Florida Gators early enrollee outlook: Defense

With the spring semester starting on Monday, the Florida Gators welcomed early enrollees to campus over the last several days.

Currently the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation, the Gators had 12 signees enroll early, along with the addition of a pair of transfers.

As we count down the months to spring football, Gator Country will take a look at how Florida’s early enrollees fit into their new roles. We started with the new offensive players, and will now dive into defense.

Jason Marshall Jr. (DB)

The most coveted player in Florida’s 2021 class, Marshall should play early and often as a freshman. With Marco Wilson’s starting spot up for grabs this offseason, the 6’2, 180 pound five-star has to be among the favorites to take his place.

Entering his junior season, Kaiir Elam has the opposite side of the field locked down, but Marshall will have the opportunity to battle with players like Jaydon Hill, Avery Helm and Jahari Rogers for the open spot.

Though Dan Mullen has a history of giving older players the nod in these situations, Marshall could be an exception. With some added bulk in Florida’s strength and conditioning program and a head start learning the defense in the spring, he has the talent to be an SEC starter from Day 1.

A former basketball player with experience as a receiver and a kick returner, Marshall has excellent versatility and ball skills. Whether or not he starts in 2021 is yet to be seen, but he should get plenty of chances to earn a role this spring.

Jordan Young (DB)

Young may need a little more time to develop than the likes of Marshall. Getting ahead as an early enrollee is huge for him as Wesley McGriff and the Gators’ staff begin molding the three-star corner.

At 6’0, 185, Young is an aggressive and powerful defensive back who could benefit from some added quickness.

Florida’s secondary struggled this season, which should leave the door open for freshmen to come in and immediately compete.

Donovan McMillon (DB)

Florida’s situation at safety going into spring is still a little unclear, with no official word of whether seniors Brad Stewart, Donovan Stiner and Shawn Davis will return for their granted extra year of eligibility.

Assuming they do not return, starting positions are open. It does not seem likely that any of the Gators’ incoming freshmen will earn a starting role immediately with players including Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence II among the top candidates.

However, McMillon could find himself battling with fellow early enrollee safety Corey Collier Jr. for some early playing time.

McMillon has an edge in defending the run. A big hitter who rarely misses a tackle, he could provide some stability for a Florida defense that struggled in that area in 2020.

At 6’2, 193 pounds, McMillon could eventually make the move to linebacker or become one of those players who moves around in Todd Grantham’s defense as he progresses.

Corey Collier Jr. (DB)

One of the most sought after safeties in the 2021 class, Collier was a huge get for Mullen and the Gators. He and Marshall were teammates at Palmetto High School (Miami, FL).

As mentioned above, Collier and McMillon could be in a competition with one another to play as freshmen. Though they possess very different skill sets, whoever emerges in the spring and fits Florida’s needs best heading into fall will get the opportunity, while the other may take a redshirt year.

The 6’2, 170 pound free safety is not quite as physical, but makes up for it with speed to defend deep balls without getting burnt (as has been an Achilles heel for the Gators).

Chief Borders (LB)

Immediately stepping into his role as best name on the team (and among the best in college football), Chief Borders is a strong addition to the Gators in more ways than one.

Barring an incredible spring from Borders, he likely will not surpass returners including Ventrell Miller (assuming he returns), Mohamoud Diabate and Amari Burney, but he could provide some needed depth for the Gators in 2021.

With James Houston and Jesiah Pierre in the transfer portal, Florida needs as many bodies as possible ready to fill in should one of the veterans suffer an injury.

Borders needs some time to add the strength to match his 6’5, 242 pound body. He is a versatile guy, who even played some offense in high school. Depending on his development and the ever changing needs of the defense, he could eventually make a move to defensive end.

A pre-med student and aspiring pediatrician, Florida’s educational experience played a role in Borders’ decision. A year to adjust to his intense new schedule and fill out his body could be his best case scenario.

Justus Boone (DL)

The South Carolina native played defensive end in high school, but could play inside and out in college, or simply make the move inside. His 6’4, 250 pound build with room to grow demands it.

Another freshman who needs some time to refine his body and his technique, Boone will likely take a redshirt. He has potential to be a special player for Florida’s defense in the coming years.

Chris Thomas Jr. (DL)

Another much needed huge body added to Florida’s defensive line, the 6’6, 290 pound product out of Dunbar (Fort Myers, FL) should fit in well. His size alone is enough to leave SEC coaches salivating.

Thomas said Florida’s staff often compared him to soon-to-be redshirt senior defensive lineman Zachary Carter as far as how they plan to use him. The Gators got a boost from Carter announcing his plans to return for 2021, but will need players like Thomas to develop in the meantime.

Desmond Watson (DL)

All of Florida’s new defensive linemen could benefit from Nick Savage’s program. Arguably none more than Watson.

The final early enrollee to arrive on campus, Watson comes in at 6’5, 380 pounds. While most of the freshmen will look to put some weight on in the coming months, this big nose tackle’s goal is to shed pounds and add muscle.

The Gators need all the help they can get on the interior of the line with numbers dwindling dangerously low. If nothing else at this point, Watson takes up a lot of space and can stop the run.

In a shortened senior season at Armwood High School (Seffner, FL), Watson racked up 29 tackles with 15 tackles for loss and three sacks.

If he finds a way to shed some bad weight over the offseason, he could make a difference as early as any of Florida’s DL signees.

Antonio Shelton (DL)

The Gators desperately needed to pick up some defensive linemen in the transfer portal this offseason due to the lack of depth previously mentioned. This big graduate transfer tackle from Penn State helps immensely, but does not fully solve Florida’s problems.

With Tedarrell Slaton and Marlon Dunlap gone, Shelton is the only upperclassman the Gators will have inside. Younger players like Gervon Dexter and Jaelin Humphries need to step up in 2021, but it looks as though Shelton should immediately become a leader.

The 6’2, 327 pound run stuffer finished with 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and a forced fumble in 40 games with the Nittany Lions.

Florida could greatly benefit from adding another defensive lineman via the portal, but Shelton is at least a short-term fix to a glaring recruiting issue.

Bailiegh Carlton
A lifelong sports fan, Bailiegh Carlton knew from a young age that she wanted to work in sports in some capacity. Before transferring to the University of Florida to study journalism, she played softball at Gulf Coast State College. She then interned for Gator Country for three years as she worked toward her degree. After graduation, Bailiegh decided to explore other opportunities in the world of sports, but all roads led her right back here. In her time away, she and her husband welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world. When she isn't working, she can almost always be found snuggled up with sweet baby Ridley, Cody and her four fur babies.