Ranking Florida’s top priorities in the final push for its 2018 recruiting class
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With just two weeks left until the start of the NCAA’s new early signing period, and less than two months until National Signing Day, Florida fans are in a frenzy tracking new coach Dan Mullen’s recruiting efforts.
Of course, the spotlight is on the quarterback position as Florida tries to re-enter the Justin Fields Sweepstakes and flip the top-rated dual-threat quarterback from his Georgia commitment. The Gators have also offered Terry Wilson, the No. 2-rated junior college dual-threat quarterback per the 247Sports composite. All the while they’re staying in contact with Florida commit Matt Corral, the No. 3-ranked pro style quarterback in the Class of 2018.
But quarterback isn’t Florida’s only pressing need in this class. Here’s a look at Florida’s most urgent priorities in the 2018 cycle, via the latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day:
Jamarcus W. asks … “Most important positions to shore up in this recruiting class? QB, LB, O-line or other?
That pretty much nails it. Here’s how I would rank the Gators’ most important recruiting needs and why.
This could be said every year. Look at how Georgia has stacked up coveted QBs year after year in Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm and, for the moment at least, Fields. All while not expecting that Eason would be supplanted after his freshman season. Then compare that to Florida’s quarterback depth in recent years. Yes, this is always a premium need.
But even more so now. As Mullen converts Florida to his brand of spread offense that has proven most effective with a physical, dual-threat quarterback, he needs to sign guys who fit what he wants to do.
That doesn’t mean the Gators will necessarily find their 2018 starting QB in this class. Maybe they will, whether it’s Fields or a temporary solution such as Wilson who can provide some experience to the position as a place-holder for a season or two. Maybe they won’t. Maybe the job goes to a quarterback already on the roster. All possibilities are in play right now.
Next season is going to be a transition year one way or the other, but it would advance this entire rebuilding project if Florida landed a true QB of the future in this class.
While Florida’s offense is set to undergo a significant schematic change, so, too is the defense as new coordinator Todd Grantham arrives with a track record of running the 3-4.
The instant reaction of most Florida fans to that news was panic because of the Gators’ lack of proven linebackers.
Rising junior David Reese is a fine fit as a 3-4 inside linebacker with his instincts and sure tackling, but the rest of that position group either underwhelmed or was suspended or injured. And the Gators’ previous recruiting classes hadn’t targeted prototypical 3-4 outside linebackers built to rush the passer.
That’s not saying Florida doesn’t have guys who can do it. That will be for Grantham to determine in spring practice. It’s possible that he converts pass-rushing defensive ends Jabari Zuniga, Jachai Polite or Antonneous Clayton to that role.
But in the big picture, he needs to recruit to his needs.
Linebacker was a pressing need for Florida even without the schematic change, but it’s even more of a priority now.
3. Offensive line
Florida signed just two offensive linemen last year and one, tackle Kadeem Telfort, is a question mark to ever rejoin the program after his role in the credit card fraud saga that led to season-long suspensions for nine players.
With left tackle Martez Ivey potentially leaving for the NFL, the Gators could already have one gaping hole on the offensive line without an obvious replacement. Their depth was already thin last season with none of the young guys pushing the team’s six-man rotation up front. (Stone Forsythe eventually got a chance in the final weeks after starters T.J. McCoy and Brett Heggie were lost to season-ending injuries.)
It’s unclear how quickly McCoy and Heggie will return, but regardless the Gators have to bolster this unit for next season and beyond.
A good start would be keeping 4-star commit Richard Gouraige (the No. 7 offensive tackle in 2018 according to the 247 Sports composite) along with recent commit Chris Bleich (No. 29 OT). But Florida needs to further address the offensive line in this class.
4. Defensive line
Like at linebacker, Florida needs to recruit for fit in the 3-4 up front. The Gators have some nice pieces to work with after bringing in massive defensive tackles T.J. Slaton, Elijah Conliffe and Kyree Campbell last class.
And as mentioned, it remains to be seen how the Gators use traditional pass-rushing defensive ends such as Zuniga, Polite and Clayton.
Either way, the Gators need to be thinking a year or two ahead at this spot, as well.
5. Wide receiver
Florida’s two highest-rated freshmen wide receivers, Daquon Green and James Robinson (out with a heart condition), didn’t crack the rotation and sophomores Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain didn’t have the second-year breakout many were hoping.
Florida has a potential star receiver in Tyrie Cleveland along with a versatile weapon in converted quarterback Kadarius Toney who warrants a bigger role in the passing game, but the Gators need more playmakers at this spot and took a hit in their projected recruiting class when coveted 4-star receiver prospect Jacob Copeland de-committed.
Others: Florida is set at running back, especially if 4-star commits Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement stay on board. The Gators brought in six freshmen DBs last year who will continue to develop along with rising junior Chauncey Gardner Jr. — it never hurts to add, and Florida will, but this isn’t a pressing need. And between returner C’yontai Lewis and talented-but-untested youngster Kemore Gamble, the Gators are OK at tight end, especially if 4-star commit Kyle Pitts remains in the class.
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