UF receivers forming a potent attack

Florida wide receiver Van Jefferson dives for the end zone, but came up short in the Peach Bowl against Michigan. Jefferson said Saturday he's returning for his senior season. [John Bazemore/Associated Press]

College football programs traditionally show significant improvement from year one to year two under a new coaching staff.

If that happens at Florida under coach Dan Mullen, the Gators could be College Football Playoff contenders next season after going 10-3 and rising into the top 10 in the nation in 2018.

For it to happen, the Gators will have to improve in some areas and some new, inexperienced players are going to have to come through at certain positions.

Over the next several days, The Sun is breaking down the team position-by-position, one position at a time:

Wide receiver

Who’s gone: No one.

Who’s back: Everyone. The top seven wide receivers from last season are all expected to return — Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, Kadarius Toney, Tyrie Cleveland and Jacob Copeland.

The seven combined to catch 149 passes for 1,989 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2018. The go-to guy was Jefferson, the Ole Miss transfer who had 31 receptions for 439 yards and six scores.

Who’s new: Sophomore Kyle Pitts, a four-star tight end prospect coming out of high school last year, ended up moving to wide receiver midway through the 2018 season and flashed big-time potential as a match-up problem on the outside. The question is, will he remain at wide receiver, move back to tight end, or seeing playing time at both? The already strong receiver group will gain three new additions this summer with incoming freshmen Dionte Marks (would could end up at defensive back), Ja’Markis Weston and Arjei Henderson.

What’s next: If Jefferson decides to return for his senior season (and many believe that he will), the Gators will return everyone from a receiving corps that made strides and became more productive over the course of the 2018 season. If the receivers continue on their current path, this potentially could become perhaps the best wide receiver corps since the Steve Spurrier coaching years.

The guy who has a limitless upside and really started coming on late last season is Jefferson, who finished with a flurry, catching four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown against FSU and four passes for 64 yards in the Peach Bowl.

Grimes is another receiver who started flashing his potential in the second half of the season. His production (and confidence) should go up in year two in the offense.

Hammond and Swain need to continue to make strides, something both did last fall, while Toney, Cleveland and Copeland will look to continue their development as complete receivers. They made a move in that direction last season.

A guy to watch in the spring is Pitts. He may have the biggest upside among the wide receivers. Now, will he become one full time?

Possible scenario: Jefferson returns, the receiving group continues to progress like it did in 2018, and quarterback Feleipe Franks continues to make positive strides. If that occurs, the Gators could/should have one of the most potent passing attacks in the SEC.

Editor’s Note: We omitted Copeland from an earlier posting.


  1. Will be interesting to see how many of the WRs emerge. For sure there are plenty of bodies. I’m calling it now that the offense is top 20 in the nation next year. Hard to believe after the years previous to this. It takes players and then REAL COACHES to get back where we wanted to get.

    • Sparky amazing what real coaching can do with players they didn’t recruit, will be even more so with players they did recruit. I felt we always had talent that was being poorly trained and utilized. Our WR depth is solid and good maybe a little raw yet RBs are the same. OL has to be there and is a question again but I feel will get there faster than most would think. DL will be there too they’ll progress fast too. We might stumble in the first qtr but once we’re rolling the season is going to be special.

    • Sparky they went from 103rd to 42nd in the first year playing in the new offense. As long as Franks keeps progressing and Hevesy gets the inexperienced line rolling, they should have no problem having a top 20 offense.

    • I too believe we’re Top-20 in offensive production next year — we have the running game, we have the quarterback(s), and we have the receivers. The only question mark of any sorts is the OL, which seems like deja-vu all over again — but I don’t think problematic enough to keep us from hitting that mark. I think in 2020 tho, we hit on 12 of 8 cylinders and are looking at a Top-5 offense. Relentless effort — Steady improvement…..MGGA.

  2. It has been reported elsewhere that Van Jefferson has publicly stated he will return for his senior year as per the link below. I do feel the corps looks good, and they all became much more complete players with the emphasis on blocking and execution, which will help them all as they more toward potential NFL careers. Given the new redshirt rules, it seems likely to me the new guys will get in for their four games and still redshirt unless one of them is insanely good at returning kicks or something.


  3. Let’s not forget that with the modified spread offense that Coach Mullen runs, receivers include not only the traiditional wide receivers but also slot receivers, tight ends and even running backs. We saw some “spreading of the ball” this past season, especially the latter half. With the talented receiver corps we now have, expect even more of a wide open spread offense that is so very difficult to defend (assuming the O-Line buys enough time fot the QB to execute the plays). GO GATORS!!!

  4. Robbie. I am perplexed how you could leave the potential of Jacob Copeland out of this article. He could be very effective next year playing inside and outside at WR, and he and Toney could be lethal in inside receiver sets and on the field at the same time. Do you know something we do not know?

  5. The spread calls for 3 or 4 WRs on the field on most plays. Occasionally, CDM goes with 2 TEs and 2 WRs on running formations. With those needs, for proper depth, the Gators must have 8 WRs ready to play, plus a couple of freshmen red shirting for the following season.

    If you add Copeland and Pitts to the 6 WRs mentioned above by Robbie, there’s room on the squad for at least 2 red shirting freshmen WRs. The 2019 recruiting class has 3 WRs on it now (Henderson, Weston and Marks), which gives us a total of 9. However, Marks (at 5’-11”) has been discussed as a possible convert to defensive CB, especially if Pitts remains a WR instead of returning to TE, or we don’t sign Elam, or Elam comes in as a safety.

    CDM has this situation well under control.

    Go Gators!!!

  6. I’m excited as anyone but Felipe is going to need to continue to improve with his accuracy if our many talented WRs are going to fulfill their potential. WRs need to get open and do something with the ball when FF gets it to them and FF well…needs to get them the ball in stride.

    I’m hoping Robbie is right about the typical jump in year two of a program. I’m guessing that would make even the most negative Gator crack a smile thinking about.

  7. Van Jefferson returning is a huge plus for us, not only for his production, but for his mentoring and providing a role model for pass route efficiency for the less seasoned receivers. Look for Jefferson to become Captain of the receiving corps.