I’ve spent time this offseason running through how Florida has had some recent roster management issues at defensive tackle and cornerback. Today I’m going to show you the opposite, where Dan Mullen and staff have made a series of savvy moves to keep a position group in balance despite some real challenges along the way.
Let’s talk wide receivers.
Status Quo Ante
Here is how the scholarship receiver situation looked in 2017:
|🎓 Brandon Powell||Sr.|
|❌ Antonio Callaway||Jr.|
|🖋 Daquon Green||Fr.|
|🖋⛑ James Robinson||Fr.|
|🖋 Kadarius Toney||Fr.|
The Gators signed four high school receivers in 2016 and three more in 2017, so it was an underclassman-heavy group. Attrition and a general lack of player development in the late Muschamp and early McElwain years necessitated loading up on youth. Massey was a JUCO transfer in ’16 as well, so eight of the ten players here came from Mac’s latter two recruiting hauls.
Powell graduated, and Callaway went pro after spending the season suspended. A heart condition officially disqualified Robinson in December of ’17, so three players would be leaving the roster. Florida was going to need immediate help.
Mullen did what he has come to do best, which is hit the portal for immediate help. Not only did UF have just seven returning wideouts — three of whom had yet to contribute much — but it would take a little time for Billy Gonzales to develop the promising trio of rising juniors.
|🎓 Dre Massey||R-Sr.|
|➡️ Van Jefferson||R-Jr.|
|Daquon Green ➡️||So.|
|➡️ Trevon Grimes||So.|
|🖋 Jacob Copeland||Fr.|
Jefferson was the top-tier receiver the team lacked once Callaway left the picture, and bringing in the sophomore Grimes helped keep things balanced. Had the second receiver transfer been a graduate, UF would’ve gone from a very young unit to a veteran-heavy one that’d need more scrambling the next year.
Copeland was the only true receiver signee in the transitional class. Justin Watkins also came in the ’18 class but probably would’ve been a cornerback at first and anyway was dismissed that summer.
Massey graduated after never fulfilling his promise, and he spent a good chunk of the season on defense at corner. Green chose to transfer to the FCS level after the season. With only two departures this time around, there was a chance to build on the year heading into the next.
Roster balance is a fleeting thing. Just because you have it one year, it doesn’t mean you will the next.
|🎓 Van Jefferson||R-Sr.|
|🎓 Tyrie Cleveland||Sr.|
|🎓 Josh Hammond||Sr.|
|🎓 Freddie Swain||Sr.|
|🖋 Dionte Marks ➡️||Fr.|
|🖋 Ja’Markis Weston||Fr.|
|🖋 Trent Whittemore||Fr.|
Now about two thirds of the receiver corps was upperclassmen, with four of them graduating seniors. It was the best top-to-bottom position grouping since the Spurrier years, though, and the depth of experience was a great thing to have when a certain quarterback who’d never started since his freshman year of high school suddenly had to take over.
The 2019 year was a rare one in the past decade or so where Florida didn’t have any transfers in or out among the receivers. Mullen signed three to help make up for only getting one the year before, but the lack of balance meant more transfers were on the horizon. Perhaps in part due to at least one of those incoming transfers, Marks chose to head out over the summer of 2020.
Here is how things looked a year ago.
|🎓 Trevon Grimes||Sr.|
|🎓 Kadarius Toney||Sr.|
|➡️ Jordan Pouncey||R-Jr.|
|➡️ Justin Shorter||R-So.|
|🖋 Xzavier Henderson||Fr.|
|🖋 Ja’Quavion Fraziars||Fr.|
It was another experience-heavy year with third or fourth-year players Toney, Grimes, Shorter, and Copeland the only wide receivers with more than 20 catches (upperclassmen Kyle Pitts and Malik Davis were also above that threshold). However, you can see that the numbers were balanced again with five juniors/seniors and five freshmen/sophomores.
Whittemore, when healthy, and Henderson worked their ways into the rotation, and Wells finally got some spot work in contested games. UF would only lose two from the unit with Wells taking advantage of the COVID eligibility mulligan.
Here’s how the receiver room stands today. I pulled the classes here from the spring roster, and they’re not totally consistent. I can’t tell you why everyone saw their classes advance by one except for Copeland going from a junior to redshirt junior, but that’s how UF has it.
|🎓 Rick Wells||R-Sr.|
|🖋 Marcus Burke||Fr.|
|🖋 Daejon Reynolds||Fr.|
The receivers are still a fairly experienced group with six players in at least their third seasons and four in their first or second. It’s not quite as veteran-heavy as it looks at first glance since Wells and especially Pouncey aren’t expected to get a lot of snaps.
Copeland should be the top dog, but the experience that Shorter, Whittemore, and Henderson got last year should pay real dividends. Mullen also went out of his way to praise Weston in spring practice, and Reynolds got a lot of rave reviews in the session as well.
Though the Gators are down on extensive experience outside of Copeland and to a lesser extent Shorter, they still left spring with a half-dozen or more receivers they felt comfortable with. This, despite the higher-rated freshman Burke not enrolling until the summer.
Despite starting with a small number of players who were all potential and little production, Mullen and his staff have managed the receiver position brilliantly. Strategic transfers brought immediate help and prevented balance from getting out of whack, and they allowed the pipeline of high school recruits to stabilize. Unless a guy they can’t pass up comes knocking on the door next offseason, UF should finally go two straight years under Mullen without taking a transfer receiver across 2021 and 2022.
This all may end up sounding like sunshine pumping if the ’21 group underwhelms. Copeland is proven enough, but Shorter was a work in progress as he learned the playbook last fall and few others have seen the field much. However, Gonzales’s track record in player development is sterling enough that he earned the benefit of the doubt long ago. If the group truly is as deep in quality as Mullen made it sound in his spring pressers, a years-long process of roster maneuvering will have paid off.
Florida was once a reliable wide receiver factory, putting exemplary play on the field and prospects into the pros year after year. That fell away as the program hit the skids a decade ago, but Mullen has brought it back.