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January 07, 2013

Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins leaving Florida for NFL Draft

Redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins (3) returns an interception against Florida State on Nov. 14. (Photo: Brett LeBlanc, brettleblanc.com)

Florida redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins has decided to forgo his final season of eligibility and declare for the NFL draft, the school said Monday in a release.

Jenkins was mired by injuries this season, playing in just nine games while dealing with a broken thumb and hamstring issues. Still, Jenkins' ability in coverage has caught the eye of NFL scouts, and linebackers that can stick with the new breed of athletic tight ends at the next level are becoming more and more coveted.

"Jelani informed me that he wishes to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL," coach Will Muschamp said in the release. "We wish him the best of luck and encourage him to return to Florida and complete his degree."

Jenkins recorded 29 tackles, including five tackles for a loss, and a pair of sacks, two quarterback hurries and one interception. He also came up with the game-saving touchdown on a return of a blocked punt to beat Louisiana in the final seconds.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay in October called Jenkins "the best cover linebacker in college football today" citing his speed, instincts and anticipation in coverage. Because of those attributes, McShay said Jenkins could be drafted as high as the second round. It's unclear how his injury history could affect that grade, but a strong showing at UF's pro day and the NFL combine could make Jenkins a coveted player at some point in the draft come April. However, the chance exists that teams are reluctant to take a chance and Jenkins could go undrafted.

Florida has now had four redshirt juniors declare early for the draft with Jenkins joining safety Matt Elam, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and tight end Jordan Reed.

The Gators now have room to sign up to 30 recruits in this year's class, which will be finalized in early February.

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