It’s cutdown day in the NFL, and that brought bad news for two former high-round defensive backs from the University of Florida.
On Friday, the New England Patriots traded former 2018 second-round CB Duke Dawson to the Denver Broncos in an exchange of late-round picks. Shortly after that, the Detroit Lions cut former 2017 second-rounder Teez Tabor.
Both former Gators have struggled to make their impact felt in the NFL matching anywhere close to their draft status. Dawson has yet to play a game in the NFL. Tabor saw action in 20 games (five starts) but was picked on last year when he saw more playing time.
Even with the Patriots and Lions brandishing some secondary depth, it’s a stunning turn of events for two players selected 56th and 53rd in their respective classes.
And yet they’re not the only former Florida defensive backs who have yet to fulfill their draft promise.
Florida’s recent DB draft history isn’t pretty
Going back to the 2011 NFL draft, the Gators have had 12 defensive backs drafted. The only one you can truly say who has lived up to his billing has been Keanu Neal, the former first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, and he’s coming off a torn ACL that wiped out almost his entire 2018 season.
Even if you pool in the undrafted Gators during that stretch, it hardly changes the discussion. J.C. Jackson has been a find for the Patriots, and Janoris Jenkins has played some high-level cornerback at times in this league. But both players started their college careers at Florida before ending up at other schools.
Undrafted ex-Gator Brian Poole also was a good discovery as an undrafted player for the Falcons, and he’s now a big part of the Jets’ plans in the secondary, along with another former Florida DB in Marcus Maye. But like Neal, Maye is coming back from injury last season.
Is there a common thread as to why the school often called “DBU” is struggling to produce quality NFL defensive backs? The one thing we can point to is a lack of coaching continuity over that period.
The Gators have actually had five men with the title of head coach — Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and now Dan Mullen, along with interim head coaches Randy Shannon and D.J. Durkin.
Naturally, there were a lot of other staff changes among the assistants, too, during this time. Five men — Teryl Austin, Dan Quinn, Durkin, Shannon, Geoff Collins and Todd Grantham — have held the title of defensive coordinator for the Gators since the 2010 college season.
Take Dawson, for instance. He was recruited by Muschamp’s staff, played two-plus years for McElwain and had two interim coaches (Shannon and Durkin). That easily can derail a player’s progress during their formative years. That’s three staffs and perhaps three different ways of teaching fundamentals, technique and scheme.
Head coach Urban Meyer left the Gators following the 2010 college season. The Gators did not have as many DBs drafted during his six-year tenure there, but they had a solid hit rate with players such as Joe Haden, Major Wright and Reggie Nelson. Jenkins also played for Meyer.
When Meyer left, that’s when the Gators’ reputation as a DB factory started to turn. And no surprise, but Ohio State has become one of the richest pools of defensive back talent during Meyer’s run there, producing a stunning six first-round picks at safety or corner since 2014.
Gators’ 2020 class must be better, too
In Florida’s opening-game win over Miami last week, two talented defensive backs eligible for the 2020 draft came up small.
To be fair, CBs CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson did a pretty strong job of covering Miami’s talented receivers, K.J. Osborn and Jeff Thomas. The Gators’ corners’ reputation as talented cover men remains accurate. It was also good to see Wilson moving around as well as he did in the game coming off last season’s torn ACL.
However, Henderson made some embarrassing tackle attempts that led to long gains and helped keep the Hurricanes in the game. And Wilson committed about the most ridiculous penalty imaginable when he yanked down Thomas — who was yards short of the first-down marker — on a fourth-and-34 play late in the fourth quarter of a one-score game.
Don’t think NFL scouts didn’t take notice of both players’ extremely shaky moments in that game.
Henderson is likely to leave school after this season, we’ve been told; Wilson, a redshirt sophomore, easily could return for another year. But whenever they come out, they’ll need to answer some questions about their NFL viability if this trend picks up.
We shall not overreact, of course. This was one game in Week 0. Nearly everyone out there in that game looked shaky. But with the recent trend of struggling Gator DBs in the pros and a poor start to this season, Henderson and Wilson have some work to do.
More from Yahoo Sports: