The Florida cornerback landed in Detroit after a roller-coaster ride over the past nine months. Former Gators cornerback Jalen Tabor was Detroit’s second-round pick on Friday night in the NFL Draft. (Photo: Madison Schultz/For UAA Communications) GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The moment finally arrived late Friday night when the Detroit Lions called to break the news.
Jalen Tabor, one of the most intriguing players in this year’s NFL Draft, learned he was Detroit’s second-round pick and the 53rd player selected overall. The phone call capped a whirlwind nine months for Tabor, Florida’s junior cornerback who opted to leave school a year early to chase his lifelong vision.
The dream started when he was 4 on the flag football fields around Bowie, Md., where he lived until high school. Something clicked in young Tabor’s mind. Football became an obsession, one he has tackled vigorously ever since.
"He was a wide receiver and very competitive,” said Merri Tabor, Jalen’s mom. "I saw it then. He was so competitive."
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Tabor flashed his competitiveness in a different way. Projected as a first-round pick most of his junior season, Tabor’s stock began to drop when he ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February.
The critics began to pick Tabor apart. Fans of other schools in the Southeastern Conference, especially those on Rocky Top, tossed verbal jabs at Tabor on social media. The mock drafts moved Tabor into the second and third rounds. Tabor didn’t help himself at UF’s Pro Day in March when his 40 times registered in the 4.7s.
In typical Tabor fashion – he prefers Teez and even had the UF sports information department refer to him by that name in his final season – he fired back with a headline-worthy soundbite to those who drew a correlation between his slower-than-expected 40 times and his ability as one of college football’s top cornerbacks.
"Just press play,” he said, referring to his game film.
At his draft party on Friday, Merri designed T-shirts with that slogan across the front. Soon after Tabor got the call from Detroit, he was on a conference call with reporters.
One of the first questions Tabor was asked centered on why he repeatedly said over the past several months that he was the best player in the draft and whether he still felt that way.
"Yes,” Tabor replied. "That statement just shows a lot about my confidence in myself and the type of confidence you have to have to play cornerback and football. That’s just saying that I’m not going to back down from any challenge when I step on the field."
Spend time with Tabor and you quickly realize there are two Tabors. Jalen is the football player and outspoken public figure, the guy who became popular with Florida fans and the media in his three years in Gainesville. Teez, which he has tattooed on his arm, is more subdued and reflective and wants to make a difference back in the community around Friendship Collegiate […]