Evaluating Florida’s freshmen class through three games

The Florida Gators signed 20 freshmen out of the 2023 recruiting class, a number of which have made a significant impact through three games of the 2023 season.

16 of Florida’s 20 freshmen have appeared in at least one game this season, combining for 561 snaps through three games, an average of 187 snaps per game from rookies.


Head Coach Billy Napier has played six freshmen on the offensive side of the ball out of eight possible candidates, combining for 220 snaps through three games.


Eugene Wilson has made an immediate impact for the Gators offensively, despite not showing up to Gainesville until the summer before fall camp.

Wilson has appeared in every game this season including two starts, combining for 79 snaps for an average 26.3 a game. The 5-10, 170-pound receiver left Saturday’s game against Tennessee in the first quarter with a collarbone injury after hauling in six catches for 44 yards on the Gators’ first two offensive possessions. So, Wilson’s 79 snaps this season, which is the third most among Florida’s wide receivers, doesn’t even do his usage justice.

The Tampa, Florida native has combined for 12 catches and 104 receiving yards, which ranks second on the Gators in both categories. Wilson has also added two rushes for 27 yards on the ground.

Wilson is the highest graded offensive player on the Gators through three weeks, posting an offensive grade of 82.9, according to Pro Football Focus.

The freshmen receiver has proven to be a dynamic playmaker early on in his collegiate career and gives Gator Nation a lot to look forward to. We have only seen a glimpse of what Wilson can do on the football field, and when he returns from his collarbone injury, I expect Napier to go right back to giving him the ball as often as he can.


Offensive lineman Knijeah Harris has served as a reserve in all three games for the Gators this season, logging 68 snaps with a season high 42 against McNeese State in week two.

It’s rare to see a true freshman offensive linemen play such a significant role this early in his collegiate career, but Harris has looked the part, allowing zero sacks, hurries, or pressures in 32 pass blocking snaps. Harris’ pass block grade of 86.3 is the highest on the Gators while his offensive grade ranks 7th, according to PFF.

Harris’ versatility was a point of emphasis by the Gators’ staff in the offseason, and the 6-3, 315-pounder has played at all three interior offensive line positions in 2023, recording 32 at left guard, 13 at center, and 22 at right guard.

Harris will see an uptick in playing time and potentially log his first career start in week four as OG Micah Mazzccua is suspended for the first half against Charlotte.


Webb is one of three true offensive freshmen that have appeared in all three games this season, logging 27 snaps in that span. His notable game came against McNeese State, where the Jacksonville native scored two rushing touchdowns on 71 yards and 14 carries, setting career highs in all three categories.

Webb is going to serve as RB3 this season and will likely play in most games this season but won’t have a major role unless one of either Montrell Johnson or Trevor Etienne suffers an injury.


Jean did not record a catch in his lone appearance against McNeese State, where the freshmen receiver logged 25 snaps. Jean made waves in fall camp and seemed to have a leg up on other receivers in the room with his route running and play making ability. Look for the Miami native to record his first career reception in week four.


Mizell recorded 17 snaps against McNeese State in his only appearance on of the 2023 season. The 6-2, 170-pound receiver made the most of his opportunity, hauling in two receptions for 27 yards on just six passing plays.

Mizell’s offensive grade of 67.5 ranks 8th on the Gators’ offense, according to PFF.

The Orlando, Florida native has the height and speed to be a dangerous player in Florida’s offense for years to come. Both Jean and Mizell could be in for a redshirt year, but that largely depends on how healthy the Gators’ wide receiver room can stay over the course of the season.


Tony Livingston logged four snaps in the opening game vs Utah, recording one catch for four yards. The 6-5, 250-pound tight end looked the part during fall camp, displaying good footwork and pass catching ability.

Livingston is currently battling an upper body injury that has kept him out of weeks two and three. When Livingston returns from injury, I expect he will battle for playing time.


Offensive linemen Caden Jones and Rod Kearney are the only offensive freshmen that have not appeared in a game thus far. Jones dealt with a foot injury for all of fall camp, which has limited his practice time.


10 of Florida’s 12 defensive freshmen have seen the field in at least one game this season, combining for 341 snaps through three games, an average of 113.6 snaps per game.


Perhaps the most influential freshmen this season has been Orlando native Jordan Castell. The 6-2, 220-pound safety has logged 136 snaps, the most by a Gators defender.

Through three games, Castell has combined for 20 tackles (9 solo) and one pass break up while working to a defensive grade of 75.0, the 5th highest grade on Florida’s defense, according to PFF.

Castell has allowed four receptions on seven targets while working to a coverage grade of 74.8, which ranks 3rd on the Gators’ defense.

Making his second consecutive start for the Gators, Castell earned SEC freshmen of the week for his ten-tackle game against Tennessee in week three. Castell allowed just one reception for 16 yards on 4 targets while generating his first career PBU in the contest.

It’s become evident that Austin Armstrong is going to move forward with the true freshmen safety as Castell played in all 66 defensive snaps against Tenneseee.

Castell has logged 30 snaps in the box, three on the defensive line, 84 at free safety, 19 in the slot, and three outside the tackle, proving he has the versality to move around in Austin Armstrong’s defense.

Castell has two missed tackles this season for a missed tackle rate of 8.3%, which is the third lowest among players with 50+ snaps and the lowest among players with ten or more tackles on the Gators’ defense.


Edge rusher TJ Searcy has been in the rotation behind Princely Umanmielen in all three games this season, totaling six tackles (3 solo) .5 tackles for loss, and two QB hurries in 47 snaps.

Searcy’s defensive grade of 77.7 ranks second on Florida’s defense while his run defense grade of 82.1 trails only Teredja Mitchell (91.1), according to PFF. Searcy is a perfect 6-6 on tackling attempts, recording five before the line to gain.

Searcy has been a nice addition to the edge rushing unit and I expect his workload to increase from here on out as he tied his season high in snaps (16) a week ago against Tennesse.

If Searcy can add more muscle to his 6-5, 245-pound frame, he could be a dangerous weapon for the Gators moving forward.


Another freshman off the edge that’s been in the rotation is Kelby Collins, who’s recorded 44 snaps in three games, including a season high 20 snaps against Tennessee in week three.

Collins has registered five tackles, two QB hits, and four hurries in 32 pressure snaps, working to a defensive grade of 74.8, which ranks 6th on Florida’s defense. Collins also grades out well in both run defense and tackling, ranking 3rd in both categories.

I expect Collins’ role to increase as we move forward with the 2023 season.


Jackson has allowed just one reception on four targets in 33 defensive snaps, recording a PBU in the process. Jackson’s lone reception allowed was a 55-yard TD against Tennessee, where Bru McCoy got away with a push off down the sideline.

Like many other freshmen, Jackson grades out well across the board, posting above a 70.0 in defense, run defense, and tackling, while holding a 69.7 coverage grade, according to PFF.

Jackson will serve as the 4th corner in a loaded cornerback room, including Jason Marshall, Devin Moore, and Jalen Kimber.


While James is behind Tyreak Sapp and Kelby Collins, he has still appeared in all three games, totaling 26 defensive snaps.

The 6-6, 270-pound edge rusher has recorded one tackle on one attempt. James is an unlikely candidate to redshirt this year, but with multiple guys in front of him, it may be difficult for him to see significant snaps in his freshmen season.


These five freshmen have recorded 15 snaps or less and have only appeared defensively against McNeese State.

Sharif Denson is the notable player here. The departure of DB Jadarrius Perkins opens up a potential spot for playing time at the STAR position, where Denson has played since arriving in Gainesville.

Byrce Thornton made an impact in just 13 snaps against McNeese State, recording four tackles and a tackle for loss in the contest.

Look for all five of these players to get reps in week four against Charlotte.


Gates and Hill are the only defensive freshmen that have not appeared in a game thus far. Gates spent most of fall camp as a limited participant as he’s working his way back from an injury he suffered in high school.














Nick Marcinko
Nick is a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications. He is passionate about all sports but specifically baseball and football. Nick interned at Inside the Gators and worked part time with Knights247 before joining the Gator Country family. Nick enjoys spending his free time golfing and at the beach.