Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Top 5 Defensive Linemen in Gator Football History

As the University of Florida all but wraps up its search for an offensive-minded head football coach, I begin the next portion of my Top 5 series with players on the defensive side of the ball. This week I will be ranking the big guys up front: the defensive linemen. Without further adieu, here are my Top 5 defensive linemen in Florida Gator history!

#5 Dominique Easley (2010-2013)

I begin this list with Dominique Easley, whose time at the University of Florida was plagued with injuries. His senior year, he played just one game before hurting his knee and missing the rest of the year. When he was healthy, Easley was an unstoppable force. He recorded 72 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.

Unfortunately, Easley won no collegiate awards due to him getting injured so much. However, he did help lead the Gators to the 2013 Sugar Bowl. In the game he recorded 5 tackles (3.5 for loss) in a 33-23 loss to the #21 Louisville Cardinals.

After withdrawing from UF during his senior year, Easley entered the 2014 NFL Draft and went 29th overall to the Patriots in the first round. He gets sporadic playing time in New England and is doing well his rookie year. As of Week 11, he has 10 tackles, one sack, and one interception.

The fact that the Patriots took Easley in the first round without him even playing his senior year is a testament to how good of a player he was during his time Florida.

#4 Shariff Floyd (2010-2012)

Playing right along side Easley was Shariff Floyd. In just three years at Florida, Floyd accumulated 92 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. He was an absolute beast in his last collegiate game, which was the 2013 Sugar Bowl. In that game, he had five tackles (two for loss), two sacks, and one blocked pass.

Some of Floyd's accolades include:
  • First-team All-American in 2012
  • First-team All-SEC in 2012
After the Sugar Bowl loss, Floyd forewent his senior year and declared for the 2013 NFL Draft. He was selected 23rd overall by the Minnesota Vikings and has earned a starting spot on the team. As of Week 12, he has 53 tackles, six sacks, and one forced fumble.

#3 Derrick Harvey (2005-2007) / Carlos Dunlap (2007-2009)

 (Derrick Harvey is in white, Carlos Dunlap is in blue)

A member of Florida's 2006 National Championship team, Derrick Harvey was an integral cog in Florida's defense. In three years he compiled 90 total tackles, 31.5 tackles for loss, 20.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, and two forced fumbles.

In the 2007 BCS National Championship game, he was an absolute force as he had 4 tackles (three for loss), with three of them being sacks! His performance in the game was enough to earn him Defensive MVP honors as the Gators routed the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes on route to the program's second National Championship.

Nothing (except maybe the Heisman), could be better for a defensive player than winning the MVP Award of the National Championship Game, but Harvey's accolades don't stop there. Some of his other achievements include:
  • SEC Champion in 2006
  • Second-team All-SEC in 2006 and 2007
Like Floyd, Harvey forewent his senior year to enter the 2008 NFL Draft. He was selected eighth overall in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He would play five seasons in the NFL before hanging up his spikes in 2012.

As Harvey's time was ending at Florida, Carlos Dunlap's was beginning. Like a majority of this list, Dunlap was in college for just three years and he was also a member of the 2008 Florida Gator National Championship team. In his three college years, Dunlap recorded 84 total tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 19.5 sacks, one interception, and two forced fumbles.

When January rolled around, Dunlap upped his game. In the 2009 National Championship Game, he was able to win Defensive MVP honors with just four tackles (1.5 for loss), one sack, and one blocked pass in a 24-14 victory over the #1 Oklahoma Sooners. In the 2010 Sugar Bowl, Dunlap closed out his Florida career in style with three tackles (two for loss) and two sacks in a 51-24 drubbing of the #3 Cincinnati Bearcats.

On top of winning Defensive MVP of the National Championship, some of Dunlap's other accolades include:
  • SEC Champion in 2008
  • First-team All-SEC in 2009
After forgoing his senior year, Dunlap entered the 2010 NFL drafted and was selected 54th overall in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals. He is still with the team and has earned himself a spot as a starter. As of Week 8, he has 174 tackles, 31 sacks, and 15 pass deflections.

#2 Alex Brown (1999-2001)

Alex Brown set records while playing for the Gators. He holds the record for sacks in a season when he recorded 13 in 1999 as a sophomore. Brown was only getting started when he broke this record. He would eventually break the record for sacks in a career at UF as he finished with 33.

In his final college game, he helped lead the Gators to a 56-23 victory in the 2002 Orange Bowl with a one sack, six tackle performance. In his three years playing at Florida, he compiled 155 total tackles and 33 career sacks.

Some other accolades of Brown's include:

  • First-team All American in 1999 and 2001
  • First-team All-SEC in 1999, 2000, and 2001
  • SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2001
  • SEC Champion in 2000
  • UF Hall of Fame inductee in 2012
After Florida, Brown was drafted 104th overall in the fourth round of the 2002 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He would make one Super Bowl appearance in his eight-year career before ending his career with the New Orleans Saints in 2010.

#1 Jack Youngblood (1968-1970)

Coming in at No. 1 is a Gator legend in Jack Youngblood. A part of the "Super Sophs" in 1969, he helped lead the Gators to a 9-1-1 record and a 1969 Gator Bowl victory. This was Florida's best record up to that point. Youngblood actually did finish out his college career, as he began playing for the Gators as a sophomore.

In his three years for the Orange and Blue, Youngblood compiled 148 total tackles and 29 sacks. His 29 sacks are the most on this list and remained a Gator record until the late 70's.

As the best defensive lineman (in my opinion) to come out of Florida, it is not surprising that Youngblood might have a few accolades under his belt. Some of these recognitions include:
  • First-team All-SEC in 1970
  • First-team All-American in 1970
  • Named to All-time Florida Gators team in 1983
  • Voted to the Florida Gator All-Century Team in 1991
  • College Football Hall of Fame inductee in 1992
  • UF Hall of Fame inductee in 2001
  • Inducted into Florida Football Ring of Honor in 2006 (with Steve Spurrier, Emmitt Smith, & Danny Wuerffel)
After graduating, Youngblood would enter the 1971 NFL Draft and be selected 20th overall in the first round by the Los Angeles Rams. He spent his entire 13-year career with the Rams and would go to seven Pro Bowls. He also accumulated countless other NFL achievements that I won't list because I am mainly focusing on his days at Florida.

Very fittingly, Youngblood was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2001. He is one of just two Gators from the Florida Football Ring of Honor to be in both the College Football and NFL Hall of Fame. The other Gator is Emmitt Smith, who was inducted in 2010.

Honorable Mention: David Galloway (1978-1981), Kevin Carter (1991-1994), Jermaine Cunningham (2006-2009), Dante Fowler Jr. (2012-2014)

I hope you enjoyed this Top 5 article! Next week I'll be ranking the Top 5 linebackers to play at the University of Florida. Until then, stay tuned to my upcoming article on the Gator basketball game against Kansas on December 5th and a potential article I might be writing on the next Gator head football coach.

*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com, College Football @ Sports-Reference.com, Pro-Football Reference.com, & Wikipedia.com

*All pictures accredited to totalsportslive.com, philly.com, zimbio.com, nflmocks.com, bestsportsphotos.com & sportstalkflorida.com

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