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UF’s Ricky Pearsall sees NFL draft stock rise amid deep 2024 class

GAINESVILLE — Florida wide receiver Ricky Pearsall continued to elevate, raised his outstretched right arm and snagged the football out of the night sky under the lights of the Swamp.

A one-handed, 27-yard reception Sept. 23 against Charlotte instantly ranked among the best in the Gators’ illustrious history, soon went viral on social media and signaled the 23-year-old’s arrival as one of the SEC’s top pass-catchers.

Pearsall’s hands, hops and fearlessness were on full display. His rise has continued ever since, positioning him as one of the top receivers in a jam-packed 2024 NFL Draft class.

He will learn where he lands beginning with Thursday’s first round. Rounds 2 and 3 are Friday, followed Saturday by rounds 4-7.

“It’s a strong receiver group where it would be easy to get lost in the shuffle; he’s not going to be lost in that group,” longtime ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. told the Orlando Sentinel. “I see no way he gets out of the second round. It wouldn’t shock me if he went early in the second round.”

Pearsall entered 2023 with NFL promise, but with a mid-round grade and much to prove.

He 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.

Pearsall was just getting started.

A strong performance during January’s Senior Bowl week bolstered his resumé.

“That’s one of the most beneficial things because you’re actually playing football,” he said March 21 at UF’s Pro Day. “You’re going out there with the pads on.”

When the pads came off at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, Pearsall put on a show March 2 for the NFL’s 32 teams.

At 6-foot-1, 189 pounds, he 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.

“He tested off the charts,” Kiper said.

Pearsall didn’t feel he did anything extraordinary. It was, however, enough for him to sit out Gators Pro Day.

“That was a surprise to them. It wasn’t a surprise to me,” he said of his combine showing. “But as much as I wanted to prove them wrong, I just was trying to prove myself right.”

During receiving drills, Pearsall’s skills were spot on. Yet, soft hands have long been his selling point. Size and speed have been the knock since his days at Arizona State.

After three seasons with the Sun Devils, Pearsall left his Tempe, Ariz., home and the Pac-12 for SEC country to prove himself in the nation’s top football conference and NFL talent producer.

“That SEC logo … it spoke volumes to me when I was making my decision,” he said. “Being able to put on tape that I can excel in the Pac-12 as well as in the SEC was really important for myself. I wanted to go against the best competition.”

Pearsall now will square off against the deepest receiver crop in some time.

Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr., LSU’s Malik Nabers and Washington’s Rome Odunze are potential top-10 draft picks. A half dozen or more wideouts are likely be drafted during each of the first two rounds, according to Kiper.

Kiper projects Pearsall No. 10 among his peers. But perhaps no one’s stock has risen more in the entire draft.

“Based on where he was in August to where he is now, you could make that argument,” Kiper said.

Pearsall is keeping quiet. To him, whatever happens this week is inevitable.

“This is something that I’ve always wanted,” he said. “So I’ve expected this. It’s just a blessing.”

Edgar Thompson can be reached at egthompson@orlandosentinel.com