College Football, Florida Gators, Recruiting

Strong February finish can supplement Gators early signing day haul

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Now that Florida is two days past the Early Signing Period, the initial hype is dying down. However, that just means the opinions of the highly optimistic and pessimistic are fading and a consensus opinion is setting in. “Good not great,” is what most onlookers will see about Dan Mullen’s bump class.

17th overall, 6th in the SEC, and zero five stars looks alarming to a base foaming at the mouth for a National Championship. But, plenty of positives and upside are there to marinate on until February. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Gator Football’s Signing Day, plus how the program can finish strong.

Pros

A top 20 class

This may not have been the goal, but the class is plenty respectable. 62% of signees are four stars, which is good for those who love stars. But, Mullen is a developer of talent instead of a star seeker. For example, his two best quarterbacks at Mississippi State were three-star prospects Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald.

This year at Florida, Mullen brings in four-star dual-threat QB Jalon Jones (who will enroll early). TE Keon Zipperer is the class’ highest rated signee (.9410) and will join a tight end group of Kyle Pitts (.9334) and Kemore Gamble (.8987). Mullen loves a throw to a tight end and Zipperer will try to replace seniors C’yontai Lewis and RJ Raymond at the position.

(almost) all verbal commits signed

Florida signed 17/18 verbal commits. The only signature missing was the one of Diwun Black, who did not sign due to personal reasons that have nothing to do with a wavering decision.

Not even Alabama signed all of its verbals once Daxton Hill flipped back to Michigan. As Florida State showed, keeping your verbal commits from flipping can be just as important as adding new names.

For Florida, LB Tyron Hopper and CB Jaydon Hill stuck with the Gators, despite late pushes from South Carolina.

some of the class is stronger than numbers show

Depending on who you ask, ratings mean a lot when it comes to on the field performance. However, like anything, considering the context of those ratings is important.

Nay’Quan Wright’s injured ankle moved him from a ~.96 rating to a .9063. Diwun Black’s highest composite national rating was #49 before a missed senior season dropped him to #149. Jaydon Hill is currently rated .9048, but he tore his ACL during his senior season. Chester Kimbrough was also dropped from a four-star to a three-star, so it will be interesting to see which rating is correct once he enrolls.

lb/ol

If Black is able to sign in February, Florida will have three four-star linebacker signees. Mohamoud Diabate’s rating is .9288 and Tyron Hopper’s is .9376. Three-star Jesiah Pierre rounds out the group.

On the offensive line, the Gators really filled a position of need. Seniors Martez Ivey, Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson will be gone, and Jawaan Taylor may be a top-10 pick. That leaves center Nick Buchanan as the only returning starter.

Mullen responded by signing seven players at the position. Deyavie Hammond is the highest rated at .9262, but four-stars Michael Tarquin, William Harrod, and Wardrick Wilson make up a deep class that is supported by three-stars Riley Simonds, Ethan White, and Kingsley Eguakun.

Props to C-Rob and John Hevesy for bringing in great players in positions of need.

Cons

a top 20 class

A top-20 class was not the goal after this season. In the SEC recruiting rankings, Florida currently trails Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU, and Tennessee. On the field, the Gators topped LSU, killed Tennessee, and had a better record than TAMU. The fact that this did not translate into a higher ranking is slightly concerning.

Fortunately, the roster might not look much different next year. As of today, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is the only junior entering the draft. The most notable departing seniors are OL Martez Ivey and DE CeCe Jefferson. Former three star Jachai Polite had the strongest season out of the Gators’ DE’s and Mullen says Polite may return next year.

missed out on some targets

Yes, Mullen brought in the trio of four-stars from Lakeland High School. But, five other Florida targets signed elsewhere. The most notable name in that group was five-star RB Trey Sanders, who will enroll at Alabama. However, Sanders’ move is mitigated by the Gators signing of 4-star recruit Nay’Quan Wright along with Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement in last year’s class.

In my opinion, DE Derick Hunter (TAMU) and DT Siaki Ika (LSU) were the bigger misses. DE Lloyd Summerall and DT Jaelin Humphries are big-time gets. But highly ranked players on the defensive line appears to translate to elite defensive play. With all the injuries that occur over an SEC schedule, Hunter and Ika would have provided both talent and depth.

There are still highly rated defensive players on the board and so in February these may not look like misses.

defense

Besides linebacker, there are only four defensive signees. At corner, Florida brings in four-star Jaydon Hill and three-star Chester Kimbrough. Four-star Jaelin Humphries (DT) and four-star Lloyd Summerall (DE) are the only signees at their positions as 3-star Brandon Dorlus chose to go to Oregon.

As I said before, this could  turn out to be a good thing. The team is still vetting four stars Chris Steele and Kaiir Elam at CB, although neither prospect is a sure thing. Steele still has USC in his backyard and in the mix for his services. Gators legacy Kaiir Elam will choose between Florida and Georgia. Plus, Florida also hopes to get five-star CB Akeem Dent (FSU verbal commit), four-star DE Byron Young (Alabama verbal commit), and four-star DE Nathan Pickering (Mississippi State verbal commit), and four-star CB Marcus Banks on campus.

Wild Card WR Group

The staff only signed two three-star wide receivers in the 2019 class in Ja’Markis Weston and Dionte Marks. Weston and Marks will join Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Trevon Grimes, and Jacob Copeland, plus Rick Wells and Daquon Green unless the latter two transfer.

The first five receivers are a deep group, meaning Weston and Marks will probably have to really earn playing time as true freshmen. However, once Swain, Cleveland, and Hammond graduate in 2020, the team will be left with Grimes and Copeland at the core, unless Grimes chooses to pursue an NFL career after his junior season.

Fortunately, Mullen seems ecstatic about the new additions, especially Weston. Mullen told reporters that Weston “has the potential to have a very special career” at Florida. SEC Network Analyst Chris Doering is really high on him too.

Also, don’t overlook the Billy Gonzales effect.

It’s easy to look at the success of elite recruits Percy Harvin, Chad Jackson, O’Dell Beckham, Jr. and Reuben Randle and assume that Gonzales excels because he has elite talent.

But Gonzales has coached 10 All SEC receivers, 7 first-teamers. Not all of those players were 5-star recruits.

De’Runnya Wilson (3-star, 891 overall) developed into a second-team All-SEC player under Gonzales tutelage at Mississippi State.  And who can forget this guy…

Dallas Baker came to Gainesville as a 3-star (455 overall) rated recruit. When Gonzales showed up in Gainesville, Baker’s production jumped from 26 catches in 2004 to 52 catches in 2005. Florida doesn’t win the championship without him.

February Finish

All in all, 17th in the country and 6th after the early signing period does leave room for improvement. Fortunately there is still time for that to happen and for Mullen to finish strong.

If Florida can add at least two of Steele, Elam, Dent, Young, Banks, and Pickering (which I think it will), I think Mullen and the rest of the staff will be able to ride that momentum into 2020.

Add three and Florida may still break into the top-10 of the rankings.

Featured image used via Creative Commons license courtesy Ross on the Road

1 Comment

  1. Ben

    Great write up! However, you left out Van Jefferson? He has NOT yet declared for the N. F. L….Unless you know something the rest of us don’t…

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