If you’re a glass half empty type, then you’ll take a look at what could have been for the Florida Gators and think if only. If you’re a glass half full type, then you’re looking at players like Andre Debose (6-0, 180, Sanford, FL Seminole, #17 ESPNU 150, Xavier Nixon (6-6, 280, Fayetteville, NC Jack Britt, #51 ESPNU 150), Jelani Jenkins (6-1, 210, Wheaton, MD, Good Counsel, #9 ESPNU 150) and Gary Brown (6-4, 275, DT, Greensboro, FL West Gadsden, #23 ESPNU 150) and thinking no matter what the Gators might have lost on signing day, look at the studs they landed.
The signing day defections of wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson (5-9, 165, Pahokee, FL, #112 ESPNU 150) and cornerback Marsalis Teague (5-10, 170, CB, Paris, TN Henry County) to Tennessee had to sting Florida’s coaching staff. When you’re the national champions and an upstart coach like Lane Kiffin takes away two of your commitments, it’s never going to be pleasant but reality says these were absorbable losses. Richardson needs to grow and Florida is already stacked with outstanding wide receivers. Teague is a nice prospect but the Gators return all 35 defensive players that made their traveling squad in 2008 when they won the national championship so he wasn’t going to see the field unless he could make it on special teams.
Florida went to the wire for running back Trent Richardson (5-11, 225, Pensacola, FL Escambia, #6 ESPNU 150), defensive tackle Brandon Moore (6-6, 320, DT, Montgomery, AL Carver) and linebacker Jarvis Jones (6-3, 220, Columbus, GA Carver, #60 ESPNU 150) but those three were luxuries and not necessities.
When you look at what Florida got instead of what the Gators could have had, the picture looks very, very good. The Gators came up with Debose, whom Meyer says is the best offensive player in the country. Florida’s offensive line class, headed up by Nixon, is the best in the county. Jenkins is the best outside linebacker in the country and Brown not only is a disruptive playmaker that can collapse a pocket from the inside, but he’s also from shouting distance to the Florida State campus.
Florida came up with at least the minimum acceptable numbers at every position but one. The only position where the Gators whiffed was corner and that was due to the signing day defection of Teague and losing Greg Reid (5-9, 170, Valdosta, GA Lowndes County, #15 ESPNU 150), who committed to the Gators in February of 2008 only to walk away from the Gators in mid-January. Reid signed with Florida State.
From a quality standpoint, the Gators brought in 16 players with the talent to become contributors in their Florida careers. Some of them will become stars but all of them have the ability to at least contribute in some way. So give the Gators an A for quality.
From a quantity standpoint, give the Gators a B+. It’s hard to give them an A when they whiffed at corner.
Here is the position by position breakdown and grade.
QUARTERBACK (1): One quarterback was a necessity and the Gators more than filled their need with Jordan Reed (6-4, 230, New London, CT, #142 ESPNU 150), a big, strong prospect from New London, Connecticut with a very live arm. With Tim Tebow and Johnny Brantley already on campus, Reed won’t have to play right away but he will step in immediately as the number three so he will be preparing every single week to play since he’s an injury away from being the backup. A second quarterback would have been a luxury. The Gators promised Denard Robinson (6-0, 192, Deerfield Beach, FL, #102 ESPN 150) a shot at quarterback but at Florida he would sit. At Michigan, he has a shot to play right away so he chose Ann Arbor.
Quality Grade (A): Reed has the physical size to go with a good arm and nice running instincts. He’s a very good fit for Florida’s offense.
Quantity Grade (A): The Gators needed one and got one.
RUNNING BACK (1): One was a necessity but the Gators really wanted to get a power back to go with Mike Gillislee (6-0, 190, DeLand, FL, #129 ESPNU 150), a quick back with the instincts to head for open space. Gillislee has the frame to add 20 pounds and perhaps become a power back in the future, but now he’s more of a make you miss type that can factor in the passing game. The one that got away was Trent Richardson (5-11, 225, Pensacola, FL Escambia, #6 ESPNU 150), perhaps the best between the tackles runner in the nation. Richardson committed to Alabama early on, wavered and was thought to be leaning Florida’s way midway through January, but decided to stick with Alabama on signing day.
Quality Grade (B+): Gillislee is very good and he doesn’t have to be a big contributor right away, which gives him time to add some weight and strength.
Quantity Grade (B): Power backs with speed don’t grow on trees so missing out on Richardson is a big deal. Gillislee could add the weight and strength but does he have the mentality to be a punishing runner between the tackles?
FULLBACK/TIGHT END (1): With Orson Charles (6-3, 230, Tampa, FL Plant) still on the board (visiting Southern Cal this weekend; will choose next week), the Gators could still add one more tight end. Desmond Parks (6-4, 220, Greer, SC) is already in school so he will have a chance to add 15-20 pounds of muscle between now and August. Parks has good pass catching skills but without the added strength, he won’t be much help as a blocker. Unless the Gators add Charles next week, Parks will be the only backup scholarship tight end to Aaron Hernandez. T.J. Pridemore, who took a redshirt in 2008, was recruited to play fullback but can he learn to play tight end?
Quality Grade (A-): Parks is long on skill but light on weight. You can add strength. Not many guys learn to be playmakers and Parks is a playmaker.
Quantity Grade B-: This grade will change if Charles decides to be a Gator next week.
WIDE RECEIVER (1): Urban Meyer calls Andre Debose (6-0, 180, Sanford, FL Seminole, #17 ESPNU 150) the best high school football player in the United States so landing him overshadows the loss of Nu’Keese Richardson (5-9, 165, Pahokee, FL, #112 ESPNU 150). Debose was a must and while Richardson was a potential replacement for Brandon James in the return game in 2010, his loss isn’t devastating. Debose will play the “Percy Position,” which means he will get the ball in a variety of ways. Expect him to line up outside, in the slot and take some carries from the tailback position. Because he played some quarterback at Seminole, he adds a throwing dimension when he lines up in the Wild Gator formation. The Gators really did need a second receiver but if you only can get one, getting a difference-maker like Debose is huge.
Quality Grade (A+): You don’t get better than the best and Debose has the ability to be that freshman people will be talking about for years.
Quantity Grade (B+): The Gators needed two. If the one they got was anyone but Debose, this grade would be a C.
OFFENSIVE LINE (5): It starts up front with the Gators, who led the Southeastern Conference in rushing and total offense. The Gators have a roster of big, strong linemen that play with a rather nasty attitude. The Gators wanted five O-linemen in this class and they got five including the number one offensive tackle in the nation in Xavier Nixon (6-6, 280, Fayetteville, NC Jack Britt, #51 ESPNU 150), whom Meyer says is so good the Gators might have a problem keeping him off the field even as a freshman. The other tackle is Jonnathan Harrison (6-4, 290, Groveland, FL South Lake), who projects as a very good pass protector. For the guard positions, the Gators landed Jon Halapio (6-4, 305, St. Petersburg, FL Catholic), who could get in the rotation fairly early, and Nick Alajajian (6-4, 280, #63 ESPNU 150), who is already in school. Alajajian is known for great footwork. The final piece of the equation is Kyle Koehne (6-6, 290, Indianapolis, IN Cathedral), who figures to add 20 pounds of muscle to become that smart but nasty man in the middle of the O-line.
Quality Grade (A+): This might be the best offensive line class in the entire country. It’s a class that has size, strength and mobility, headed up by Nixon, who is the best in the country at his position.
Quantity Grade (A): The Gators needed five and they not only got five, but they got five outstanding prospect.
DEFENSIVE LINE (3): The Gators were in it until the end for Brandon Moore (6-6, 320, DT, Montgomery, AL Carver), who was more of a luxury than a necessity. With juco transfer Edwin Herbert (6-3, 290, Fairfield, CA, City College of San Francisco) and Gary Brown (6-4, 275, DT, Greensboro, FL West Gadsden, #23 ESPNU 150), the Gators addressed their needs at tackle. Herbert has the reputation of a run stuffer while Brown is that disruptive type that collapses pockets from the inside. If Brown’s high energy act translates to the college level, then he will have a chance to play very early. Kedric Johnson (6-4, 215, Palmetto, FL) seems like a clone of Jermaine Cunningham, a high energy speed rusher. Cunningham had to add 30 pounds to develop into an every down player and Johnson will have to hit the weight room hard from day one on campus. The good news is he has the frame to play between 260-270.
Quality Grade (A): Landing Moore would have earned this group an A+ grade, but still it’s pretty impressive. Brown is a coup since he’s from Florida State’s back yard.
Quantity Grade (A): Moore would have been a luxury. The Gators needed three and got three.
LINEBACKER (2): The Gators got the best outside linebacker in the country in Jelani Jenkins (6-1, 210, Wheaton, MD, Good Counsel, #9 ESPNU 150), whose best days are still ahead. He’s only 16 and he figures to grow taller and fill out to about 235 pounds. He’s a straight A student with excellent speed and great instincts to find the football. In Jon Bostic (6-3, 232, LB, #109 ESPNU 150) the Gators might have the future replacement for Brandon Spikes. Bostic played safety until his senior year in high school. He has great speed and he’s grown to an impressive 232 pounds. He’s like Ryan Stamper in that he’s strong enough, athletic enough and smart enough to learn all three linebacker positions. The one that got away here was a good one. The Gators had the lead for Jarvis Jones (6-3, 220, Columbus, GA Carver, #60 ESPNU 150) until a few days before national signing day. Florida is so stacked at linebacker, however, that Jones was not a necessity.
Quality Grade (A+): It’s hard to argue with a class that has Jenkins and Bostic in it. When you use the word upside, think these two. If they can fulfill their potential, the Gators have two big time contributors.
Quantity Grade (A): If the Gators had landed Jones, this would have been the number one rated linebacker class in the country. It’s one of the best even without him.
CORNERBACK (0): The Gators lost Marsalis Teague (5-10, 170, CB, Paris, TN Henry County) to Tennessee and long time commitment Greg Reid (5-9, 170, Valdosta, GA Lowndes County, #15 ESPNU 150) to Florida State. Losing these guys hurt because the Gators passed on quality players because they were committed. The Gators had to get one although two would have been a real bonus. This puts a premium on the 2010 class. Florida will have to sign three, perhaps four corners in this class.
Quality Grade (F): Complete whiff.
Quantity Grade (F): Zero from zero equals zero.
SAFETY (2): Dee Finley (6-2, 206, Auburn, AL) was one of the gems of the 2008 class but he didn’t qualify and spent the fall in prep school. He’s in class now and will be able to show his stuff in the spring. Finley has ideal size and speed to be a safety but he’s got the frame to grow into an outside linebacker. Josh Evans (6-2, 205, Irvington, NJ) is a football player. He’s the type that will find a position to play. Right now, he could be that big corner capable of handling the taller, stronger outside receivers or he could become a free safety. He’s got the frame to become an outside linebacker, plus he was an outstanding offensive player in high school.
Quality Grade (A): Finley is the real deal and Evans gives the Gators a versatile athlete that could play a lot of positions.
Quantity Grade (A): The Gators needed two and got the two they needed.