Florida coach Jim McElwain did not hesitate to play true freshmen during his first two years in Gainesville.
Remember the freshmen from 2016: offensive lineman Jawaan Taylor, running back Lamical Perine and, at the end of the season, defensive back Chauncey Gardner, linebacker David Reese and wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland.
And from 2015: running back Jordan Scarlett, defensive end CeCe Jefferson and offensive lineman Martez Ivey.
McElwain’s third season with the Gators should be no different.
These three true freshmen have the potential to make an immediate impact in 2017.
1. DL T.J. Slaton
T.J. Slaton, a 6-foot-4, 349-pound lineman, is Florida’s highest-ranked recruit in the 2017 class. Slaton played mostly offensive line during his high school career, but he is expected to play on the defensive line for the Gators. His presence will be needed since the Gators’ top two defensive tackles from last season — Joey Ivie and Caleb Brantley — are now pursuing NFL careers. If Slaton makes an immediate impact during fall camp, he will find himself in the rotation early in the season.
2. DB Marco Wilson
Florida will count on at least one freshman to step up at cornerback this season following the departure of Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson.
The Gators have five true freshmen at the position, but Marco Wilson — Quincy’s younger brother — could be the one who cracks the starting lineup. Wilson is a 4-star cornerback who excelled at American Heritage High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He showcased solid play recognition and ball skills as a senior, which helped him garner high school All-America honors from USA Today.
Should Wilson have trouble adjusting to the college level right away, Florida’s other freshmen at cornerback are Christopher Henderson, Brad Stewart, Shawn Davis and Brian Edwards.
3. ATH Kadarius Toney
Kadarius Toney likely won’t crack the starting lineup in 2017, but the versatile athlete has the tools to be a threat on offense. He spent the spring taking reps with the quarterbacks, but his ability to make plays with his feet in open space is what will give him a chance to see the field. McElwain could design Wildcat-type packages around Toney, giving him the chance to run option plays. Or, McElwain could put him in the backfield as a running back or line him up as a receiver. The possibilities, while not endless, have enough potential to warrant making him a part of the offense.