With the signing of defensive back Chris Steele and the verbal commitment of wide receiver Arjei Henderson, Dan Mullen is riding some significant momentum heading into national signing day.
The Gators have jumped up to 11th in the national rankings and fifth in the SEC. That’s because Steele is the highest ranked recruit (41st) that Florida has been able to sign thus far and Henderson is the fifth highest (140th).
Mullen has already outperformed Jim McElwain on the recruiting trail thus far. McElwain never had a class with a 247Sports point total higher than 261.0. Mullen’s current class has a score of 263.5.
But of course, McElwain isn’t the standard bearer at Florida. One of the reasons – among many – that he is no longer around is because of his recruiting futility.
So what can we expect from Mullen for this class heading into signing day?
It makes sense to look at what Gators coaches have done in the past in their “bump” classes.
Mullen already has a comparable number of blue-chip recruits compared to Ron Zook and Will Muschamp’s second-year classes and slightly less than Urban Meyer. Those coaches both had top-3 classes though, mostly because of the level of top-tier players in the classes.
With the addition of Steele and the jump in the rankings for Tyron Hopper (80th), Florida now boasts two top-100 players and 11 top-300 players. The latter number compares well to previous classes but the former does not. The level of top-tier talent (as rated by the recruiting services) is currently lacking.
The Signing Day Picture
That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise that Florida – with its limited number of slots available – is focusing on top-100 talent to finish this class. Of the 10 players who have taken official visits to Gainesville and have yet to sign, seven are rated in the top-90.
This is a far cry from last season during Mullen’s transition class. Last February, Mullen had legitimate shots at three top-100 players: Nicolas Petit-Frere, Nesta Silvera and Jacob Copeland. He was able to hit on Copeland but Petit-Frere and Silvera decided to go elsewhere.
If Mullen can hit at that same rate, he’ll bring home three of the players on the above list. If they are all top-100 players, that would launch Florida up the national rankings. More importantly, it would raise the top-100 players to 5 with 14 top-300 players, much more in line with Florida’s coaches before McElwain.
By my count, Florida can sign 27 players (owing to the transfer of Jonathan Greenard from Louisville) this cycle. It’s possible that number is 28 depending on how early signees have been counted going back a few years, but five more signees seems pretty unlikely.
So what are the best and worst-case scenarios?
The worst-case scenario is that Florida doesn’t sign any other players and that Henderson and linebacker Diwun Black don’t sign either. That is a really unlikely outcome for many reasons, but until the LOIs are submitted is always a possibility.
A more realistic scenario is that Florida signs Henderson, Black and adds defensive back Kaiir Elam. That would put Florida at 271.20 points, which from 2014-2018 would have finished 9th.
With a commitment from Elam and Moore, Florida likely finishes 8th. With commitments from Elam, Moore and Richards, Florida likely finishes 7th. Finally – in what is the best-case scenario for the Gators – Florida likely finishes 5th by signing Elam, Moore, Richards and Bogle.
Just from a need perspective, Mullen could really use defensive line help. Thus, the commitment of someone like defensive end Khris Bogle or defensive tackles Charles Moore or Nathan Pickering may be more valuable to him than a flip of safety Nick Cross.
But because many of the players left on the board are ranked very similarly, who commits isn’t all that important from a rankings perspective.
Now don’t misunderstand me. Their commitments are important and will significantly impact Florida’s ranking. But should only one commit, the difference in ranking between a commitment from Moore (69th nationally) or a commitment from Bogle (71st nationally) is minimal.
If you’d have asked me before the season whether Florida would have a top-5 class, I would have told you no way.
I think it’s most likely that Florida finishes with Elam and one other top-100 player and ends up eighth. That’s not likely good enough to compete yearly with Alabama and Georgia, but it’s building far beyond where McElwain had the program.
I wrote back in June that if Mullen kept up his hit-rate of elite recruits, the Gators would finish ninth with a best-case realistic finish of seventh. That best-case finish would have required eight players in the top-150 to finish off the class at a point total of 284.0.
If Mullen finishes this class with Elam, Moore, Richards and Bogle, he will have signed eight players in the top-150 since June, plus Diwun Black (currently ranked 152). That is an unbelievable finish for a coach who has never been seen as an elite recruiter. It would also be bucking historical trends for coaches improving recruiting classes significantly after a good first season on the field.
Combine that with much faster starts for the 2020 (2 of 7 top-100 players) and 2021 classes (4 of 6 top-100 players) and Mullen is starting to answer the one question that Gators fans had about him when he was hired. Can he recruit with Kirby?
Because that’s the only question left for Mullen to answer. We already know he can outcoach him.