GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The remaining members of Florida’s 2016 class will report to campus in less than a month. Here’s one last look back before they begin summer workouts.
The Gators didn’t have the sprint to signing day in coach Jim McElwain’s full recruiting cycle as they had the year before: McElwain and his staff landed 15 recruits during the final two weeks of the 2015 cycle.
Florida’s 2016 class came together much sooner and more methodically with 12 months to work with. The Gators brought in an unprecedented 13 mid-year enrollees, who proved to be the strength of the class and also allowed the coaches to get a head start on 2017 recruiting.
The January enrollees provided depth at key positions during spring football, and the three junior college transfers showed their worth in the Orange & Blue Debut. Some of the incoming freshmen will offer another boost of talent.
STARS OF THE CLASS
UF lost a couple recruits on signing day, but wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland overshadowed them with his flip from Houston to the Gators. He’s arguably the most important signee in the class because of the need for more offensive weapons. Auburn beat out Florida for in-state receivers Nate Craig-Myers and Eli Stove, but the Gators ended up with a prospect who was ranked higher and outperformed them during Under Armour All-America week. Here’s the story behind Cleveland’s commitment.
Antonneous Clayton is another UF signee who dominated during Under Armour All-America week. He became a five-star defensive end for Rivals and a top-10 overall recruit on ESPN. Auburn and Florida State tried to flip Clayton months after his commitment to Florida, but he shut down his recruitment and signed with the Gators. Their ability to fend off the two teams from the 2013 national title game was a good sign for McElwain and Co.
UF also went toe-to-toe with LSU to flip Elite 11 quarterback Feleipe Franks from the Tigers. His commitment at the end of November gave the Gators recruiting momentum for the December and January periods, which was needed with the way their season ended and the uncertainty for suspended starter Will Grier, who has since transferred to West Virginia. Franks will likely redshirt and needs to develop as a passer, which he’s well aware of. Still, Franks is the first high-profile quarterback McElwain has signed.
THREE WHO COULD PLAY RIGHT AWAY
The Gators lost three starters in the secondary from last year’s team, and versatile defensive back Chauncey Gardner will help fill at least one of those voids from a depth standpoint. He was ranked the nation’s No. 4 cornerback, but can also play nickel and safety. Gardner lined up at all three spots for UF this spring and came along relatively fast as an early enrollee.
Mark Thompson, the nation’s No. 1 junior college running back, will challenge for the starting job. He brings a different element to Florida’s run game with his imposing size, which has already drawn a comparison to reigning Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. The Gators could be a running back by committee this year, but Thompson will have a prominent role in the rotation.
UF signed five wide receivers, and all of them could potentially see the field this fall, but none may have a bigger impact than Dre Massey. The junior college transfer quickly established himself as a starter during spring practice, though he was aided by the absence of Brandon Powell (foot). Powell’s return for preseason camp could take away from Massey’s first-team reps, but both will play plenty in the slot.
TWO BIGGEST SURPRISES
One thing we learned in the Orange & Blue Debut is that true freshman quarterback Kyle Trask, a high school backup and two-star recruit, belongs at Florida. His commitment to the Gators last summer was more of a head-scratcher than a surprise, but he became the story of the spring (a must-read).
Arkansas didn’t just miss on Cleveland on signing day. The Razorbacks also lost a commitment from junior college cornerback Joseph Putu, who literally made a last-second flip to UF despite never visiting the school and receiving an offer in the eleventh hour.
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Barring any late developments such as a transcript delay, all of Florida’s signees appear good to go for summer enrollment. The three commitments who had academic concerns — defensive tackle Shavar Manuel and cornerbacks Antonio Nelson and Aaron Robinson — all left the class on signing day.
Florida’s 2016 class finished just outside the top 10 in team rankings, but this is an impressive and valuable group. McElwain overhauled Florida’s offensive personnel with these signees, and the Gators also began expanding their national recruiting footprint. Most importantly, the UF coaches showed they can identify and evaluate prospects, as many of their three-star commits turned out to be better than their rating. Those trends have continued in the 2017 cycle, which bodes extremely well for the future.
- Strength of Florida’s class lies not in February signees, but January’s enrollees
- 5 things Jim McElwain likes about Florida’s class
- Grading the class: How Florida fared on Signing Day
- Signing Day Central for Florida
Unless otherwise indicated, rankings and ratings come from the 247Sports Composite.
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi