Playing in the NFL is the dream of every little kid that straps on a football helmet and shoulder pads and takes a field. As they progress to high school and then college the dream intensifies as the talent and workload increases to be able to continue to play.
More than 1 million people participate in high school football and only 7.3% of them (roughly 73,312) play in college across the three divisions, while only 2.9% play Division I football, where the majority of NFL draft picks come from. Once you get to the college level, only 11 percent of Power 5 college athletes are drafted, while that percentage drastically decreases to 3.8% of players throughout the entirety of college football.
Last week the NFL Draft was held giving 256 college football players the opportunity to hear their name called and be chosen by one of the 32 NFL teams, turning their dream of being a professional football player into reality. When Houston linebacker Grant Stuard’s name was announced as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers final pick in the seventh round the draft was complete and Florida Gators linebacker Trevon Grimes’ hadn’t heard his name called.
Grimes, a 6-4 receiver, Grimes was third on the Gators’ with 38 receptions in 202. He hauled in nine touchdowns and amassed 589 yards in his final college season. Grimes originally signed with Ohio State but transferred to Florida after one season with the Buckeyes. He played in all 13 games for the Gators in 2018, starting the team’s bowl game (26 receptions, 364 yards, 14.0 average, two touchdowns). Grimes started 11 of 13 games played as a junior, posting 33 receptions for 491 yards (14.9 per) and three scores. Grimes opted out of the Cotton Bowl but accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, where he had a good week working out, practicing, and playing in front of NFL scouts.
While Grimes’ dream of being drafted wasn’t realized he did sign a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he reunites with former Florida offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. Making the 53-person roster is hard and even more difficult for a player that a team didn’t invest a draft pick on. Grimes isn’t alone in this endeavor. Offensive lineman Brett Heggie and safety Donovan Stiner also signed free agent deals and the trio of Gators have several former Florida players who have gone on to have great careers after going undrafted.
Here are five examples of Florida Gators who went undrafted but have gone on to have successful careers in the NFL
Burton was a Swiss Army knife for the Gators, playing quarterback, tight end, receiver, and even has a few carries to his name while in Gainesville. Burton gained instant fame after a six-touchdown performance against Kentucky during his freshman season but never really had a defined role when on offense during Will Muschamp’s tenure.
Burton went undrafted but, like Grimes, signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. Burton’s pass helped the Eagles win their first title since 1960. He parlayed that play into a huge free agent contract with the Chicago Bears. Over his career, Burton has played in 98 games has 159 catches for 1,532 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Another receiver for Grimes to hang his hat on is David Nelson. A late bloomer, Nelson caught the jump pass that sealed the Gators’ last National Championship. Nelson finished his career at Florida with 46 catches for 630 yards (13.7 avg.) and seven touchdowns in his five seasons.
Nelson played five years in the NFL with the Bills and Jets, hauling in 138 passes and scored 10 touchdowns.
Matthews rose the ranks at Flordia all the way from a forgotten fifth teamer to the starting quarterback. While that didn’t parlay itself into being drafted, he was able to sign and played in the league for 14 seasons, a very long career. Matthews spent most of those 14 years as a backup but did play in 32 games throwing 31 touchdowns
Poole played all over the secondary while at Florida but really found a home at nickel. He was always a sure tackler in Gainesville. Poole played in 49 games as a Gator where he had 120 tackles and six interceptions.
In his five seasons in the NFL, Poole has seven interceptions, six sacks, and 293 tackles. He originally signed with Dan Quinn and the Atlanta Falcons, where he played in a Super Bowl before playing three seasons with the New York Jets, where he still is.
Dunbar was one of the most consistent receivers in Florida’s arsenal during his 48-game career in Gainesville. He had a streak of 32 games with at least one reception. His best season was as a junior. He started 12 games and caught 40 passes for 548 yards (13.7 yards per catch).
The Washington Football team took a chance on him but he didn’t make his mark at receiver. Washington made the decision to move Dunbar to cornerback due to roster and depth chart needs and that’s where he’s made his money in the league. Dunbar has 10 interceptions and 40 tackles. He recently signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Lions.