How Jalon Jones’s departure affects Florida’s quarterback pipeline

This week brought the unusual news that early enrollee quarterback Jalon Jones is going to transfer away from Florida. Gator Country’s Nick de la Torre reported that it was a mutual decision between him and the coaching staff, and that’s all any media outlet is saying publicly on the matter at time of this writing.

While I can’t give you any more information on why Jones is leaving, I can tell you what it means for the program going forward.

For starters, it changes basically nothing for the 2019 season. Jones was more likely to take an old school redshirt by not appearing in any games than he was to see the field.

You don’t have to be George Whitfield to notice on Jones’s high school highlights that his throwing motion is a bit wonky. He’s electric as a ball carrier, but it was going to take Dan Mullen and Brian Johnson some time to get his passing form to a better place. Throwing motions that look awkward can work, but Jones was noticeably less effective through the air in spring practice than the older players were according to the reports from open practices.

As such, Jones was solidly in fourth place among the quarterbacks. There wasn’t going to be a reason to create a running package for him because UF already has Kadarius Toney and Emory Jones for that. While Emory did appear in four games last year to be that kind of changeup, he’s still there this year to do it. And as the Gators sometimes do direct snaps to Lamical Perine, having more than three guys who aren’t the starting quarterback taking meaningful snaps would be an exceedingly high number.

Looking past this fall, UF will almost certainly need to take two quarterbacks in the upcoming 2020 recruiting class to ensure it has numbers at the position.

Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask each have two years of eligibility left. It’s conceivable that Franks could turn pro after this fall if he feels he’s done with college, he continues to progress after last year’s improvements, and the new offensive line doesn’t get him killed.

Franks has all the physical tools that the NFL looks for. At 6’6″, 240 lbs with a rocket arm, he seems practically grown in a lab for what pro teams want. With two of the current crop of regular NFL starters being Mullen products — Dak Prescott most prominently, but Alex Smith has started double digit games nine of the last ten years — Franks wouldn’t be a huge gamble if the advancements he showed in spring ball manifest in the fall.

The next big question after Franks’s pro prospects is what happens with Trask. If Franks leaves after 2019, Trask would have one last chance to do battle with Emory Jones for the starting spot should he choose to take it.

If he’s not the 2020 starter, whether because Franks returned or Jones beat him out, Trask seems likely to become a graduate transfer. Plenty of other programs would take a guy listed at 6’5″, 234 lbs who’s had two years of Mullen’s tutoring. He might even sneak into a late round of the NFL Draft if he has an excellent finale. After all, Jeff Driskel went through what he did at UF and was drafted after putting up a 62% completion percentage with 4,033 yards and a 154 passing efficiency at Louisiana Tech for a season.

Jones is the quarterback of the future with the skill set that best fits what Mullen wants. He’s fully bought into the development plan, so he doesn’t seem like a transfer risk even if Franks is back for 2020.

No matter how you slice it, though, the three quarterbacks on this year’s roster won’t all be there in 2020. Franks may declare for the draft, and if he doesn’t, Trask almost certainly will (and should) take the opportunity to start somewhere else. The Gators could have as few as one of the three, though, if Franks goes pro and Trask transfers in the event that Jones beats him out.

That situation would leave UF with only Jones and anyone the team signs in the 2020 class. Gainesville’s own Anthony Richardson is back in the fold after a brief decommitment, but it’s dicey having only two scholarship quarterbacks. The Gators may have won a national championship in 2006 with only two, but that was with good injury luck.

Of course, it’s also not ideal to have only one quarterback above the true freshman level. We might see Florida might try to hit the transfer market for a one-year backup like it did a few years ago with Austin Appleby.

But even if Franks or Trask starts in 2020 and Jones is willing to wait to 2021 to start, signing two this year is still the prudent thing to do. That would give UF Jones and the two 2020 guys in the 2021 season, meaning the Gators would go three deep before having to hit any true freshmen quarterback. In the nightmare scenario of Jones transferring because he’s not the starter in 2020, then it’s even more important to have two signees this cycle to avoid having just one guy above the true freshman level the following season.

Had Jalon Jones remained in the fold, Florida could’ve been content to sign Richardson and be done with the position. There are a lot of if-else contingencies for the quarterback spot after 2019, but all of them point to a need to sign two in 2020. Jones’s departure adds a new to-do item to Mullen’s recruiting for the current cycle.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2