The status of Florida football’s roster post-National Signing Day

Now that the 2018 signing class for the Florida Gators is in the books, we can begin to get an idea of what the football roster will look like in 2018. UF has not released an official roster for this year, so there is a little bit of guesswork here, but this is what we know right now.

First up, here are the scholarship players who are gone from last year:

  • Graduated/Left Team: Duke Dawson, Cristian Garcia, DeAndre Goolsby, Marcell Harris, Brandon Powell, Joseph Putu, Antonio Riles, Luke Del Rio, Jordan Sherit, Mark Thompson, Johnny Townsend, Nick Washington, Malik Zaire
  • NFL Early Entrants: Taven Bryan, Antonio Callaway, Eddy Piñeiro
  • Transferred: Kalif Jackson, Richerd Desir-Jones, Jordan Smith, Kadeem Telfort
  • Medical Disqualification: James Robinson

Riles’s status is a bit in the air, as he participated in senior day and has graduated but still has one more year of eligibility left. I’m counting him as having moved on, but if he hasn’t, he’d go into the offensive line pool as a redshirt senior.

Florida said goodbye to 21 players from last year’s roster, and it just signed 18 new players (not counting Randy Russell, who had a cardiac condition disqualify him like Robinson did). UF also brought in four transfers in the last calendar year. Marlon Dunlap and Jean DeLance came in early enough to sit out 2017 and be eligible this year, while Trevon Grimes and Van Jefferson are petitioning the NCAA to allow them to forgo sitting out a year and play right away.

Now, let’s run through the positions.

Quarterback (4)

RSO Feleipe Franks, RSO Kyle Trask, RFR Jake Allen, FR Emory Jones

The position is entirely up in the air. Jones is the only real dual threat who fits what Mullen likes to do, but he’d be Mullen’s first freshman starting quarterback.

Some amount of attrition is likely because of the offensive scheme change. It wouldn’t surprise me to see whoever is third among the returning guys after spring transfer out.

I also expect that whoever is the lower of the remaining two holdovers during the fall will transfer after the year. Mullen will probably sign another dual threat guy in next year’s class, so the writing will be on the wall. For what it’s worth, Franks and Trask will probably graduate in time to be grad transfers for the 2019 season, potentially facilitating a clean exit should either want one.

Running Back (6)

RJR Jordan Scarlett, JR Lamical Perine, SO Malik Davis, SO Adarius Lemons, FR Iverson Clement, FR Dameon Pierce

This is the position that gives me the fewest concerns heading into next year. The only real question is when Davis will be recovered enough from his season-ending knee injury to participate.

Wide Receiver (11)

RSR Dre Massey, JR Tyrie Cleveland, JR Josh Hammond, JR Freddie Swain, JR Van Jefferson, RSO Rick Wells, SO Kadarius Toney, SO Trevon Grimes, SO Daquon Green, FR Justin Watkins, FR Jacob Copeland

In contrast, nothing is settled here. Partly that’s due to not knowing if Jefferson or Grimes will be able to play. Mostly it’s because so few of them have played well enough to lock down a starting role. Cleveland probably has, and it’s not hard to imagine Toney getting such a nod. Hammond and Swain could easily be passed up by new players, while Toney’s spot would come at Massey’s expense. Wells and Green are complete question marks right now, and Copeland is probably too good to keep off the field.

Watkins, who UF listed as an athlete in its signing day materials, is an interesting subplot. UF didn’t sign a true cornerback this year, and he moonlighted at corner in addition to his offensive heroics in high school. If the transfers can play right away to provide depth, Watkins could end up on the other side of the ball.

Tight End (5)

RSR C’yontai Lewis, RSR Moral Stephens, RFR Kemore Gamble, FR Kyle Pitts, FR Dante Lang

Lewis will play on account of his experience. Stephens has never been a consistent contributor. Gamble was going to play last year but couldn’t get fully healthy. Pitts and Lang have a chance to play right away if they can impress.

Offensive Line (16)

RSR Kavaris Harkless, RSR Andrew Mike, SR Martez Ivey, SR Tyler Jordan, SR Fred Johnson, RJR T.J. McCoy, RJR Nick Buchanan, RJR Noah Banks, JR Jawaan Taylor, RSO Brett Heggie, RSO Stone Forsythe, RSO Jean DeLance, RFR TJ Moore, FR Richard Gouraige, FR Chris Bleich, FR Griffin McDowell

The Gators have a good overall number at 16, but it’s more like 13 as Harkless, Mike, and Buchanan aren’t going to become SEC-caliber players at this point. Now account for the fact that four are brand new to the Power 5 level (the three freshmen and the JUCO transfer Banks) and DeLance appeared in all of two games at Texas before transferring, and there are a lot of questions for this unit to answer.

Defensive Line (14)

RSR Khairi Clark, SR Cece Jefferson, RJR Jabari Zuniga, RJR Luke Ancrum, RJR Keivonnis Davis, JR Jachai Polite, JR Antonneous Clayton, RSO Marlon Dunlap, SO Elijah Conliffe, SO T.J. Slaton, SO Kyree Campbell, RFR Zachary Carter, FR Malik Langham, FR Andrew Chatfield

More uncertainty lurks here. Davis is the lone member of the credit card scandal bunch still in suspension limbo, and if he does return to the team, he may not be able to play at all because of a scooter accident last fall. Plus, some number of the guys listed as defensive ends in 2017 will move to outside linebacker for the new 3-4 scheme. Chatfield, who was listed as a defensive end in the post-signing day materials UF handed out, is also a possibility at the edge rushing outside linebacker spot.

I’m leaving them all as DEs for now, but once a real roster comes out, there’s a good chance that there will be fewer than 14 scholarship defensive linemen.

Linebacker (11)

RSR R.J. Raymond, RJR Kylan Johnson, RJR Rayshad Jackson, JR Vosean Joseph, JR David Reese II, RSO Jeremiah Moon, RFR James Houston, RFR Ventrell Miller, RFR Nick Smith, RFR Lacedrick Brunson, FR David Reese

Like with offensive line, the headline number is a bit large. Raymond is a former walk on who earned a scholarship for his special teams play. He’s listed as a linebacker, but his non-special teams work last year was as a fullback. There’s a good chance he won’t be listed as a linebacker on Mullen’s first official roster. Also, Jackson is in the Harkless/Mike/Buchanan category of upperclassmen who aren’t going to play barring an emergency, while Brunson was a lightly regarded recruit that Randy Shannon stole from FIU who may or may not be an SEC player.

The nice way of putting it is that this position grouping has the most to prove in 2018. With Houston and Miller being reinstated, Smith returning from injury, a couple of good signees arriving, and some defensive ends switching, reinforcements are on the way.

Defensive Back (14)

JR Chauncey Gardner, JR Jeawon Taylor, RSO Quincy Lenton, RSO C.J. McWilliams, RSO McArthur Burnett, SO Marco Wilson, SO CJ Henderson, SO Brad Stewart, SO Brian Edwards, SO Shawn Davis, SO Donovan Stiner, FR Amari Burney, FR Trey Dean, FR John Huggins

The starting lineup is going to feature Gardner, Wilson, and Henderson, but everything else in this grouping is up in the air. Corner is particularly thin with McWilliams and Burnett, a pair of players who haven’t proven anything, the top returning backups and Dean the only of the signees who might play the position some. Burney is listed as an athlete in the signing day press from UF, but he projects as a defensive back that might play a hybrid LB/DB kind of role sometimes.

Special Teams (2)

SR Ryan Farr, FR Evan McPherson

Farr is a former walk on who earned a scholarship as the top long snapper. Piñeiro’s vacated spot is McPherson’s to lose.

Adding It All Up

The sum of all the numbers in parentheticals is 83. This includes a pair of former walk ons who got scholarships under Jim McElwain, but as they are seniors this year, I see no reason to assume they won’t continue to have them. If Riles does return for one more year, the number will be 84.

If any current walk ons are going to get a scholarship, the top candidate is Tommy Townsend. Johnny’s little brother signed with Tennessee as a 3-star punter recruit out of high school but transferred to UF. He will be eligible this year and will probably hold down the primary punting job. The Gators also added two preferred walk ons this past recruiting cycle in long snapper Marco Ortiz and athlete Jaylin Jackson. They might compete for scholarships at some point down the line.

Looking ahead to the 2019 recruiting cycle, the Gators will be at 71 scholarships once this year’s seniors are gone. It’s tough to tell this early, but I think three Gators are possibilities to leave early for the NFL: Scarlett, Van Jefferson, and Zuniga. Transfers are even harder to predict, but I think one or two quarterbacks will transfer at minimum. There’s a possibility that Keivonnis Davis won’t be back, and I can imagine as many as three redshirt juniors who aren’t real contributors ending up transferring or otherwise not returning after having graduated (Rayshad Jackson, Ancrum, Buchanan).

If all of those potential exits happen and no walk ons earn scholarships that persist past this year, that would leave the Gators with 22 or 23 spots under the 85-man limit for 2019 signees. The actual number is a complete mystery this far out, obviously, but the bottom line is that Florida is almost certainly not going to sign a full 25-man class next year since UF doesn’t allow oversigning. There would have to be a noticeable amount of unexpected attrition to even get to 25, much less go above that by counting 2019 early enrollees backwards towards the empty spots from the 2018 class.

We’ll have more on the roster as the offseason goes along, but this is Florida’s starting point after National Signing Day.