Dan Mullen is going to set a course for the Florida Gators football program on Wednesday’s National Signing Day.
I’ve outlined how the defensive front-seven is how elite Power-5 teams build. It’s no coincidence that after getting QB Emory Jones to commit that Florida has now zeroed in on that side of the ball. Defensive tackle Nesta Silvera (54th nationally), DE Caleb Tannor (328), DE Andrew Chatfield (213) and DE Malcolm Lamar (222) are all considering the Gators.
On the offensive side of the ball, Florida is after offensive tackles Nicholas Petit-Frere (7), William Barnes (53), Richard Gouraige (81) and wide receiver Jacob Copeland (69). Combine that with the commitment of Justin Watkins (89) and the Gators looked primed for a strong close.
But none of that says anything about what these players will do on the field. And that’s really what’s important. How many of them will contribute and how much?
How many of these commitments will contribute?
In the era of recruiting rankings, four transition classes have occurred at Florida in 2002, 2005, 2011 and 2015. The fact that they have been so frequent at Florida does give us a window to predict many recruits will contribute and how much.
I went through each of the transition classes for Ron Zook, Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain. I then marked players who got playing time and players who started more than three games and calculated how many of those starters came from the 247Sports composite top-300 players.
The average class has about 20 commits, with 12 of them getting playing time and 7 turning into starters. Of those, 63 percent of the starters will be from the top-300 nationally. Mullen currently stands at 16 commits, with 8 of those sitting within the top-300 (nine 4-star players).
So we can likely expect Mullen to add somewhere between 3 and 5 commits on NSD. And based on his percentages, probably between 2 and 3 of those to be top-300 players. With all the potential commits that doesn’t sound too great until you realize that could mean a close like Petit-Frere, Copeland, Silvera, and 3-star junior college defensive end Dorian Gerald.
That would put Mullen at 20 commits and 11 top-300 commits. That would also put Florida at 270.8 points using 247Sports class calculator, which would likely put the Gators’ class somewhere around 9th nationally.
But more importantly than that, it would mean that based on the percentages shown in the above chart, Mullen would likely be able to count on getting contributions from at least 12 players and have seven contribute as starters over their careers. Of those starters, four or five would likely be top-300 players.
How much will these players contribute?
But just starting isn’t the goal. Contributing explosive plays is the goal. So how have the recruits in these transition classes performed?
The above chart shows the career production of the 16 top-300 players recruited in the last four transition classes. I have ignored the two top-300 players who started on the offensive line (Randy Hand (2002) and Martez Ivey (2015)) because offensive line stats are hard to get and interpret.
You’ll often hear experts say that the easiest place to contribute early is running back. This has certainly been true for the Gators transition classes, as they have been large contributors over their careers. This includes an All American (Ciatrick Fason), a starter on a national championship team (DeShawn Wynn) and significant potential for a current player (Jordan Scarlett).
But there has been plenty of production elsewhere as well. Linebacker Channing Crowder is the other All American on this list of players. Ryan Stamper, Brian Crum, David Nelson and Louis Murphy all contributed to national championships. Even at QB – an absolute train wreck for Florida – the production from Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel wasn’t terrible, albeit much of it for other programs.
Of the 18 players, it is likely that 10 will end up drafted into the NFL. These are really solid players and a couple we might argue were great. But there aren’t any transcendent players on the list, and that’s probably what we should expect to see from Mullen’s class. There will be for or five solid contributors, but the likelihood that one of them is a program changer is minimal.
What about year two?
That’s because the transcendent players come in year two.
The above chart shows that – on average – four more players will commit in the second class and four more players will see significant playing time. The number of starters coming from that class goes up to 10.8 (from 7.3) and almost 70 percent of the starters will be top-300 nationally ranked recruits.
The second year classes include lots of familiar names. Ron Zook brought in Andre Caldwell, Chris Leak, Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson and Earl Everett. Urban Meyer brought in Percy Harvin, Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, and Marcus Gilbert. Will Muschamp brought in D.J. Humphries, Jonathan Bullard, Dante Fowler, Brian Poole and Marcus Maye.
And this is where Jim McElwain’s recruiting futility really shows up. The names on his second year list certainly have some successes (Tyrie Cleveland, Chauncey Gardner). But it also has a bunch of misses as well, at least so far (Antonneous Clayton, Feleipe Franks, Freddie Swain, Mark Thompson, Joshua Hammond).
And that isn’t really those players’ fault. It’s strictly the numbers.
What the above chart shows is that 54 percent of blue chip recruits brought in during the first two classes of each coach ended up with some starting role. McElwain is just slightly above that average, indicating that the players he did bring in were getting onto the field at a similar rate to previous classes.
The problem is that there were only 14 blue chip players compared to an average of 25 for the other three regimes. That means that while the percentage of blue chip starters vs. total commits was between 29-32 percent for Zook, Meyer and Muschamp, that number was 17 percent for McElwain.
The problem wasn’t that his 4 and 5-star recruits weren’t developing. The problem is that only half of those recruits ever develop. With the reduced numbers overall, when someone like Feleipe Franks struggled, there wasn’t anybody else to step in.
Maybe there isn’t a better example than the QB position under Zook and Meyer. Gavin Dickey was the 42nd ranked player nationally. Josh Portis was ranked 98th. Both of those QBs were passed on the depth chart by Chris Leak and Tim Tebow from the second recruiting class.
And if you want to target where Florida has gone wrong at the position since Meyer left, it’s pretty clear. Muschamp brought in Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in 2011. That might be seen as ideal, except that once Driskel won the job, Brissett was going to transfer. Skyler Mornhinweg and Max Staver were the recruits who came in 2012 and 2013, dooming the team when Driskel struggled.
The McElwain regime was even worse. He didn’t bring in a QB in the transition class in 2015, instead relying on Will Grier and Treon Harris. That left only Feleipe Franks and transfers to fill the void when Grier was suspended and transferred.
Perhaps if Grier hadn’t been busted for PEDs, the story is significantly different. But based on the health history of Florida’s QBs recently, it’s just as likely he would have been knocked out with an injury and Florida would have experienced the exact same result.
Mullen has addressed having a QB in the transition class with Emory Jones. While Jones is highly ranked (85th nationally), so were Portis, Dickey and even Franks. Maybe he turns into a transcendent player. But Mullen would be wise to have another elite QB recruit lined up for 2019 just to be sure (think Jake Fromm).
Regardless, because of the talent deficit from the McElwain regime, I’m expecting there will probably be about eight starters from this class, six of them top-300 players. That’s really good for a transition class, but will need to be improved in year two if Florida is going to get back to competing with Alabama and Georgia.
The good news is that Mullen looks like he’s well on his way to being able to achieve that.
McElwain only had 14 blue chip recruits in his first two recruiting cycles. Mullen already has nine, with the potential to add two or three more, or even four or five if he closes strong. That will be better than Zook and Muschamp, and on-par with what Meyer did in 2005 depending on how you count (4-star and 5-star or top-300).
But the take-home message is the same as it’s been since early signing day. Mullen has the program trending up from a talent perspective. He feels confident enough in where he is that last week during official visits, he promised national championships to the crowd at the O’Connell Center.
And while AD Scott Stricklin may be taking credit for removing the SEC East championship banners from The Swamp, make no mistake that Mullen is the one setting the expectations that just winning the SEC East is no longer acceptable.
The message is clear: the days of being happy with a participation trophy are over.