By: Jacob Benson
Since Will Muschamp’s inaugural season under Muschamp in 2011, there have been questions (and rightfully so) regarding the talent level on offense since Urban Meyer skipped town. Each season the Florida Gators have grown harder to watch, and now that a new coach has entered the fray, the offseason attempts at fending off expectations will be in full swing.
We have all already heard about the lack of depth on the offensive line and at linebacker, about how it will take time to implement a new offensive scheme, about how having a new starting quarterback may slow progress. And all of these things are real issues for the Jim McElwain and Co. However, what you haven’t been hearing about from this new group of coaches as much, is what the talent level on this team is.
As Muschamp candidly put it upon his exit, “Don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got any players.” And this statement would be true, as much a self-given compliment about his ability to recruit players as it was a condemnation of the former head man’s ability to cultivate results.
But this new look Florida program should not look any longer to the past, whether it be at head coaches or past talent (there has been much of it over the past four years). Now, is the time to look at what this team has going forward, and here is where you can see it.
5) Brandon Powell
This may seem a bit lofty, and perhaps it is, but I see big things coming out of the slot from Powell in 2015. He is fast enough to be a deep threat, and with a young offensive line, will also be used extensively in what should be a prominent screen game. The offense has lacked an element of breakaway speed for quite some time, and with defenses forced to watch established targets Demarcus Robinson and Jake McGee, Powell should really be able to separate himself. His abilities in the jet sweep game should also be taken into account, and at this time, I have him as the Gators’ second leading receiver for 2015. What really puts him over the top though? His special team’s ability, where he should be the primary kickoff returner and will most likely also work on the punt team.
4) Keanu Neal
Some may be lost on this pick as well, but Keanu Neal is an athletic specimen at safety. He is an absolute headhunter, and now that he seems to fully grasp the defense after a year of starting experience, he can really let loose. His communication caused problems early last year, but with Geoff Collins retaining most of the same defensive language from a year ago I expect Neal to understand how to command a secondary. Once he is able to improve his play recognition and leadership there will be absolutely nothing holding him back from an All-SEC type season. With the possibility to play himself into a high draft pick, look out for Neal to put together by far his best season in Gainesville so far. Pair him with Marcus Maye, and you have a very talented pair of safeties watching the deep end of the field.
3) Jalen Tabor
Another secondary player, another top 5 performer. After losing out in spring to J.C. Jackson (who has been removed from the team due to armed robbery charges), Tabor should press on to further his All-SEC freshman debut. With experience and extraordinary talent all around him, Tabor will be free to play confidently knowing that even if he is beat, he has safeties behind him ready to cover any receiver in the country. His confidence should be up, his skills improved, and still competing with Quincy Wilson will bring out the best that this young man has to offer. He may not be Vernon Hargreaves, but he is still an extremely talented corner and may very well go in the first couple rounds of a future NFL draft.
2) Demarcus Robinson
By far the most explosive threat on the Gator’s offense, Robinson will force defensive coordinators to plan around him. He will require safety help over the top, and should prevent opponents from completely stacking the box. His size (6’2, 200+ pounds) will allow him to win physical matchups with even some of the bigger corners in the country, and he will be facing quite a few of them. He needs to work on his consistency (he had too many drops for a No. 1 receiver in 2014), and if he can improve he could be the brightest spot on what should be a somewhat shaky Florida offense. McElwain loves to have one or two go-to players on his offenses, and I don’t think any Gator fan worth his salt will argue over who that player will be in 2015.
1) Vernon Hargreaves III
Who else could it have been? Hargreaves is far and away the best player on this team, and when it comes to impact outside of statistics, all others pale in comparison. He locks down receivers regardless of talent, and will have the opportunity to do so again against the likes of Laquan Treadwell and Pharaoh Cooper. He thrives against the best competition and any time you see a ball thrown his way, it was usually a poor choice. This is a first round draft pick and he has been since he stepped on campus, and he is ready to demonstrate yet again why he is one of the best on the college level. As he always has, expect him to win a vast majority of the battles he takes part in.
• No Fly Zone….Florida has some of the best secondary players in the country and it clearly shows on this list. 3 of the top 5 players are from this unit, and it should be fun to watch opposing offenses try to get traction through the air in 2015.
• Defense is still dominant….8 of the top 10 players on the team are from this side of the ball, and this truly indicates what an excellent job Muschamp did in developing and recruiting defensive talent. The Gators should field yet another dominant defense.
• Receivers have hope….In spite of much criticism two Gators receivers are in the top 5, which should be a major boon for quarterback Will Grier. The pleasant surprise of the offseason has been Brandon Powell, who will help to take away coverages from constantly being focused on Demarcus Robinson.
• Offensive line is…offensive….There is no doubting the fact that this line will not be a great one by any stretch of the imagination. Not a single player on the offensive line makes it into the top 15. That is not a good sign, and although there is great talent on the roster, it will be another year before the line will mesh.
• Defensive tackle dominance….This year’s defensive tackle group will be deep and has a good bit of talent, but not much is proven. Taven Bryan may shine (though he may not) and Caleb Brantley still has to prove he has matured as a player mentally. The ability is there, and now is the time to see if new D-line coach Chris Rumph can seize it.
• Quarterback MIA?….Will Grier, the starting quarterback, is nowhere to be found on a list dealing with leadership and how much of a game planning issue players are to opposing teams. Grier ranks much lower than a starting quarterback should, though through no fault of his own. He has not had a chance to prove himself, and will look to move into a list featuring the top 15 players on the team (which will be a major change of pace since Tim Tebow left town)….