Position breakdown: Gators’ receiving roster among most talented in nation

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Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson makes a play as defensive back Robert Clay (36) attempts to knock the ball away during a practice in March. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

We break down the 2019 Florida football team by position group. This week a look at the receivers.

The upside

This could be the deepest, most experienced and most talented group of wide receivers the Gators have put on the field in more than a decade.

Everybody’s back from last season — Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond, Trevon Grimes, Freddie Swain, Kadarius Toney and Tyrie Cleveland. Those six combined for 146 receptions for 1,973 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.

So, this is a proven, productive group that figures to put up even bigger numbers in Year 2 of coach Dan Mullen’s offense, as quarterback Feleipe Franks continues his development under Mullen and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson.

The addition of the two transfers last season — Jefferson and Grimes — provided a big boost to an already solid and experienced group and gave it great depth.

Jefferson led the Gators with 35 receptions for 503 yards and six touchdowns and is coming off an excellent summer in which he’s sharpened his route-running skills.

Grimes was the third-leading receiver in 2018 and saw his production go up the second half of the season, so he’s starting to emerge as a potential big-time player.

Hammond, Swain and Cleveland have a tendency to get overlooked at times, but all are proven playmakers. Hammond, UF’s second-leading receiver in 2018, did not drop a single pass last season.

The elusive and electric Toney, a former high school quarterback, continues to evolve as wide receiver and is expected to expand his role in the passing game.

Add sophomore TE/WR Kyle Pitts and promising redshirt freshman Jacob Copeland to the mix, and this is a deep and dynamic group of wide receivers, potentially one of the best in the nation, and certainly the best at UF in quite a while.

The downside

The Gators have a lot of potential at tight end, but not much in the way of production.

Pitts, Kemore Gamble and Lucas Krull showed some flashes last season, yet only combined for 16 receptions for 206 yards and one touchdown. They will be expected to dramatically increase their numbers now that last year’s top two tight ends — C’Yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens — are gone.

With Pitts splitting time at wide receiver, Gamble emerged as the likely starter in the spring.

The coaches are eager to start working with four-star true freshman Keon Zipperer in preseason camp to see if he can get into the playing rotation in the fall.

As proven as the wide receivers are, they’re certainly not perfect. At times, they had difficulty creating separation against man coverage last season and will continue to work on that phase of their game under Billy Gonzales.

Young guy to watch

In the brief windows where he has been healthy, redshirt freshman wide receiver Jacob Copeland has flashed electrifying big-play potential. Fast, physical and fluid, Copeland could have a big and immediate impact if he can come out of preseason camp 100% healthy. The former four-star recruit has been flying under the radar after missing most of last season and the spring, but the coaches are well aware of how dynamic he can be.

Don’t be surprised if …

Trevon Grimes has a breakout season and leads the Gators in receiving. The former five-star recruit and Ohio State transfer really started coming on in the second half of last season and finished the year with 26 receptions for 364 yards and two touchdowns. He figures to be one of Franks’ favorite targets this fall. His combination of size (6-foot-5, 210 pounds), speed and physicality will make him a match-up problem for smaller defensive backs. This is a receiver who can go over the middle for tough catches and also is a deep threat with his speed.

Quotable

“Definitely, we can be the best wide receiver corps in the nation. We have a lot of guys who can play ball and get after it. The talent is there. We have to push ourselves every day to strive for that title to be the best receiver group in the country. I think we can get there. We have to work hard, stay together as a family and get each other better every day. The sky is the limit for this group.” — Josh Hammond

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com. For a look at the previous two breakdowns (offensive backfield and secondary), click to Gatorsports.com.

Probable depth chart

WR

12-Van Jefferson

4-Kadarius Toney

82-Ja’Markis Weston

WR

8-Trevon Grimes

16-Freddie Swain

15-Jacob Copeland

80-Trent Whittemore

WR

89-Tyrie Cleveland

10-Josh Hammond

84-Kyle Pitts

83-Rick Wells

TE

88-Kemore Gamble OR

84-Kyle Pitts

14-Lucas Krull

81-Dante Lang

9-Keon Zipperer

14 COMMENTS

  1. I agree Robbie, I think this is the best receiving corp since Coach Mullen was the O.C. here in 2008. This Gator ‘O’ neeeds to quickly gel with the new O-line, and the Florida coaches must have plans for exploiting the opposing D’s weaknesses to effectively utilize this talented group of receivers. ‘Cause it’s only 5 Saturdays away now ’till the ”Showdown in O Town.” Go Gators!

  2. I want to see UF beat UGA – the only way we can do this is to exploit their secondary with our talented receivers. The OL must give Franks (or whoever is the QB) enough time to execute the play. If we do this, I believe we will beat the Dogs – GO GATORS!!!

    • I think the coach’s play calls will negate the inexperienced o-line. I see defenses creeping up from the lack of deep passes due to quick execution but the being burned because our Wr’s get behind them, because of their talent. I predict everyone is going to be surprised at this teams success this year. I believe CDM is just coming into his own because he is finally at a top ranked school and that is allowing him full expression, having the talent to fulfil his ability. I believe we have one of the few great coaches in college football.

  3. of course you have to play to confirm all of this, but if true, i dont remember a lot of 5 star recruiting here, except for the transfers, and defensive backfield either, yet both are at or near the tops in the nation. so 5 star matters more, imo among the tackle (both sides) positions, qb possibly/

  4. This group has the potential to be electric this year. Been a while. My concern is about next year. Hammond, Jefferson, Cleveland, and Swain will all be gone. Combine that with some early departures and an injury or two and the strength of the team could suddenly look very thin. Not trying to be a downer but next year’s depth IS a concern.

  5. Best in the nation? Holy hyperbole Dooley. Check the national stats man, 1900 yards puts them nowhere near the best in the nation. And that’s 6 guys total! C’mon. Now if Mullen actually uses Toney like he should and gives him more than 4 touches a game they could be lethal. Dude gets 10 yards per touch and barely gets the ball. I agree this group has the potential to be the best the Gators have had in a long time. But pump the brakes on calling them the most talented in the country. I’ll believe it when I see it.