Now that signing day has come and gone and we’ve had a chance to better analyze this Florida recruiting class, I thought it would be a good time to predict which five true freshmen will have an immediate impact this season. I’ve done these in order, meaning the No. 1 guy is the most likely to play.
1. Gerald Christian, tight end: He’s an early enrollee and he’ll have a chance to battle redshirt freshman Desmond Parks not just for playing time but for the starting role. Christian is an excellent athlete with good strength and great hands. He has a chance to develop into a pass-catching tight end in the mold of Aaron Hernandez. Being here this spring is a huge plus for Christian — and the Gators, who have only two scholarship tight ends on the roster at the moment. Unless something unforeseen happens, this kid is going to see serious playing time in the fall.
2. Joshua Shaw, cornerback: He’s also already in school and he has his eyes on that starting cornerback position vacated by All-American Joe Haden. He’s a big, athletic corner who has excellent cover skills and instincts. Physically, he appears ready to play. With the competition at his position so wide open, Shaw has a chance to become a freshman starter, like Haden and Janoris Jenkins before him. Another true freshman, Jaylen Watkins, also has a chance to make a run at the starting role.
3. Sharrif Floyd, defensive tackle: He’s not in school early, but he was considered the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the nation by most of the recruiting services. He’s got the imposing size the Gators have not signed at the position in recent years. With depth at tackle an issue due to injuries to Brandon Antwine and Terron Sanders, Floyd will get right into the mix for playing time when he arrives this summer.
4. Trey Burton, quarterback: I know, I know, his throwing mechanics are questionable and he’s going to need a lot of work to develop as a passer at this level. But that doesn’t matter right now. What does is he’s going to be the No. 2 quarterback, and he brings some of the same elements to the position that Tim Tebow did in the running game. Especially early in the season, Burton has a chance to get a package of plays to run in the offense, something to keep defenses a little off balance — and continue to make them prepare to defend the entire spread offense.
5. Ronald Powell, defensive end: He’s the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation and he’s physically (and apparently mentally) ready to step on the field and play. His versatility will help him do that. He can play defensive end (where UF must replace both starters), outside linebacker (maybe even middle linebacker) and tight end. As a defensive end/outside linebacker, this kid reminds me of Hugh Green, who dominated as a true freshman at Pittsburgh in 1977 and went on to become the Heisman runner-up his senior season.