Despite Florida struggling on the field in 2017-2018, in the recruiting world, the Gators finished amongst the best in the country. According to 247Sports, Florida checks-in at No. 14 in the country and No. 4 in the conference following the signing day period.
Dan Mullen inherited a crumbling recruiting class upon his arrival to Gainesville. Despite the hand dealt, Mullen and his staff were undeterred in rebuilding a once-broken class.
Let’s take a look below and analyze which areas Florida hit and missed on during the 2018 recruiting cycle.
Where did the Gators succeed?
Quarterback – Florida desperately needed to add a new signal caller this cycle, and Emory Jones (Franklin, Ga.) fits the mold perfectly for Mullen’s spread offensive attack. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound prospect will have the opportunity to compete for the starting job with him enrolling at school early.
Running Back – Arguably Florida’s best offensive unit last season, the running back room continued to get stronger this recruiting cycle. While Jordan Scarlett‘s status remained uncertain, Florida hit the trail hard for running backs. Iverson Clement (5-foot-11, 200-pounds) and Dameon Pierce (5-foot-11, 205-pounds) rounded out the two backs for this class, and both early enrolled for the spring. Pierce will be used primarily in the backfield, while Clement, a more versatile and elusive player, will be utilized all over the field.
Wide Receiver – Whew boy, this receiving corps could go down as one of the best in Gators’ history. Desperately searching for playmakers on the outside, Florida secured commitments from Jacob Copeland (No. 12 WR) and Justin Watkins (No. 16 WR), while also adding grad transfers Van Jefferson (Ole Miss) and Trevon Grimes (Ohio State). Jefferson (6-foot-2, 181-pounds) was the nation’s No. 11 ranked receiver in his class, while Grimes’ (6-foot-3, 202-pounds) listed as the No. 6 receiver in the country.
Full credit goes to Mullen and his staff for reeling in all four prospects, as each committed to the Gators following his arrival. In recent years, Florida’s absence of playmakers has tremendously thwarted the success of this positional unit. When it comes time for the team to trot on the field in September, fans may have to open up their program and reread the roster, as a brand-new unit could start this fall.
Defensive Line/Linebackers – I’m combining these two because of the versatility these prospects will bring to Florida. New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham introduces a 3-4 scheme, which calls for more speed on the edge. After losing Jordan Sherit this season, Florida needed a replacement on the outside. Entering national signing day, the Gators held zero commitments at the defensive end position. Thankfully, that changed in a matter of six hours. Coach Mullen and his staff were able to fight off the Miami Hurricanes and Alabama Crimson Tide for the signatures of Andrew Chatfield (6-foot-2, 221-pounds) and Malik Langham (6-foot-5, 270-pounds). I expect Chatfield, who’s a little underweight for defensive end, to join David Reese II as an outside linebacker. Reese II is the only linebacker commit this cycle, but with all three starters from last year joining, he will add much needed depth for the middle of the defense.
Safety – Florida’s secondary struggled mightily last season, especially at the safety position. Defenses had zero problem torching a once-prominent defensive backfield. The Gators established safeties as a priority this cycle and nailed it, signing four safety prospects. Unfortunately, due to medical reasons, 3-star safety Randy Russell will not be able to pursue a career in football. This leaves Florida’s class with three safeties. Trey Dean (6-foot-2, 180-pounds) is the most physical defensive back in this class and could make an immediate impact to the unit. Along with Dean, the additions of John Huggins (6-foot, 200-pounds) and Amari Burney (6-foot-1, 215-pounds) will add competition and depth to the position.
Which positions could have been improved?
Corner – During the 2018 cycle, Florida aimed to land one outside defensive back. Unfortunately, Florida whiffed on their recruiting board for this position. Entering signing day, Florida’s staff felt confident on landing Noah Boykin (Washington, D.C.), however, he spurned the Gators for Notre Dame. The 2019 class presents a plethora of talent at corner and Florida’s objective is to sign one or two prospects from this position.
Defensive Tackle – Florida would have liked to add more beef on the interior portion of the defensive line, but it leaves the 2018 cycle with zero defensive tackle signees. Transitioning to a 3-4 attack requires heavier bodies to close the middle of the defense. Although Florida fought til the end against Miami for Nesta Silvera, it wasn’t enough to flip the hometown Canes’ pledge. Mississippi State signee Fabien Lovett gave Florida a look down the stretch, visiting the final weekend before national signing day. Unfortunately, Lovett decided to remain in his home state of Mississippi. Expect defensive tackle to be a priority in the 2019 cycle.
Offensive Line – While Florida retains all five members of their offensive line, the high level of play has not been there for this group. Establishing a solid front five equips the quarterback with enough time to go through his progressions and generally manage the offense, something Florida has missed the last eight years or so. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “miss” on the trail this cycle, but not landing Nicholas Petit-Frere or William Barnes has to hurt in some regard. Of the four offensive linemen signed this class, only one was a blue-star prospect – Richard Gouraige. Coach Mullen and his staff will relentlessly pursue the top offensive line prospects in the 2019 cycle.
All-in-all, a tremendous effort from Coach Mullen and Co. for putting together a terrific transition class. Gator faithful shouldn’t be complaining. After witnessing the accomplishments Mullen achieved in only two-months on the trail, Gator nation should be thrilled to see how this staff performs with a full-calendar year.