GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In his first full recruiting cycle as Florida football coach, Jim McElwain signed the nation’s No. 12 class in 2016.
For the second consecutive year, the Gators got significant contributions from their newcomers as they repeated as SEC East champions.
Overall, 16 of Florida’s 25 signees played in at least one game. More than half (13) of the class played in 10 games or more.
In all, 16 signees participated in 166 games combined, making 31 starts. That doesn’t include Eddy Pineiro, who was Florida’s top kicker all season but isn’t credited with 13 starts because he’s a specialist.
Tyrie Cleveland was the highest-rated offensive signee for the Gators and lived up to his billing as the nation’s No. 2-ranked wide receiver in 247Sports’ composite rankings. After missing time early in the season with a hamstring injury, Cleveland started four of the final seven games.
He made his name with a 98-catch touchdown reception against LSU. Cleveland went into the Frorida record book with the second-longest touchdown passing play and became the third true freshman in program history to have a 100-yard receiving game.
Lamical Perine rushed for 421 yards on the season and became the first Gators freshman since Jeff Demps in 2008 to have multiple 100-yard rushing games against SEC opponents. Jawaan Taylor, one of the lowest-rated recruits in the class, garnered Freshman All-America honors.
Antonneous Clayton, the top overall signee in 2016, lost more than 20 pounds in fall camp from an illness, but he played in five games. He got a season-ending arm injury before the Florida State game.
Chauncey Gardner, meanwhile, caught fire at the end of the season and made 17 tackles and 3 interceptions in the final three games as a starter. He was named game MVP for his performance in the Outback Bowl.
The Gators also got surprising production from David Reese, who became a starter after the season-ending injury to Alex Anzalone. Reese was named a Freshman All-American after making 49 tackles, including a season-high 12 at LSU.
Redshirts and injuries
Of the nine signees who redshirted, quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, offensive lineman Brett Heggie and wide receiver Dre Massey should play big roles in 2017.
Massey tore an ACL on season-opening kickoff. Linebacker Jeremiah Moon saw his season after two games because of a thumb injury.
Early returns on Florida’s 2016 recruiting class were promising. In his first two years, McElwain showed the ability and willingness to play freshmen. Most of his top signees produced, as did Gators 3-star recruits.