Florida Gators National Signing Day preview: receiver and tight end

After looking at where Florida stands for February’s National Signing Day at quarterback and running back, the time has come for the wide receiver and tight end positions. Though they both consist of players who will be doing pass catching and blocking for the Gators, they couldn’t be in more different places right now.

All recruiting rankings come from the 247 Sports Composite, which balances recruiting rankings from all of the major services.

Wide Receiver

  • Departing: Brandon Powell, Antonio Callaway, James Robinson
  • Returning: RSR Dre Massey, JR Tyrie Cleveland, JR Josh Hammond, JR Freddie Swain, SO Kadarius Toney, SO Daquon Green
  • Suspension limbo: RSO Rick Wells
  • Transfer limbo: RJR Van Jefferson, SO Trevon Grimes
  • Signed: None
  • Committed: None
  • Targets: Jacob Copeland, 4-star (0.9708); Justin Watkins, 4-star (0.9524); Tommy Bush, 4-star (0.9230); Marquez Ezzard, 4-star (0.8957); Geordon Porter, 3-star (0.8809)

There is no other position on the field in such a strange place for UF than wide receiver.

It looked like a deep position of strength heading into 2017. Two of the three players leaving the team this offseason never even played last fall, but yet, this roster spot now looks thin and unbalanced as a whole.

There are only six returning receivers we can say with any confidence will see the field, which is a terribly low number. One of them, Green, appeared in just two games.

The other five have shown varying degrees of flashes but never fulfilled their potential. Cleveland has little to show for his career so far other than going long. Toney is elusive but was clearly learning the position after being a high school quarterback. Massey seemingly only got open in ways that were invisible to Feleipe Franks. Hammond and Swain could make clutch first down catches, but nearly all those kinds of throws went to Powell.

The position could get a boost if one or both of the transfers gets to play right away. Jefferson will argue for immediate eligibility due to Ole Miss coaches lying to him about the severity of their NCAA misdeeds; that seems a stretch to me, but stranger things have happened. Grimes, who transferred from Ohio State to Florida to be closer to an ailing family member, would seem to have a better shot. However, the NCAA could decide that Gainesville is too far from his family in Fort Lauderdale to give him a waiver.

One of the few certainties is that with Robinson’s career over and Grimes an unknown quantity thanks to playing sparingly last year after tearing his ACL his senior year of high school, the Gators need a couple of great signees this cycle.

Copeland is both the highest-rated guy in the Composite that UF is after and the program’s top target on its board. He has the kind of speed to be a star in Dan Mullen’s offense, though the Gators will have to hold off Alabama for the Pensacola product. He had committed to UF last August before decommitting on November 25, which was prior to the Mullen hire.

Andrew noted in his recruiting mailbag last week that he believes Florida is in good shape with Copeland and Watkins. The latter did a little bit of everything in high school and figures to be a possibility in the slot and in the return game. Florida will have Watkins on campus on the 19th, while they’ll get Copeland’s final visit on February 2.

Mullen isn’t sitting back and counting on just those two. He’s making a push for Bush, a big 6’5″ receiver from Texas, and extended an offer to Porter last week. Ezzard is committed to Ole Miss at present and probably will end up there.

UF will likely end up with just two receivers signing in February since Jefferson and Grimes count towards this cycle as transfers. The good news is that the Gators are in the running for some highly talented guys, so they will probably snag some good ones. The only downside is that we have no timetable on when the status of Jefferson, Grimes, and Wells will be resolved.

Tight End

  • Departing: DeAndre Goolsby, Kalif Jackson
  • Returning: RSR C’yontai Lewis, RSR Moral Stephens, RFR Kemore Gamble
  • Signed: Kyle Pitts, 4-star (0.9352); Dante Lang, 3-star (0.8709)

In contrast to the uncertainty at receiver, the tight end position is settled from a roster standpoint. Pitts and Lang signed in December as the only two tight ends the class needs, and Lewis confirmed shortly after the new year that he would return for his final year of eligibility.

That doesn’t mean the rotation is settled, however. Lewis has the skillset to be the top tight end/H-back in Mullen’s scheme, but he has been inconsistent and intermittently plagued by drops so far in his career. His experience gives him a leg up in the race, but he’s not cemented on top of the depth chart either.

Stephens had a few scattered flashes like his two catches against Vandy or his 63-yard catch from Franks on a busted play against South Carolina, but Gamble and Pitts might really be the ones to watch.

Gamble garnered a lot of good buzz in preseason camp, though he ended up redshirting thanks in large part to having the much older Goolsby and Lewis ahead of him. Getting Pitts to keep his commitment through the coaching change was a big priority for Mullen, who told the young tight end that he could play in a number of different spots on the field.

It’s a position with a mix of experience with Lewis, intriguing potential with Stephens, and high-end promise with Gamble and Pitts. Lang, who started at both tight end and defensive end in high school, may take a redshirt year to grow at the position.

It’s a decent balance up and down the position grouping — provided one or two of them make good on their potential and step up as a playmaker this year.