Let the roller coaster begin.
After a month-long dead period and some slow news days, recruiting will kick into high gear Thursday with the start of the contact period. Jim McElwain and his staff will be on the road tirelessly over the next three weeks and also host prospects on official visits.
A few of you asked me Wednesday if Florida could land a surprise recruit in this class before or on signing day. I mentioned in the previous Mail Stack that if the Gators can sign up to 30, I think that last commitment will likely be an under-the-radar recruit or a highly touted kid UF wasn’t expected to land.
I’m sure Florida fans are hoping for the latter.
Here are the top five questions from this week:
Now that Marcus Tatum is Tennessee bound, who are the other OL targets?
(From @BigAlNation69, @CoBeingCo)
Tatum, who I had in my mock class last week, is definitely one that got away from the Gators.
UF had been the favorite during the majority of his recruitment, and the coaches were counting on him to join the class. His trip to Tennessee was really a game-changer. Looking back, that visit he made to the Vols’ bowl practice proved to be a telling sign.
Missing on Tatum wasn’t a huge blow for Florida because he’s a three-star lineman who has to develop physically, but he possesses a ton of upside and would have added depth for the future.
With him off the board, the Gators will turn their attention at offensive tackle to Landon Dickerson, Jauan Williams and junior college prospect Malcolm Pridgeon.
Pridgeon took a trip to UF in December, and Dickerson and Williams are scheduled to officially visit this month. Florida will also host four-star offensive guard John Simpson, who is thought to be leaning toward in-state schools Clemson and South Carolina.
But as I’ve mentioned before, the Gators return 13 linemen for next season and have signed a total of 10 in the past two classes. They must be able to rely on their current players for 2016, not incoming recruits.
Is there any concern that one or more of the DB commits might not sign with Florida?
(From @drejimmy, @Mr_EBC, @DevinLamarr)
There’s definitely a chance of that happening.
UF currently has commitments from a pair of safeties and five cornerbacks, two of whom are already enrolled in McArthur Burnett and Chauncey Gardner.
Safeties Quincy Lenton and Jeawon Taylor are both being pursued by other schools, namely UGA, but they claim to be solid with the Gators.
Cornerback C.J. McWilliams will visit South Florida and North Carolina this month and appears on his way out of the class. The other two corners, Antonio Nelson and Aaron Robinson, have some work to do academically.
Robinson still needs to take his standardized test (ACT/SAT), and he can’t take any official visits until then. But that didn’t deter Alabama and Southern Cal from offering him scholarships last week.
Robinson might be Florida’s most underrated commit, and one the Gators should hang onto if they can. I don’t expect McWilliams or Nelson to sign with UF.
Biggest victory in recruiting this year? Biggest loss/disappointment?
In December I said quarterback Feleipe Franks was the “must-have” recruit in this class, and I still feel that way. The Gators had to land a top-flight signal caller with the lack of production behind Will Grier and his eventual transfer, and they accomplished that by flipping Franks from LSU.
But as far as recruiting victories go, I’d say stealing Eddy Pineiro from Alabama was bigger. While Franks may the QB of the future, Pineiro comes in as the No. 1 junior college kicker nationally and will start for Florida from day one.
He was almost as important to land as Franks, and the Gators flipped Pineiro just days removed from his official visit to Alabama in December. Nick Saban did everything in his power to keep him, so it was pretty impressive to see McElwain pull that off.
Alabama had also just won its second-straight SEC title by beating UF, while LSU coach Les Miles was on the hot seat when Franks switched to the Gators. So the circumstances were tougher with Pineiro.
The biggest disappointment for UF thus far has been failing to land a top-100 overall recruit at receiver. Early enrollees Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain are both talented wideouts who should contribute early, but the Gators need an elite playmaker at the position and have missed on a few.
Nate Craig-Myers attended four UF games and seemed like Florida’s to lose throughout the fall. He originally planned to commit on Jan. 8, but delayed his decision and could now be favoring Auburn.
Binjimen Victor was all set to pick the Gators in June, only to back out shortly before his announcement. Now they’re trying to regain the lead from Ohio State. Tyrie Cleveland (Houston) and Eli Stove (Auburn) also committed to other schools over UF.
Fortunately for McElwain & Co., the latter three receivers will officially visit Florida this month and could still end up in the Gators’ class. UF needs to land at least one of them.
What are the strengths of this class? And how do they compare to last year’s class?
Great question. This class is much larger, stronger and more talented than the 2015 class, which McElwain put together in less than two months.
The strengths of that class were along the offensive line and at defensive end, where the Gators signed a total of nine prospects and played five of them this past season. Only two receivers were signed, but one (Antonio Callaway) turned out to be the best true freshman wideout in school history.
There are several strengths in this year’s class. Florida has two quarterbacks, two running backs, four wide receivers, three defensive ends (again), three linebackers, seven defensive backs and Pineiro at kicker. All fulfill positions of need for McElwain, and he has at least one quality prospect at each of those spots as well as one of the nation’s top defensive tackles in Shavar Manuel.
Which offensive and defensive players out of the 2016 recruiting class will play right away?
(From @AJMarshall3, @JeremyJames32)
Obviously Pineiro will get the nod at kicker. Look for Mark Thompson, the nation’s top-ranked junior college back, to start in the backfield. The three mid-year enrollees at receiver — Hammond, Swain and junior college athlete Dre Massey — could all potentially crack the starting lineup.
Defensively, Gardner should play early and often at cornerback. Jordan Smith, another early enrollee, and Antonneous Clayton will both push for playing time at defensive end. If UF lands five-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson, he’ll see the field as a freshman.
I’ve swapped Marcus Tatum for Malcolm Pridgeon in my latest mock class. Florida wants another offensive tackle for 2016, and Pridgeon is my best guess at this point because UF is his best offer. The Gators aren’t giving up on Tatum, however. They’re sending four coaches to see him Thursday.
* — mid-year enrollee
QB Feleipe Franks*
QB Kyle Trask*
RB Mark Thompson*
RB Lamical Perine
WR Joshua Hammond*
WR/ATH Dre Massey*
WR Eli Stove
WR Freddie Swain*
WR Rick Wells
TE Nick Eubanks
OL Stone Forsythe*
OL Brett Heggie
OL Jawaan Taylor
OL Malcolm Pridgeon
DT Shavar Manuel
DE Brian Burns
DE Antonneous Clayton
DE Jachai Polite
DE Jordan Smith*
LB Vosean Joseph
LB Jeremiah Moon
LB David Reese
LB Joshua Uche
CB McArthur Burnett*
CB Chauncey Gardner*
CB Aaron Robinson
S Quincy Lenton
S Jeawon Taylor
K Eddy Pineiro*
That’s all for this week! Be sure to leave your questions for the next mailbag in the comment section below.