Breaking down Florida football’s roster balance heading into 2020

Last year after the February signing day, I praised Dan Mullen’s recruiting work while noting that the roster’s balance was still a bit out of whack. A few details turned out differently than the piece states, but it largely holds up.

As a head coach, you want to have a good amount of balance across experience levels at each position. That’s not always achievable, as some attrition is inevitable whether for good (early NFL entrants) or ill (e.g transfers, dismissals, medical DQs).

Today I’m going to go over how UF’s roster balance sits right now. It is somewhat in flux because the Gators have a pair of unsigned commits and are reportedly going to host uncommitted RB recruit Zach Evans in March—not to mention the possibility of hitting the transfer market in the offseason. However, I’m going with the officially announced players right now, which puts UF at 84 recruited scholarship players. It has three initial counters left for 2020 to use on those pair of commits, or if they don’t sign, any future high school signings or incoming transfers.

For the record I’m counting new transfer Justin Shorter as a junior for now, but he’ll move to the redshirt sophomore bucket if his waiver to play right away is denied. Brenton Cox took a redshirt while sitting out his transfer season last fall; other new transfers Jordan Pouncey and Lorenzo Lingard have already taken redshirts at their former schools. Also, Florida’s NSD page lists 2020 signee Fenley Graham as an athlete, but I’ve put him down as a defensive back below.

Balance by Class

First up, let’s take a look at the roster by class. Redshirts are in the corresponding columns.

Position Seniors Juniors Sophomores Freshmen
QB 1 0 1 1
RB 0 2 2 1
WR 3 2 1 5
TE 0 2 2 1
OL 3 1 3 8
DL 3 2 0 6
LB 1 4 5 5
DB 5 2 3 7
Specialists 0 1 0 1
Totals 16 16 17 35

Just looking at the bottom line totals, the roster looks fairly balanced at first glance. In fact, it’s a little thin in the middle because you generally expect the numbers to rise as you go from seniors down to freshmen.

Mullen’s 2018 transitional class is the primary culprit for the smaller middle. It began with just 20 signees, one a JUCO transfer with two years of eligibility left, and lost two guys right away to a medical DQ (Randy Russell) and dismissal (Justin Watkins). Five more have left for various reasons since. If not for three class of 2018 players transferring in, the middle would be even more thin.

In last year’s roster balance piece, I highlighted the fact that Mullen stated receiver and defensive tackle would be positions of need this cycle. We can see some of that emphasis above.

Only one wide receiver from 2018 and three from 2019 are still around, so Mullen signed a pair of freshman wideouts while taking two transfers. One of the uncommitted recruits is also a receiver. With all of the ’19 signees redshirting, you can see how Florida has as many freshman wide receivers as it does upperclassmen.

I have defensive line all lumped together because Todd Grantham likes to move guys around. A couple of them only play in the middle, but the rest do multiple roles at different times. The jewel of the ’20 class Gervon Dexter is a defensive tackle, and a couple others in Lamar Goods and Jalen Lee have the listed sizes of true men in the middle. Combine them with 2019 signee Jaelin Humphries, who redshirted last year, and UF does indeed have a lot of young DTs.

Perhaps the most unbalanced is defensive back. UF needs a lot of them with nickel as the base defense, but it has five seniors about to exhaust their eligibility and a redshirt junior a real threat to go pro after this year (Marco Wilson). Mullen landed seven of them in the 2020 class and was in hot pursuit of an eighth who decided to sign elsewhere at the actual last minute on NSD.

Balance by Years in College

Another way to look at things is to ignore class labels and go by the number of years out of high school. It’s especially helpful at the young end of the spectrum because it separates out the true and redshirt freshmen.

This is what Florida’s roster looks like by years of experience.

Position 5th Year 4th Year 3rd Year 2nd Year 1st Year
QB 1 0 1 0 1
RB 0 1 3 1 0
WR 1 3 2 3 2
TE 0 1 2 1 1
OL 3 1 2 5 4
DL 1 4 0 1 5
LB 1 3 4 5 2
DB 2 4 1 3 7
Specialists 0 0 1 0 1
Totals 9 17 16 19 23

I didn’t mention offensive line as being unbalanced in the previous section despite there being eight freshmen and seven non-freshmen. This right here is why. Half of the freshmen are redshirts and half are new signees. It’s still not a perfect picture of balance with five second-year players and just six guys older than that, but the situation does look better from the standpoint of building a proper pipeline of players.

This view of the roster really shows the hole from Mullen’s transitional class better. The cohort of third-year players needed three transfers just to hold its own with the second and fourth-year groups in the middle. Two of those transfers (Shorter and Lingard) have uncertain status for this year with their immediate-play waivers pending. In 2020, there may only be 14 third-year players eligible.

Third and fourth-year players typically make up the core of teams, especially elite ones. Fifth-year seniors can be excellent performers, but typically, excellent performers leave for the NFL before making it to their fifth collegiate season. First and second-year players can also play big roles, but the ones with the skill to make up for their relative lack of experience are rare.

Florida does have a high-for-its-standards group of nine fifth-year seniors, but true to what I just said, four are career backups and a couple more were not superlative performers as starters a year ago. Having an also-high 17 fourth-year players is more important for making up for the low amount of third-year players. And, just like with the third-year group, the fifth-years (Jean Delance, Marlon Dunlap) and fourth-years (Trevon Grimes, Jordan Pouncey) are buoyed by transfers.

Despite losing 13 seniors and three juniors off of last year’s team, Florida is not as young as you might guess. It still has plenty of veterans, as half of the 84 recruited scholarship players on the roster are third-years or higher.

The thing I’ll be looking for most is which of the second-year players step up. We already know about some of them; everyone’s penciling in Kaiir Elam and Ethan White for starting spots, and Mohamoud Diabate and Khris Bogle should get plenty of reps in the rotation up front.

That said, 12 of the 19 second-year players are redshirt freshmen. Seven of the 12 are either receivers or offensive linemen. Mullen and his staff have always favored experience since his Mississippi State tenure began, but they also at least claim to let competition guide their personnel decisions.

With just three reasonably proven receivers—arguably two-and-a-half, since Kadarius Toney has yet to show a full range of receiver abilities—and a largely awful offensive line performance last year, there should be plenty of room for competition. I want to see if any of the younger guys can use it to skip the line.

Florida is approaching some roster balance, as redshirting spaces things out and transfers patch holes. It’s going to take a couple more years to smooth out defensive line and defensive back, but redshirting some 2020 signees will help with that.

For now, there aren’t any positions that scream out as real areas of need for 2021, provided that none of the hauls from 2019 or 2020 have a disproportionate number of busts in them. Receiver will be a concern if one or none of the ’19 guys pan out, for instance. Florida can’t afford to have a small group there, at running back, or defensive line in next year’s class, but it can also sign the normal amount and be okay.

It’s terribly early, but you can see this fact in the 11 commits of the 2021 class. UF has one quarterback, one running back, two receivers, two offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, one linebacker, and two defensive backs. The Gators aren’t loading up in one particular area because they don’t have to. They can sign a balanced class and be fairly balanced going forward.

The program is in a better place than this time last year on this one particular issue.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2