GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sure, spring practice is a couple months away and the start of a new Florida football season eight months into the future.
But is it ever too soon to start looking at the Gators’ 2017 depth chart?
Of course not. There are unknown variables in play, sure. Some draft-eligible juniors have not yet made their intentions known so we’ll have to make assumptions.
And there will no doubt be mistakes in the guesswork, depending on how players progress through spring and fall camps, how the coaches choose to use versatile players who could fit into different spots, injuries, and so on.
That said, here’s a look at how the Gators’ 2017 depth chart might look with the information available:
1. Feleipe Franks, R-freshman
2. Luke Del Rio, R-junior
3. Kyle Trask, R-freshman
Fans eager to finally find the Gators’ long-overdue quarterback of the future will hope that Franks can prove over these next eight months that he’s ready to be a starter in the SEC.
The untested 6-foot-6 redshirt-freshman will have to earn that job, but with a prototypical quarterback frame and a big arm, he’ll have every chance to do so.
Del Rio, meanwhile, remains an asset for the Gators. Fans may want to turn the page entirely on the Gators’ 2016 quarterbacks, but it’s important to note that Del Rio never got to fully reach his potential — whatever that potential may be. He simply wasn’t the same quarterback after that bad knee injury in Week 3. The fact that he was still wearing a brace in warmups at the Outback Bowl three- and-a-half months later is an indication of how serious that injury was, and it surely impacted his play in the three games after he returned (before then hurting his shoulder).
If the coaches decide Franks isn’t quite ready quite, Del Rio can step in as a placeholder once again. Or provide value as an experienced backup.
Trask, who was never a full-time starter in high school, remains a high-upside project.
The hope here is that Franks blossoms and becomes the foundation piece coach Jim McElwain has been missing at the position.
When asked last week how ready he felt Franks was to compete for that starting job, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said simply, “I think he’s ready.”
That will remain the biggest storyline leading up to the fall.
1. Jordan Scarlett, junior
2. Lamical Perine, sophomore
3. Mark Thompson, senior
If the point hasn’t been made enough, let’s state it one more time: Scarlett earned the opportunity to be Florida’s lead back for a full season.
He was arguably the Gators’ best offensive player in 2016 while rushing for 889 yards and 6 touchdowns, showing exceptional elusiveness and field vision in providing the offense with a number of its biggest plays. His 46-yard run in the Outback Bowl was the latest example.
Asked after that game if that was one final reminder of what he has in store for 2017, Scarlett smiled and said, “Yeah. I think so. I see some good things coming for me next year.”
Scarlett is good enough to be a focal point for a good offense.
Perine, meanwhile, is an excellent complementary option. He rushed for 421 yards as a freshman, showing breakaway ability and power. Remember that bruising run at LSU? He deserves a steady role next season as well.
Something like a 20-10 carries split for Scarlett and Perine would make sense.
Thompson almost seemed like a lost cause before his 85-yard touchdown on a screen pass in the Outback Bowl. He’ll likely get a chance to earn a role as well and try to prove that he’s better than his overall 2016 production, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of Scarlett or Perine.
1. Antonio Callaway, junior
2. Freddie Swain, sophomore
Callaway remains a top-flight playmaker despite a quiet second half of the 2016 season. Defenses made a point of taking him out of the game, and Florida’s offensive struggles contributed to his underwhelming sophomore season.
He is regarded as one of the most driven and highly motivated players on the team, though, and expressed his determination to have a big 2017. Hearing him talk, it was easy to believe that he might reach another level next season.
Swain didn’t have a huge role as a freshman, catching 8 passes for 118 yards and 2 touchdowns, but there is definitely upside and potential here. His role doesn’t figure to dramatically change next fall, but it would be reasonable to expect his opportunities will grow.
1A. Dre Massey, redshirt junior
1B. Brandon Powell, senior
Get ready for another round of preseason Massey hype. After all the buildup of his potential heading into 2016 as a junior college newcomer, he tore his right ACL on the opening kickoff of his first game and was done for the season.
He’ll make a fresh start in 2017 and could be a dynamic addition to the offense. Regarded as perhaps the fastest player on the team before the injury, he was expected to be used in a variety of ways and even offered trick-play potential with his history as a quarterback and ability to also punt. Hopefully for everybody involved, including Massey, he gets a full chance to show what he can do.
Powell, meanwhile, boasts plenty of experience and will again have a role in the offense in his final season, though he might not receive the same volume of targets as he did in catching 45 passes for 387 yards and 2 touchdowns as a junior.
1. Tyrie Cleveland, sophomore
2. Josh Hammond, sophomore
Cleveland should have a breakout sophomore season. He was the jewel of the Gators’ 2016 signing class but was limited at the onset by a hamstring injury. Like Callaway, he was marginalized by the collective offensive struggles on the way to 14 catches for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Fans can keep watching the replay of that 98-yard touchdown catch at LSU, though, while envisioning Cleveland’s potential for 2017.
Like Swain, Hammond got some limited experience as a freshman while catching 14 passes for 177 yards. He’ll look to continue to progress heading into his second season.
1A. DeAndre Goolsby, senior
1B. C’yontai Lewis, redshirt junior
3. Kemore Gamble, freshman
As with the rest of the offense, the Gators are stocked with depth at tight end. But they need to get more out of the position next season.
Goolsby, who finished third on the team with 38 catches for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns, is a useful weapon in the passing game. As was clear in the Outback Bowl, Goolsby leaves a lot to be desired as a blocker, though.
Lewis, well-regarded as a blocker, also contributed some really nice catches in his limited targets, finishing with 18 receptions for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns.
And don’t overlook Gamble, the incoming 4-star early enrollee. The 6-foot-4 prospect is said to be a punishing blocker and potential big-play threat with his speed. He’s the future at the position, but he could also work his way into some early opportunities.
1. Martez Ivey, junior
2. Kadeem Telfort, freshman
With two-year starter David Sharpe leaving early for the NFL, Ivey should have the opportunity to slide over from left guard to his more natural position. He was a two-time SEC offensive lineman of the week as a sophomore and has already started 20 games.
There is a wild card to consider here, though.
That being how quickly Telfort, a hulking 6-foot-7, 310-pound 4-star early enrollee, emerges. He is a natural tackle, though he has some experience at guard as well. And as the Gators showed in turning to true freshman right tackle Jawaan Taylor early this past season, they will find a way to play their best guys.
It is very possible that Telfort picks up the offense and proves to be an instant upgrade while following Taylor’s path to an early starting role. This could shuffle everything up depending on where the coaches feel he fits in best.
1. Tyler Jordan, junior
2. Kavaris Harkless, redshirt junior
Working on the assumption that Ivey moves to left tackle, left guard becomes the biggest question along the line. Jordan, who started most of the games at right guard this season, has shown enough versatility in the past (after initially coming in as a center) that he should be able to handle left guard.
Harkless got some valuable playing time down the stretch and can back up at both tackle and guard.
1. T.J. McCoy, redshirt sophomore
2. Brett Heggie, redshirt freshman
With the unexpected news Tuesday night that veteran center Cam Dillard, who missed the last five games with a knee injury, is transferring, McCoy has a clear path to remaining the starter here.
He became the Gators’ primary center for the final five games and received positive reviews from teammates and coaches.
Heggie redshirted for the 2016 season.
1. Fred Johnson, junior
2. Antonio Riles, redshirt senior
Johnson opened the season as the starting right tackle before Taylor seized that spot, moving the sophomore to guard, where he started six games. He’s a guy who still projects to get better as he progresses, after getting a late start on his football career.
Riles is a bit of an unknown. He started the first half of the 2015 season at right guard before being replaced in the lineup and then missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury.
1. Jawaan Taylor, sophomore
2. Kadeem Telfort, freshman
Taylor was a bright spot for the Florida offense this season, and while he had his own inconsistencies, he projects as a solid foundation piece as the line hopes to take a leap forward next fall.
Again, it’s unclear where and how the coaches will decide to use Telfort, but he is going to have a role in 2017 somewhere along the line.
1. Jabari Zuniga, redshirt sophomore
2. Keivonnis Davis, junior
Davis ended up with more starts this fall, but Zuniga showed the biggest upside with a team-high 5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. He was a pleasant surprise early in the season and should take another step forward in 2017.
1. Khairi Clark, redshirt junior
2. Jachai Polite, sophomore
Clark got a good amount of experience in 2016 and is the natural successor to the position with Joey Ivie graduating.
Polite has some versatility up front, but he might be of most need as the No. 2 option here.
1. CeCe Jefferson, junior
2. Taven Bryan, redshirt junior
Jefferson is clearly one of the Gators’ best defensive linemen and will have a central role in 2017. The biggest question is where? He played both inside and outside this fall, but with star tackle Caleb Brantley expected to declare for the NFL Draft, Florida’s biggest need looks to be at the 3-technique spot. Jefferson finished 2016 with 30 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 5 quarterback hurries.
Bryan also got significant playing time and mostly performed well.
1. Jordan Sherit, redshirt senior
2. Antonneous Clayton, sophomore
Sherit was undermined by two knee injuries as a junior, but he should be ready to resume his role as a starting end. He ranked second on the team with 3.5 sacks this past season while making 38 tackles.
Clayton hasn’t yet lived up to his 5-star billing, but that doesn’t mean he won’t. He’ll come into 2017 with something to prove.
1. David Reese, sophomore
2. Ventrell Miller, freshman
Reese played very well after taking over for injured starter Jarrad Davis late in the season. Overall, he racked up 49 tackles and 2 tackles for loss and showed enough to prove he’s ready for the full-time job in 2017.
Miller is a 3-star recruit who will look for his opportunities to make an impact in 2017.
1. Kylan Johnson, redshirt sophomore
2. Vosean Joseph, sophomore
With Alex Anzalone leaving early for the NFL, Johnson is the obvious choice to step in after he started the final five games after Anzalone was injured. He finished with 39 tackles and 5 tackles for loss.
Joseph made his first career start in the Outback Bowl due to the Gators’ depleted depth at the position, and he possesses high-upside as well.
1. Duke Dawson, senior
2. Chauncey Gardner Jr., sophomore
Dawson announced he’s returning for his senior season, and after playing well in the nickelback role, he should get a chance to take over at cornerback. With Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor announcing plans to head to the NFL, Dawson provides a much-needed veteran presence here. He finished with 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception (returned for a touchdown) and 7 pass breakups this season.
Gardner, the Outback Bowl MVP with 2 interceptions (including a touchdown return), is the wild card in the secondary. He’s going to have a big role somewhere. It could be at corner, it could be at safety, where he started the final three games, or it could be in that nickel spot. The Gators will use him where they need him most, and that could change during the course of the fall.
1. Marco Wilson, freshman
2. Joseph Putu, senior
Quincy Wilson’s younger brother will look to carry on the legacy at Florida and could step right into a starting role. If for any reason the coaches decide he’s not ready for that at the start, then Gardner would likely plug in at corner, but the expectations are high for the younger Wilson brother.
The Gators don’t have great depth at this spot. Putu saw limited action as a junior college newcomer.
1. Marcell Harris, redshirt senior
2. Jeawon Taylor, redshirt freshman
Harris really had a breakout season as a fourth-year junior, leading the Gators with 73 tackles along with 4 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble. He’ll become an even more important part of the defense with so many veteran players departing.
Taylor dealt with injury as a freshman, but he has plenty of promise and should be more involved in 2017.
1. Nick Washington, redshirt senior
2. Quincy Lenton, redshirt freshman
Washington is a known commodity. He finished with 45 tackles and an interception over 10 games this season while splitting starts with Harris most of the way.
Lenton broke his foot in the preseason and did not play in 2016.
1. Chauncey Gardner Jr., sophomore
2. Shawn Davis, freshman
Gardner seized his opportunities late in the season and nabbed 3 interceptions over the final 3 games, including 2 in the Outback Bowl as he claimed MVP honors. He returned one of those for a touchdown Monday and nearly took the second one back into the end zone as well.
He’s one of the fastest players on the team and has already flashed his significant potential. He could be a breakout star for the defense in 2017. Again, it’s not clear what spot that will be, but if Wilson is ready to handle cornerback alongside Dawson, and with the depth at safety, nickel could be a likely landing spot.
Davis, meanwhile, is a really intriguing prospect, arriving as an early enrollee with a reputation for being both a physical tackler and good ball instincts. He looks like a future impact player for Florida, and it will be interesting to see what role he carves out for himself as a freshman.
1. Eddy Pineiro, redshirt junior
2. Jorge Powell, redshirt junior
Pineiro, a fan favorite, delivered on all the hype and promise in 2016, making 20-of-24 field goals in his debut season. He’ll return as one of the top kickers in the country.
1. Johnny Townsend, redshirt senior
2. Tommy Townsend, redshirt sophomore
Assuming the elder Townsend returns for his final season, he’ll make another run at the Ray Guy Award. He was one of the best punters in the country in 2016, averaging 47.9 yards per punt and pinning 27 inside the 20-yard line.
His brother would be his likely successor whenever the time comes.
1. Dre Massey, redshirt junior
2. Brandon Powell, senior
Again, Massey should be an exciting player in 2017 as he looks to move past a lost season due to injury. He could be a real weapon on special teams.
1. Antonio Callaway, junior
2. Brandon Powell, senior
Callaway didn’t match his 2015 production on special teams, but he remains a big-play threat anytime he touches the ball and he’ll look for a more consistent season in this role next fall.