With the Florida Gators’ 2021 football roster likely set for the most part, it’s time to take a look at what the team has for the upcoming season. There could still be a couple of transfers around the margins, as is increasingly the case everywhere at all times, but the team mostly is what it’s going to be. Let’s start with the offense.
Stars and ratings come from the 247 Sports Composite. Players are listed in order of experience, from oldest to youngest. I used 247’s re-ranking of Reese upon transfer last year because he had put three years of college tape down for evaluation, but I didn’t use re-rankings of any other transfers since they either hadn’t played extensively at their prior schools or transferred into the program before 247 began re-ranking players.
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Already we have our first example of the limitations of using recruiting rankings. Kyle Trask was famously a borderline 2-star/3-star prospect, but he was a Heisman finalist last year. With him coming off the books and a pair of ’21 signees who won’t be ready to play for a year or more appearing, the talent averages improve.
That’s just how these things go, and there’s no way around it without re-rating the whole roster every year. Just know that I know that the longer a player has been in school, the less predictive the rating is.
Anyway, the oldest roster breakdown like this I have is from 2017, when the average star rating was 3.2. Feleipe Franks was the only 4-star in a group that also included Trask, Luke Del Rio, Jake Allen, and, because he played QB in spring, Kadarius Toney. Now, the coach’s kid and planned project of Kitna is the only 3-star in the group with high ceilings all around. UF is in a much better place for sure.
Unsurprisingly, adding another 5-star to the group from last year bumped the averages up. These are the highest averages for any Gator position group since my records start in ’17. It could go up even more if Davis officially ends up out in the slot.
Now, imagine this kind of talent average but for the entire roster. That’s approximately what Nick Saban’s Alabama has had for a while now, and in recent years Georgia and Ohio State have worked up to it too. Not even Clemson gets there, not the least because its coaches ignore talent ratings more than most and take some developmental picks.
It’s doubtful that Dan Mullen will ever recruit at the level that those top three programs are at, but savvy picks like what Clemson does plus his portal work can help close the gap. They just need to do it at more spots on the field.
The average star rating ticked up slightly while the rating ticked down slightly over last year. How? The unit lost a high 4-star in Trevon Grimes and a high 3-star in Kadarius Toney and gained a mid 4-star and low 4-star in the 2021 signees.
Some of these ratings could use adjusting, as Shorter isn’t really a 5-star kind of player and Pouncey probably won’t come through on even his mid 3-star rating. In fact, their transfer re-ratings from 247 brought Shorter down to a high 3-star and Pouncey to a low 3-star. On the flip side, Whittemore already looks like he has the potential to outplay his 3-star billing, and if what the coaches said after spring about Weston is right, he will too.
Copeland and his high 4-star rating probably will be the top dog this year, but after that it seems likely to be an ensemble effort unless someone like Henderson really takes off. Looking at the ratings, that seems about what you’d expect anyway. While more guys in the Copeland/Henderson/Shorter rating territory would be good, there is a lot of quality all around.
Recruiting services tend not to rate tight ends all that highly in general — Kyle Pitts was only a mid 4-star, in fact — although we’ll see if that changes as the position gains importance. The result is that even when the average number of stars is comparable to other spots, the average rating is generally lower. You can see that here, where the average number of stars is only 0.1 below wide receiver but there’s a sizable gap in average rating.
The position loses here as in real life with Pitts going pro, as neither 2021 signee rates as highly as he did. There appears to be a good amount of depth with Gamble and Zipperer having a lot of snaps under their belts and positive spring practice reports about Odom and Elksnis. There won’t be another singular star, though, which is what happens when you lose a literal once-in-a-generation player.
The caveat about recruiting services’ rankings from the prior section doesn’t necessarily apply here. While they do have a hard time properly rating O-linemen because it’s a hard position to judge — especially for those who didn’t play it and therefore don’t understand the nuances — it’s possible for teams to run up averages commensurate with many other positions.
There’s no way around this being the position grouping with the lowest talent rankings on the entire team, and the performance on the field the past couple of years shows it. Again, rankings aren’t everything, as White is one of the most promising guys despite a mid 3-star ranking. However despite the unit’s very visible struggles, Gouraige is the only one of even the four pre-2021 blue chip signees from the current staff who’s had real playing time for reasons other than injuries to the guys ahead of him. The developmental process, to the extent it’s happening, is slow even for the ones who should in theory have a better chance at seeing the field.
The averages did tick up slightly over last year, but the new signees collectively have an average rating below that of the position group as a whole. It’s only a sign that Stone Forsythe and, to a lesser extent, Brett Heggie weren’t highly thought of coming out of high school. We’ll see if a new transfer comes in between now and the start of fall camp, but it’s hard to get too excited about this group unless either some long-term development work starts bearing more fruit or the recruiting really starts improving.