Many believe Florida’s wide receiving corps last season was the deepest and best since the uber-talented 1995 group that featured Chris Doering, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green.
So, what better source to break down the heart of the 2019 group — those four seniors, three of whom are now at the NFL Combine — than one of those former greats from 25 years ago.
Doering, a first-team All-SEC selection who finished his UF career with an SEC-record 31 touchdown receptions and went on to have a 10-year NFL career, said the four in this year’s receiver class — Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland and Josh Hammond — will have a chance to make it in the NFL.
“What I like about these guys is they’re all very different and they all bring something unique to the table,” said Doering, who owns a Gainesville mortgage company and is a football analyst for the SEC Network. “I think all four of them have a chance. All four have what they’re looking for at the next level — speed, some size. Some are better prepared now.
“So much of it has to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time with the right coordinator and coaches who want you to do well, and getting an opportunity.
“I do think they’ll all get a chance. I expect to see all of them in camp when camps open up in July.”
Jefferson, Cleveland and Swain are at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Hammond did not receive an invite and is in Gainesville getting ready for UF’s Pro Day in March.
Doering took the time Thursday to break down the four Gator receivers who are getting prepared for the NFL draft:
Doering on Jefferson
“He was the dependable guy, particularly with (Kyle) Trask. On third down, they needed a catch for six yards, you’re looking to Van for the slant route. He’s dependable because the quarterback can trust where he’s going to be. He’s good at the line of scrimmage, creative with his routes, releases against press coverage and disciplined in terms of using great technique. And always being in the same spot.
“Being around Coach (Steve) Spurrier, we were taught that everyone had to be very precise in terms of depth of routes, number of steps and getting in and out of breaks. Van’s really a technician when it comes to route running and obviously catches the ball extremely well. He’s probably the one that goes off the board first because of the combination of all those things that make him so valuable.”
Doering on Swain
“Freddie is the most undervalued and underappreciated receiver that we’ve had at Florida in a long time. I don’t know that people really understand just how good he is and what he brought, not only in the receiving game but the return game as well.
“He can play the slot really well, does a nice job of running routes and feeling leverages and feeling spots in zone coverage and understanding where to break away in man coverage. Obviously, extremely fast.
“He’s a match-up issue, something you saw against Auburn. They tried to put a linebacker on him and he just made them look stupid. He’s got a chance to be a really good player at the next level, even though he’s not as acclaimed as some of the other guys.”
Doering on Cleveland
“In the beginning, he was just a take-the-top-off-of-the-defense guy. He would run past guys. Remember that game against LSU as a freshman, that big catch down the sideline (for a touchdown). He really worked hard in the last couple of years to become a better short to intermediate route runner, and developed better habits catching the football. He did a nicer job catching the football with his hands, out away from his body.
“A lot of that has to do with Billy Gonzales’ influence on him. He did a nice job of teaching him the nuances of the position. There’s some untapped and unutilized skill there. I think the best is yet to come for him.”
Doering on Hammond
“I like him an awful lot. He was a guy that early in his career all we heard about was how reliable he was, how he was making a ton of catches. Every year, it seemed like they weren’t throwing him the ball as much as they should have. This year, I was surprised at how fast he was. They utilized him in the run game. That touchdown on the jet sweep that ended up sealing the Kentucky game, I didn’t realize he had that kind of speed.
“That’s the thing that I was surprised about. I knew him more as a possession receiver, a guy that was reliable in terms of a quarterback knowing where he’s going to be and a good route runner. This year he expanded his repertoire to include some speed and elusiveness. He’s obviously got a lot of toughness.
“His older brother was a great receiver at Florida and he’s been schooled the right way in terms of knowledge of the game.”
Doering said this year’s UF receivers and the 1995 group have something in common: they’ve been coached very well at the college level and now are ready to move on to pro ball because of it.
“I benefited a ton from the teaching of Coach Spurrier and coach (Dwayne) Dixon,” he said. “Those guys would be out there running the routes with us.
“Billy is a similar-type coach, from my experience. There are a lot of receivers that don’t get that same teaching. These guys definitely have a little bit of an edge on the rest of them because of their last two years with Billy Gonzales.”