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Gators receiver Ricky Pearsall rockets up NFL draft board, squeaks into 1st round

Florida receiver Ricky Pearsall’s meteoric rise up NFL draft boards ended with Gators’ leading receiver in 2023 selected by the San Francisco 49ers close to midnight Thursday with the No. 31 pick.

Pearsall entered last season a likely mid-round selection. But he steadily increased his value with a productive final season followed by strong showings at the Senior Bowl and NFL scouting combine.

The 23-year-old was the sixth wide receiver selected in extremely deep class at the position. He is the 56th Gators player to go during the first round and continued the program’s unprecedented streak of a player drafted every year since 1954.

Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. (No. 4), LSU’s Malik Nabers (No. 6) and Washington’s Rome Odunze (No. 9) were top-10 draft picks Thursday. LSU’s Brian Thomas Jr. (No. 23) and Texas’ Xavier Worthy (No. 28) were the only other players at Pearsall’s position drafted ahead of him.

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Pearsall’s selection has the 49ers reportedly shopping receiver Deebo Samuel, one of the NFL’s most versatile talents. He accounted for 7 touchdowns receiving and 5 rushing last season.

Pearsall boasts requisite size (6-1, 189) excellent hands, toughness and route-running skills, along with the ability to run after the catch and return punts.

He transferred from Arizona State during the spring 2022 after catching 48 passes for 580 and totaling 4 scores for the 2021 Sun Devils. He soon became the Gators’ top receiver, finishing 2022 with 33 receptions for 661 yards and 5 scores receiving, culminating with 148 yards and 2 TDs at Florida State.

But he spent much of the season managing a foot injury suffered during the first week of fall camp.

“It definitely hindered me,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in August. “But I feel like I can play with any kind of conditions. I made the most out of it.”

Fully healthy in 2023, Pearsall led the Gators with 65 receptions and 965 receiving yards, along with 5 touchdowns. Pearsall finished 35 yards shy of becoming UF’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs, whose 1,088 in 2002 helped earn him the No. 44 selection in the 2003 draft.

He then followed up an impressive week at the Senior Bowl with a breakout performance during the scouting combine. On March 2 in Indianapolis Pearsall ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, bench-pressed 225 pounds a more-than-respectable 17 times and recorded a 10-foot, 9-inch broad jump along with a 42-inch vertical leap.

The Arizona native joins one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, winner of five Super Bowls and home to the game’s all-time leading receiver, Jerry Rice.

The 49ers, who lost Super Bowl LVIII to Kansas City in February 25-22 in overtime, are coached by one of the game’s top offensive minds, Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan’s father, Mike, began his Hall of Fame coaching career as a 26-year-old offensive coordinator in 1980 at UF, where worked under Charley Pell until 1983 before joining the Denver Broncos as a receivers coach.

Pearsall, who is due to sign a contract worth $12.75 million, will join a team featuring some of the league’s most intriguing talents.

Pro Bowl, dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey leads the way. He accounted for 2,023 yards from scrimmage in 2023 — 564 receiving on 67 catches.

Receiver Brandon Aiyuk had 75 catches for 1,342 yards and 7 scores while Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle had 65 receptions for 1,020 yards and 6 scores.

Pearsall’s selection surprised many around the league, including Houston star quarterback CJ Stroud who joined Bleacher Report’s NFL draft coverage and wanted his team to snag Pearsall.

“How was he even on their radar? I’m happy for him though,” Stroud said. “I talked to him a couple times. Congrats, bro, that’s big time. He’s elite. Especially in that offense, Kyle is gonna dial it up for him. That’s why I felt like he was going to fit in our system so well.

“I wanted him bad.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com