The Florida Gators placed nine players on the preseason All-SEC team voted on by the media at SEC Media Days earlier this month. Nine is a pretty big number, but it could have (maybe should have) been bigger.
There are several UF players who may be under the radar now, but have the talent and opportunity to emerge as all-conference type players over the course of the 2017 season.
Here’s a look at six (three on offense, three on defense) who could fall into that category:
Dre Massey, wide receiver
This speedy and versatile junior college transfer seemed primed to have a breakout season a year ago as a slot receiver, where he potentially would create mismatches against bigger and slower safeties. But his season ended after tearing an ACL on the opening kickoff in the first game against UMass and he became a forgotten player last fall.
He’s back now and the coaches are extremely excited about his playmaking ability. With his speed and elusiveness, Massey could be a dangerous receiver out of the slot and a go-to guy for whoever the quarterback is. And, like a year ago, there likely will be a package of plays for Massey to run out of the Wildcat quarterback position.
He’s way under the radar, but that could change in a hurry.
Jordan Scarlett, running back
Scarlett flashed his immense potential last season as a true sophomore, leading the Gators in rushing with 889 yards and six touchdowns. He came up big in the big games, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of the back-to-back wins over South Carolina and LSU that clinched the Eastern Division for UF.
With a stronger, more experienced offensive line and more expected production in the passing game, Scarlett could have a huge breakout season. The lack of a consistent passing game allowed opposing defenses to gang up on Scarlett and the running game the last two seasons. For the first time in several years, the Gators have a chance to set up the run with the pass — and Scarlett figures to gain the most from that.
Jawaan Taylor, offensive tackle
The media clearly failed to do its homework on Taylor. To be left completely off the preseason team is almost laughable. This is a potentially dominant player who started 12 games as a true freshman last season and was named a Freshman All-American and was on the Freshman All-SEC team.
A lapse in memory by the media?
Whatever it was, Taylor has become somewhat of a forgotten man in some circles. But that is sure to change. A tenacious run blocker who is improving as a pass blocker, Taylor has a chance to emerge as a strong All-America candidate if he continues on his current path.
Antonneous Clayton, defensive end
Like Taylor, Clayton has become a forgotten man. But in his case, it’s understandable. He arrived on campus last summer as the highest-rated prospect in the 2016 recruiting class and was expected to have an immediate impact — especially after coach Jim McElwain raved about him after the first August practice.
But a little too light and not quite strong enough to successfully compete in the SEC, Clayton pretty much disappeared. He played in just five games, recording only three tackles.
But since then, he’s put on 35 pounds of muscle and put in a strong spring in which he was dominant at times with his relentless motor.
It won’t surprise his coaches or teammates if he has a major breakout season in 2017.
David Reese, middle linebacker
As a true freshman in 2016, Reese started the final four regular-season games in place of injured star Jarrad Davis, and, well, played just like Davis, who went on to become a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions.
In those four starts, Reese was a tackling machine, a sure sign that he has a great nose for the football. In his first start, against South Carolina, he recorded 11 tackles. In his second, against LSU, he had 12 and was named the SEC’s defensive player of the week. Then, in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, he showed his speed and athletic skill returning a blocked extra point for two points.
He showed last season that he has a high ceiling — and the ability to become a big-time playmaker.
Chauncey Gardner Jr., cornerback/safety
In a secondary loaded with future NFL talent, Gardner stood out in the tail end of last season as a true freshman. He started the final three games at safety and was pretty much a human highlight reel.
He had an interception against FSU. Recorded nine tackles against Alabama in the SEC title game. Had two interceptions, one for a pick-six, in his MVP performance in the Outback Bowl route of Iowa.
He has shown he can excel at cornerback, nickel and safety, something that will keep him on the field throughout games. That means he’ll have the opportunity to make a bunch of plays. And the more he makes, the more he’ll get noticed.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.