7 Florida Gators who made it in the NFL

Close up view of an American football

The University of Florida has been a powerhouse in college football, consistently churning out top-tier NFL talent. This list marks the illustrious careers of several Gators who made and make significant impacts in the NFL.

Emmitt Smith: Rushing toward greatness

Emmitt Smith, one of the most celebrated NFL players, began forging his legacy at Florida, where he was a standout from 1987 to 1989. Smith’s collegiate career included 3,928 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns, leading the SEC in rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage twice.

Drafted 17th overall by the Dallas Cowboys in 1990, Smith dominated the NFL landscape for 15 seasons, leading the league in rushing yards four times and in touchdowns three times. His accolades include NFL MVP in 1993, Offensive Rookie of the Year, and eight Pro Bowl selections.

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Smith retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, and his legacy is permanently enshrined in the UF Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jack Youngblood: A legacy cast in iron

Jack Youngblood, regarded as one of the greatest Florida Gators, carried his collegiate success into the NFL with remarkable distinction. As a Gator, he was a First Team All-American and All-SEC in 1970, setting a school record with 14 sacks in a season. His professional career was even more storied, with seven Pro Bowl appearances, five First Team All-Pro honors, and recognition as a two-time NFL Sack Leader.

Youngblood’s number was retired by the Rams, and he was inducted into both the College and NFL Halls of Fame, a testament to his enduring impact on the sport.

Fred Taylor: A running force to remember

Fred Taylor’s illustrious college career at Florida, where he rushed for 3,075 yards and 31 touchdowns from 1994 to 1997, set him up for NFL success. Drafted ninth overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1998, Taylor was a consistent threat in the backfield.

Over 13 years, primarily with the Jaguars, he amassed 11,695 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns, surpassing 1,000 yards in seven seasons and leading the NFL with an average of 107.5 rushing yards per game in 2000. His achievements earned him a Pro Bowl selection in 2007.

Jevon Kearse: The fear factor on defense

Jevon Kearse left an indelible mark at Florida and in the NFL with his formidable defensive prowess. A key player on Florida’s 1996 National Championship team, Kearse was a two-time First Team All-SEC (1997, 1998) and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 1998.

Drafted 16th overall by the Tennessee Titans in 1999, he became known as “The Freak” for his incredible athleticism and impact on the field. Kearse set a rookie record with 14.5 sacks and led the league with eight forced fumbles, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl selections in his first three seasons.

Jonathan Bullard: Staying strong in the NFL

Jonathan Bullard, currently playing for the Minnesota Vikings, continues to contribute significantly on the defensive end. In the 2023 NFL season, Bullard participated in 17 games, registering a total of 44 tackles, which included 24 solo tackles and 20 assisted tackles, along with recording 2 sacks.

His consistent performance showcases his defensive skills and his ability to be a reliable player for his team. Bullard’s career spans across the Bears, Cardinals, Seahawks, Falcons, and Vikings, and he has amassed a total of 180 tackles and 5.5 sacks across 99 NFL games​.

As Jonathan Bullard, a proud North Carolina native, continues to excel in the NFL, fans back in his home state can deepen their connection to his career. By using NC Sportsbook Promos, they can support Bullard and enhance their game day experiences, turning each of his plays into a moment of local pride and excitement.

Cris Collinsworth: The Gator who graced the screens

Cris Collinsworth, before becoming a familiar face on television, showcased his talent at the University of Florida from 1977 to 1980. Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft, Collinsworth’s collegiate career was marked by remarkable statistics. He snagged 120 receptions for a total of 1,937 yards and crossed into the end zone 14 times. His senior year stood out as he led the SEC with 40 receptions and 599 receiving yards.

Transitioning to a professional career, he excelled over eight seasons with the Bengals, earning three Pro Bowl selections and recording four 1,000-yard seasons and 36 career touchdowns.

Wes Chandler: A trailblazer in the NFL

Wes Chandler’s tenure at Florida (1974-1977) set the stage for a stellar NFL career. Selected third overall in the 1978 draft by the New Orleans Saints, Chandler had previously impressed with 92 receptions for 1,963 yards and 22 touchdowns at Florida.

His 1976 season was particularly noteworthy; he led the SEC with 976 receiving yards, averaged an astonishing 22 yards per catch, and topped the national charts with 10 touchdowns to 10th in the Heisman voting. In the NFL, Chandler was a dynamic force over 11 years with the Saints, Chargers, and 49ers, earning four Pro Bowl nods and leading the league in receiving yards (1,032) and touchdowns (9) in 1982.

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