Florida’s offensive line struggles last season, especially in the running game, can be traced to several factors, the biggest probably being the lack of experience and depth.
Another significant factor was the opposition. In a line-of-scrimmage league, the big guys up front went against some of the most dominant defensive linemen in college football in 2019.
Confirmation of that came last month, with the NFL draft, where three of those elite defensive linemen — Auburn’s Derrick Brown, South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw and LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson — were among the top 20 overall selections. Two others — Auburn’s Marlon Davidson and Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor — were taken in the second round.
The positive UF can take out of that is the line may have struggled to generate a steady ground game last season, but was solid enough in pass protection to allow quarterback Kyle Trask and his talented group of receivers to execute the passing game to the tune of 11 victories.
The Gators will be deeper and more experienced on the offensive line this season, and while UF will be facing some very talented defensive linemen again, the overall elite talent the big guys will be facing probably won’t be quite on the same level as last season.
Here’s a look at the top 10 defensive linemen the Gators will be contending with in 2020:
- Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State — He probably would have been a first-round pick in April had he not decided to return for his senior season after missing the Seminoles’ last four games in 2019 with an injured hand. He’s a former five-star recruit who has lived up to the hype in Tallahassee. A physically dominant force inside, the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Wilson had 8.5 tackles for losses and 5.0 sacks before being sidelined last season.
- Tyler Shelvin, NT, LSU — This 6-3, 246-pound nose tackle is pretty much an immovable object in the middle of the Tigers’ defensive line, even against double teams, which he sees often. He’s a great run stopper, but also has the quickness and athletic ability to be disruptive in the backfield.
- Jamar Watson, DE, Kentucky — He’s a rush end with a similar build and skill set to former Florida rush end Jonathan Greenard, who was a third-round draft pick last month. Watson is coming off an excellent 2019 season in which he had 11.5 tackles for losses and 6.5 sacks. He has 18.5 career sacks.
- Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia — The Bulldogs have lacked dominant defensive tackles in recent years, but Davis certainly has a chance to become one. That’s the indication he gave during a breakout season as a true sophomore in 2019 in his 14 starts.
- Aaron Sterling, DE, South Carolina — He has a chance to be one of best edge pass rushers in the SEC in 2020. Fast and athletic, he had a breakout junior season last year, recording six sacks and 10 tackles for losses.
- Quinton Bohann, NT, Kentucky — This could be the year of the big, dominant nose tackle in the SEC, and he’s certainly one of them. He’s huge (6-4, 367 pounds), but moves like a much smaller man, which makes him a potential nightmare matchup for opposing centers and guards. He’s started 19 consecutive games for the ‘Cats.
- Malik Herring, DE, Georgia — Georgia’s defense may be the best in the nation in 2020. It’s loaded with elite talent, and Herring is right at the top of the list. He had 18 quarterback hurries last season and appears primed for a major breakout season in 2020.
- Aubrey Solomon, DT, Tennessee — This Michigan transfer and former five-star recruit got off to a little bit of a slow start with the Vols last season, but by the middle of the year, he was UT’s best interior defensive lineman. He figures to be a leader up front — and one tough blocking assignment — in 2020.
- Travon Walker, DT, Georgia — On a UGA defense full of four and five-star recruits, Walker was a three-star prospect coming out of high school who is rapidly developing into an elite defender coming off an impressive true sophomore season in which he started 14 games.
- Robert Cooper, NT, Florida State — This physical and athletic big man started breaking out in the second half of last season, and his arrow is clearly trending up heading into this season. As a true sophomore in 2019, he started all 13 games and recorded 40 tackles, 5.0 tackles for losses, 2.0 sacks, a fumble recovery and one pass breakup. He and Wilson will be tough for any offensive line to handle.