UF football’s positions of need entering early signing period

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Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks ended the season as the starter at the position. Will he remain in that role next season? [Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer]

[Updated: 8:58 p.m., 12-18] Over the past few weeks, there has been a steady flow of decommitments from Florida’s 2018 recruiting class. It’s a little bit alarming, but not at all surprising. It’s the natural order of things in the wake of a coaching change.

Even with those football prospects bolting, Dan Mullen and the Gators are still in OK shape heading into the early signing period that starts Wednesday. UF still has a strong core of 12 commitments, and as many as nine of those prospects could officially become Gators on Wednesday.

It would give UF a solid foundation to build on over the next six weeks leading up to National Signing Day on Feb. 7.

Mullen and his staff are still playing catch-up, but there’s enough time to put together a good class that meets needs and helps replenish a roster that was decimated by suspensions and injuries over the second half of last season.

Those are the two main reasons why Mullen’s first recruiting class is so important. The Gators have critical needs in some areas, and the overall roster is low on numbers.

At the moment, if you do not count the eight players that remain under suspension (and there’s no timetable yet for their return), the Gators are down to 54 scholarship players. That’s a whopping 31 below the 85 limit.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of the UF roster heading into the early signing period, and what kind of impact this recruiting class might eventually have:

Quarterback

Who’s gone: Malik Zaire and Luke Del Rio.

Who’s back: Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Jake Allen.

What’s next: Mullen needs to find out which quarterback is the best fit for his spread, read-option offense. The question is, is that QB on campus yet? The Gators need to sign at least one quarterback, but would like to add two.

Commitments: None.

Recruiting influence: Losing QB commit Matt Corral did not come as a surprise. It was obvious to him, and the Gators, that his skill set was not the right fit for the offense. Mullen is now focusing on dual-threat prospects, mainly four-star prospect Emory Jones, an Ohio State commit who visited UF and FSU this past weekend. He’s an early enrollee, so he could have an immediate impact if the Gators can sway him.

Running back

Who’s gone: Mark Thompson.

Who’s back: Lamical Perine, Adarius Lemons and Malik Davis.

What’s next: With Davis recovering from knee surgery, the Gators will be down to two just scholarship running backs this spring. Davis’ status for the start of fall camp also is uncertain. Given that, the Gators need to sign at least two running backs.

Commitments: Four-star prospects Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement.

Recruiting influence: Pierce and Clement are both early enrollees who are expected to sign with the Gators on Wednesday. Not only do they provide instant depth, they’ll have a chance to compete for playing time in the spring.

Wide receiver

Who’s gone: Brandon Powell, Antonio Callaway and James Robinson.

Who’s back: Dre Massey, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, Daquon Green, Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney.

What’s next: Three of the players who have decommitted happened to be the top three receivers the Gators had lined up to sign. Because UF is down to six scholarship wide receivers, the Gators need to sign at least three or four. Picking up Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson on Monday night is big. He’s a proven playmaker.

Commitments: Three-star prospect Corey Gammage.

Recruiting influence. Given the lack of scholarship players and proven playmakers, the opportunity is there for freshmen to have an immediate impact. But the Gators have a lot of work to do to sign the three or four they need.

Tight end

Who’s gone: DeAndre Goolsby.

Who’s back: C’yontai Lewis, Moral Stephens and Kemore Gamble.

What’s next: The tight end has always played an integral role in Mullen’s offense. He’ll be looking for players who can block and also make plays as a receiver. This is a position that lacked consistency last season and the competition will be wide open in the spring. UF hopes to sign two.

Commitments: Four-star prospects Kyle Pitts and Dante Lang.

Recruiting influence: Pitts and Lang not only will provide depth, they are expected to push Lewis, Stephens and Gamble. Competition is always a good thing.

Offensive line

Who’s gone: None (even though Antonio Riles and Kavaris Harkless graduated last weekend and their status seems uncertain at this time).

Who’s back: C T.J. McCoy, G/C Brett Heggie, G/C Tyler Jordan, T Jawaan Taylor, T Martez Ivey, G Fred Johnson, T Stone Forsythe, T Jean Delance, G Nick Buchanan, T T.J. Moore and G Andrew Mike.

What’s next: Does Ivey go pro, or does he stay for his senior season? This is big. If he opts for the NFL, the Gators will have a big question mark at the vital left tackle position. Whether he stays or goes, UF will continue to try and grow depth up front.

Commitments: Chris Bleich and Richard Gouraige.

Recruiting influence: The Gators have enough depth that they likely won’t need to rely on true freshmen playing this season. But the goal is to sign five to keep building that depth.

Defensive line

Who’s gone: DE Jordan Sherit and DT Taven Bryan.

Who’s back: DT Khairi Clark, DT Kyree Campbell, DT Tedarrell Slaton, DT Elijah Conliffe, DT Luke Ancrum, DT Marlon Dunlap, DE Cece Jefferson, DE Jabari Zuniga, DE Jachai Polite, DE Antonneous Clayton, and DE Zachary Carter.

What’s next: Campbell, Slaton and Conliffe all played as true freshmen. They need to keep being developed, along with another highly rated true freshman, Zachary Carter, who redshirted last season. Jefferson’s return is also key, as there is some speculation he may make himself availabe for the NFL draft.

Commitments: None.

Recruiting influence: The Gators are looking to sign two tackles and two ends, but there isn’t a whole lot of urgency because the numbers on the line are good.

Linebacker

Who’s gone: Cristian Garcia.

Who’s back: Vosean Joseph, David Reese, Kylan Johnson, Jeremiah Moon, Rayshad Jackson, Lacedrick Brunson and Nick Smith.

What’s next: The Gators need to find out when/if suspended linebackers James Houston and Ventrell Miller will return. If they remain in limbo, the numbers are downright scary at linebacker, where the Gators basically had only four players in the playing rotation last season — Joseph, Reese, Johnson and Moon. The Gators need to sign three or four linebackers.

Commitments: Four-star prospect David Reese.

Recruiting influence: Reese is a highly regarded prospect who could see immediate playing time. But he is not an early enrollee. The Gators can offer prospects the opportunity for early playing time. The problem is the UF board at linebacker is very sparse at the moment.

Secondary

Who’s gone: Duke Dawson, Nick Washington, Joseph Putu and Marcell Harris (who went through Senior Day after missing the season with a torn achilles).

Who’s back: CB Marco Wilson, CB CJ Henderson, CB/S Shawn Davis, CB/S Brian Edwards, S/CB Chauncey Gardner, S Brad Stewart, CB C.J. McWilliams, CB McArthur Burnett, S Donovan Stiner, S Quincy Lenton and S Jeawon Taylor.

What’s next: Continue to develop all these young players who saw significant playing time as true freshmen in 2017. The Gators also must find a replacement for Dawson, who produced as a corner and nickel. With so many young and experienced players returning, the secondary is not a huge recruiting need.

Commitments: Four-star prospects Amari Burney and John Huggins and three-star prospect Randy Russell.

Recruiting influence: By all accounts, the three committed players will have a chance to push for early playing time, Russell at corner and Burney and Huggins at safety, where the Gators are looking for more playmaking ability.

Special teams

Who’s gone: All-SEC punter Johnny Townsend.

Who’s back: PK Eddy Pineiro.

What’s next: The Gators need to find a replacement for Townsend (maybe his younger brother Tommy) and find out if Pineiro is going to return for his senior season.

Commitments: K Everson McPherson.

Recruiting influence: McPherson is the No. 2 place-kicker in the nation. The feeling is if Pineiro does leave, McPherson steps right in as the starter.

24 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the excellent recap, Robbie. Sure as hell takes some of the confusion out of the picture as it stands right now. Prepare to get ripped to shreds….I can’t see anything controversial but I’m sure somebody will.

  2. Needs?

    Qb-dire need. Need to sign 2-3
    Rb-the best position on offense. Need 1.
    Wr-dire need. Need to sign 4-5
    TE-dire need. Need to sign 2-3
    OL-dire need. Need to sign at least 5.

    DT-need. Need to sign at least 1.
    DE-Possible the best position on defense. Sign 1 or 2.
    LB-Ultra dire need. Sign 8-10
    Cb-If DE isn’t the best position, CB is. Sign 1 or 2. 2 definite starters that are good and young. Little need
    Safety-pretty good. Sign 1 maybe

    Needs:
    2-3 qbs
    Maybe 1 rb
    4-5 wrs
    2-3 TEs
    5+ OL
    Sign 13-16 offensive players

    1 DT
    Maybe 1 DE
    8-10 Lbs
    1 Cb
    1 Safety
    Sign 11-14 defensive players.

    Those are our needs.

    Totally void of capable qbs right now. Need to sign starters and backups. TEs-Totally void of a capable starter. WR-Only Cleveland is a WR. Toney may be a wr. The rest are taking up roster spots and aren’t contributors. OL-Arguable the worst position on the team although it was supposed to be the strength(the reason why our offense is so bad). Defense is okay other than LB which is pretty much Reese and nobody else. 75% of our defensive signees need to be linebackers or linebacker capable. Can’t even describe how funny it is that we are going to a 3-4 with the linebackers we have on our roster. Hopefully credit card scam lbers will turn out to be players. We’d be better off going to a 6-1 based on this last year. Lots of players on the team right now who just aren’t going to play much over their careers unless enough players get hurt. If Saban was our coach he’d sign 30+ players each year the next 3 years. Lots of greyshirts, etc.

  3. Regarding the very real need we have to add linebackers, it is worth noting that recruit Amari Burney is a pretty big bodied guy already as a high schooler. He is 6’2″ and 218 lbs., with a frame that could easily add weight, if the coaching staff wanted him to do that. In high school he played a lot of positions, including safety on defense, wide receiver on offense and kick returner on special teams. He is an all around athlete with good speed (4.48 forty yard time). So, if we don’t add any more linebackers to this class besides David Reese, I think it would be wise to cross train Burney at the OLB position in addition to safety, assuming the latter is where the coaching staff sees him playing primarily. He has the speed, strength and tackling skills to play linebacker, if we need him to do so.

  4. I’m hoping that CeCe Jefferson comes back and learns to play that outside linebacker in the 3-4 system. So many NFL teams play the same style (my Steelers in particular). and covet players like CeCe who has the exceptional size and skill to play the outside linebacker that can move up to the line or drop back in coverage. If he does this and Grantham is able to teach him and use him in this capacity, he’ll be a guaranteed first round draft pick in 2019.

  5. What you’re saying about CeCe is true, corey. But there seems to be a long-standing Gator tradition of almost all players who CAN leave DO leave, even many that shouldn’t, even some who don’t get drafted. GA is where they are this year largely because the best two RBs(draft staus) in the country and about 3 first round D players stayed.

  6. You omitted Chauncey Gardner, who as a junior will be our most experienced DB and along with Jeawon Taylor our only two upperclassmen in our secondary.

    You list Khaliff Jackson, who’s transferred out.

    In all likelihood we add back maybe four of the suspended players and after some defections get our total number go about 77-79 plus walk-ones with one-year scholarships. It’s going to take Dan Mullen at least two full recruiting classes to entirely replenish our 85-man roster.

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