions in terms of draft stock. They will have another chance to show their abilities at the Florida Gators Pro Day on March 28th, but for now, all four guys are coming off very solid combine performances and look to be in good shape heading into the draft.