On Tuesday afternoon, the Florida Gators received a commitment from Michigan safety transfer RJ Moten, a much-needed addition to an extremely thin safety room.
Before the addition of Moten, the Gators had six scholarship players at safety, two of whom are incoming freshman, two were true freshman last season, a receiver who switched to defensive back for depth purposes, and a redshirt sophomore that has not appeared in a game thus far. The room had a combined 393 defensive snaps, making it crystal clear that the safety position was a top priority for the Gators’ coaching staff this spring.
Gator Country evaluates Florida’s safety room after the addition of veteran RJ Moten.
The fourth-year defensive back saw significant playing time in 2021 and 2022, totaling 66 tackles and two interceptions across 15 starts in Ann Arbor.
According to Pro Football Focus, Moten hasn’t allowed a TD pass in his career (534 coverage snaps).
In 2022, Moten led the Wolverines in missed tackles with 8, posting a missed tackle percentage of 20.5% and a tackling grade of 51.8. However, in 2021, Moten’s tackling grade was an impressive 76.7 across 30 tackles, the 8th highest grade on the Wolverines defense. I wouldn’t be too concerned about his tackling due to the discrepancies in the analytics from year-to-year.
Moten’s unique 6-0, 223-pound frame allows him to move around the defense quite a bit. Moten has plenty of experience playing in the box as he’s registered 221 snaps there throughout his college career. This could be very beneficial for an Austin Armstrong defense that relies heavily on versatility.
The big-bodied safety has shown the ability to get after the quarterback in limited opportunities. In 23 pass rush snaps in 2022, Moten totaled seven QB pressures and two sacks while holding the 6th highest pressure grade on the Michigan defense (70.9). Moten’s tallied 46 snaps on the defensive line (outside of tackle) in his career.
Moten also has some experience in the slot (86 snaps), another area the Gators lack experience in entering fall camp. The New Jersey native allowed 13 receptions on 20 targets with a long of 16 yards in 2022.
Tight end coverage and run defense were two major weaknesses for Florida in 2022. Moten’s athleticism allows him to frequently play in the box, which should give the Gators some help in those areas.
Not only does Moten’s versatility fit the bill, but so does his discipline. Moten has not been penalized on defense in 925 career snaps.
Moten’s experience alone makes him a strong candidate to start on the Gators’ defense in 2023 alongside sophomores Kamari Wilson or Miguel Mitchell.
KAMARI WILSON AND MIGUEL MITCHELL
The pair of sophomores will battle Moten for a spot in the starting 11 this fall. Both guys worked their way into the rotation last year, with Wilson logging 311 snaps and Mitchell tallying 107.
Mitchell saw more time at Star/Nickel than safety in 2022, logging just 10 snaps on the backend of the Gators’ defense a year ago. However, with the current status of the safety room, I expect Mitchell to play more free safety in 2023. Mitchell’s frame is very similar to Moten’s, checking in at 6-1, 222 pounds this spring.
Wilson played a ton as a true freshman, leading me to believe he has an edge on a starting spot in 2023. Like Mitchell and Moten, Wilson found plenty of experience playing in the box last season. Wilson’s lack of speed may be a flaw in his game, but he’s athletic enough to move around the defense, impacting the game in many ways. The hard-hitting safety has a nose for the football and will have a huge impact on the Gators’ defense for years to come.
JORDAN CASTELL AND BRYCE THORNTON
Both Castell and Thornton were able to enroll early, which was great news for the Gators’ staff as the pair of freshmen will likely jump into an immediate depth role in 2023.
Castell is a long defensive back that can impact the game in a variety of ways. Castell has shown the ability to excel in man and zone coverage, despite being a bigger safety.
Thornton is a guy that was very high on former defensive coordinator Patrick Toney’s board. He’s not as lengthy as the other safeties in the room, but still weighs north of 200 pounds.
JA’MARKIS WESTON AND DAKOTA MITCHELL
I don’t see either of these players making a strong impact on the safety room in 2023, unless the Gators suffer several injuries within the unit. Weston is a former receiver who happens to be an above average athlete. I expect Weston to be a heavy contributor to Florida’s special teams unit this fall.
Mitchell has not appeared in a game since arriving in Gainesville in 2021. Mitchell and Weston are the only safeties in the room recruited by Dan Mullen’s staff.
Although Moten was a huge addition through the transfer portal, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Gators add one more before fall camp starts in August.