CJ Felder Could Be This Year’s Breakout Candidate

In a lot of ways the first season in orange and blue was a frustrating one for CJ Felder who transferred to Florida after two seasons at Boston College.


You could tell things weren’t right from the beginning of the season. Florida played an exhibition with D2 Embry-Riddle, and Felder hardly saw the floor for much of the game. When he got on the court in the second half he found himself with a breakaway, and instead of flushing a dunk with authority he was barely able to elevate above the rim, softly finishing what was something between a layup and a dunk.


Throughout the season Felder found himself in a bit of no-man’s land, a space where he wasn’t hurt enough to miss games (he only truly missed one game from November-February before missing the final three games of the season) but he was definitely injured to the point where he wasn’t close to the player he was at Boston College or what he could be. 


At Boston College Felder was known for his high motor and his defensive mobility that allowed him to guard up and down lineups and be impactful on the ball or as a help defender. If you search highlights of Felder while at Boston College, you will see a very different player than what you saw at Florida. He was much leaner, more fluid, and more dynamic than the heavier, groundbound player he was at Florida.


And for that reason, you should be very excited for his second year as a Gator.




You heard it from the man himself, he’s finally like himself and that means the Gators could get a huge jump in frontcourt production from an internal source. 


What Felder showed in the 2021-22 season was a mere shadow of what he can be, and because of that people might be downplaying the impact he will have in 2022-23 now that he’s fully healthy. The Gators are bringing in a ton of talent from the transfer portal which is rightfully getting a lot of the attention for how Florida improved but with Felder finally healthy after a year where injuries turned him into an afterthought, he could be one of the biggest drivers of improvement on the roster from last season to this. 


What makes the prospect of a fully healthy Felder so exciting is that his skill set positively matches some of the deficiencies that plagued the Gators’ roster last season.


For starters, rebounding. The Gators struggled mightily on the defensive glass last season, coming 333rd in the country in that category. When he was on the floor, Felder wasn’t physically able to contribute in that category much, posting a 13% defensive rebounding rate which is good relative to his teammates, but not quite the number you’re looking for from a frontcourt player (15% would be an adequate start). However, at Boston College playing against some of the best big men in the country in the ACC Felder was a tremendous defensive rebounder posting a 20% defensive rebound rate, making him one of the best defensive rebounding power forwards in the country. Last season without any vertical pop due to injury greatly affected his rebounding, and since he proved in his first two seasons when healthy that he was an excellent defensive rebounder, expect him to be highly effective in that area this year. 


Florida’s defense also left something to be desired last season, ranking 77th in the country in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric. Felder was a player known most for his defense at Boston College but the weight he put on while being unable to workout and practice due to injury greatly diminished his ability to be impactful on that end. 


According to Synergy Sports Tech, in 2020-21 at Boston College CJ Felder was in the 96th percentile nationally in guarding in the post and in the 99th percentile nationally in isolation defense when guards switched onto him. Elite numbers from a 6’7”, 230 pound forward. He was also 51st in the country in block percentage, a dynamic helpside defender who would use his athleticism and anticipation to mop up his teammate’s mistakes on the perimeter. 


Needless to say, he wasn’t himself on the defensive end last season and he wasn’t able to help out a struggling Florida defense.


If you imagine the CJ Felder from Boston College on Florida’s roster last season, it’s very unlikely they finish 77th in the country in defensive efficiency. While we can’t go back in time to see how Felder could have helped them then, we can look forward to this season and imagine the Gators being a much more stout defensive team with Felder adding switchability, physicality, and toughness to Florida’s frontcourt alongside Colin Castleton and Alex Fudge who have both proven themselves to be plus defenders.


Another struggle that nagged the Gators throughout the season was outside shooting. Ultimately, they finished the season 317th in the country in three-point percentage at 30.3%. 


While at Boston College CJ Felder showed promise as an outside shooter, though he never fully broke out as a stretch option. 


Though pretty much everything went wrong for Felder during his injury-riddled first season at Florida, one thing that did go right for him was the jumper. He was 14-36 from three on the season for 39%, making you wish he was able to play more minutes and provide floor spacing that the Gators desperately needed. 36 attempts isn’t a huge sample size, but his stroke has always looked good throughout his college career and it always seemed like his percentage would catch up to that stroke and we may have seen the start of it last season with his 39% three-point efficacy. 


In a lot of ways, CJ Felder is a forgotten man entering the 2022-23 season for the Gators. There is (deservedly) massive hype for the incoming transfer class. There is tons of excitement for the return of Colin Castleton. There is a belief that there will be huge leaps from Kowacie Reeves and Niels Lane. These are all storylines that deserve attention, but the player that hasn’t received as much shine that could have a huge impact on this season is Felder. 


Simply put, if now that he’s healthy he’s the player he was two years ago at Boston College he is going to be a very valuable rotation player that will push for a starting spot. If he is even better than that, he’s going to be the perfect glue guy this roster needs that will be a major piece in improving Florida’s defense, rebounding, and shooting from a year ago. 


In a season with a lot to be excited about when it comes to Florida basketball, CJ Felder is a player that still deserves even more attention. 


Eric Fawcett
Eric is a basketball coach and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His work has been found at NBA international properties, ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericfawcett_.