Jim McElwain faced an uphill battle trying to finish out a recruiting class in a little over a month. The Florida Gators new head coached embraced the challenge, taking over a class that had just eight commitments and finished it out strong with 21 signees.
Thursday we reviewed and graded the offensive players in the class and today we turn our focus to the defense.
The Gators had much more work to do on the offensive side of the ball as McElwain tries to resuscitate an offense that flatlined years ago. On defense, the Gators return a lot of young talent and have a much better nucleus to work with. Still, with players like Dante Fowler Jr. gone and others like Vernon Hargreaves III expected to depart for the NFL after this season, McElwain couldn’t rest on the defensive side of the ball either.
Our grading criteria will encompass the talent level of the prospects at each position, if the staff was able to sign enough players to hit their target numbers at each position and how well the staff was able to fill holes that the roster had with the signing class.
Number needed: 2-3
Signed: 3(CeCe Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, Keivonnis Davis)
Losing Dante Fowler after the season was sort of a forgone conclusion but Florida does get Jon Bullard back for his senior season, which gives them a playmaker and a veteran to lead the group.
The Gators missed on Byron Cowart when the talented pass rusher committed to Auburn on signing day but they did land CeCe Jefferson, after some drama regarding his letter of intent.
Jefferson is the big name of the group and will likely get on the field early as a freshman but the entire class is very good. Jabari Zuniga and Keivonnis Davis are 6-3, 255 and 6-4, 227 respectively and both are very raw, talented pass rushers who flew under the radar this recruiting cycle.
Number needed: 2-3
Signed: 2 (Andrew Ivie, Luke Ancrum)
The Gators return Joey Ivie, Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley, Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark so the need here wasn’t pressing. Andre Ivie, the younger brother of junior-to-be Joey, comes to Florida underrated like his brother. A wrestler in high school, Andrew understands leverage and is very strong. Both he and Luke Ancrum appear to be projects for the future rather than players who will step in and make an immediate impact on Saturdays in 2015.
Number needed: 3-4
Signed: 1 (Rayshad Jackson)
The Gators signed a big class two years ago and that afforded them the option of being picky at linebacker in 2014. Being picky left Florida without a linebacker in the 2014 class and created a huge need for a good class in 2015.
To be honest, Florida swung and missed in 2015 here.
Rayshad Jackson is an intriguing prospect but will need some time to develop before he can make an impact. With Antonio Morrison sidelined with a knee injury the Gators will have to lean on Jeremi Powell, Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Jarrad Davis. Davis’ sophomore season didn’t live up to the hype that he created as a freshman and Powell nursed a knee injury in 2014. Matt Rolin didn’t play last year and it remains to be seen what kind of player he will be after undergoing two knew surgeries.
Florida needed to sign some playmakers this recruiting cycle and they knew that. They were in on players like Adonis Thomas and Jeff Holland but only came away with one player at a position that was a pressing need.
Number needed: 1-2
Signed: 1 (Chris Williamson)
Florida is absolutely loaded at cornerback after signing a huge and talented class in 2014. However, with Brian Poole set to graduate after the 2015 season and Vernon Hargreaves expected to leave early for the NFL, the numbers will need replenishing soon.
The Gators signed just one cornerback, which is to be expected after their haul last year, but they got a good one in Georgia native Chris Williamson. Williamson is a very talented prospect and the depth at the position will allow him to ease into the transition to college. He’s a good player but playing time will be sparse this season.
Numbers needed: 1-3
Signed: 1 (Kylan Johnson)
With Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal returning, Florida is set for 2015 at safety. Additionally Marcell Harris, Duke Dawson and Nick Washington all add depth. Florida was able to go in to Texas and pull Kylan Johnson who has all the physical attributes that you look for at safety. He’ll have time to develop and is a player to watch in a few years.