A week removed from National Signing Day. A week to let the 2013 Florida signing class to sink in (and heck, just to be completed). A week to let the hoopla and roller coaster dizziness of the National Fax Machine Awareness Day from LOIs to LOLs. I said at the end of the day that Florida signed the best class in the country and two more signees later I still believe it to be true. This week and next I will go position-by-position, player-by-player to review my thoughts on each signee that will go a long way to explaining why I regard this year’s groups of new Gators as the top class in the nation.
Part I: Offensive Skill Players
Quarterback — Max Staver
Right off the bat we know this kid has been trained under the best. Before his freshman year in high school, he attended a quarterback camp in Kentucky where he learned from Darin Slack, founder and President of the renowned Quarterback Academy. A pioneer in the field of quarterback training and mechanics, Slack is kind of the E.F. Hutton of training signal callers – when he talks, quarterbacks listen. He cited Staver as one of the youngest QB’s ever to “crack the code” in catching on to his training methods. From there he went on to achieve Blackshirt status during the prestigious Performance Camp at Fort Smith, Arkansas.
When you see him play, all of this development is evident. I love his quick release – it is Marino-esque. He has great wheels for a big guy and makes good reads tucking the ball. It is always great to have a two-dimensional QB in this league. Though he is not a prolific runner, he is good at plowing through the pile and getting extra yards a-la Tebow and Driskel. He has a very nice touch on the fade routes, good zip when throwing in traffic, and seems to be able to make all the throws well. He has a big frame and will add bulk to be a very tough customer to bring down, whether in or out of the pocket.
Running back — Kelvin Taylor
Being a legacy son of an all-time Gator and NFL superstar, as well as one of the most visible recruits of the year, there is not much about this kid I can say that has not been said many times already. He is a truly elite back, being the Number 1 ranked at his position by ESPN. He has very good moves, is fast enough for SEC competition, and good size. And he has better moves than his dad had at this point in his development. Fred was a straight-ahead runner in coming out of high school and had to develop his moves in college and the NFL. Kelvin seems much more naturally talented at evading tackles. As an early enrollee, he will have the benefit of spring practice to learn the offense and get comfortable in the scheme. I would be very surprised if Kelvin is not the second back in the game after Matt Jones this fall.
Running back — Adam Lane
Adam has been likened to a bowling ball more often than Danny DeVito. True, he is like Earl Campbell compressed down to Emmit Smith’s height without losing any bulk. But he is much more than just a battering ram. He has very nice moves and gets the ball in different ways: draw plays, sweeps, end-arounds, etc. He also has deceptively good speed. On the National Signing Day broadcast we discussed the similarity of his skill set to that of Maurice Jones-Drew, fantasy league stat-machine of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the comparison is apt because while he has the size and strength to grind inside and move the pile, he also has the speed to make the long home run carry in the SEC when he gets past or around the defensive front.
Wide receiver — Demarcus Robinson
This is the most complete receiver in the class, and it is not because the rest of the wideouts are projects or in need of significant work. It is because Demarcus is simply ready to play in the SEC this year. He has good size at 6-foot-2, and to go with his great frame has very good speed, great hands and runs solid routes. He has been listed between 4.4 and 4.65 in his 40-yard dash time, but whatever it actually is, whether it is pure speed, crisp routes or just playing with vision and understanding that keeps him ahead of the game, he seems to just zip through the defense with and without the ball. He doesn’t show a lot of wiggle, but he’s rarely had to, as he makes decisive cuts downfield after the catch and just slices through defenses. He also has the size to get off the line of scrimmage against the strong SEC defensive backs and to carry them a few yards after tackle attempts on every play. As most of us have read, he is already getting rave reviews for his skill and even leadership in early spring voluntary workouts, and when you can generate that kind of buzz as soon as you step on campus and start showing your stuff, you are truly ahead of the game. Robinson will make the biggest impact of any receiver in 2013, and it would not be a bad bet to project him as the biggest impact true freshman at any position.
Wide receiver — Ahmad Fulwood
First thing that grabs you about Ahmad is his height. He is 6-foot-4, but his length makes him appear even taller. But you soon pick up on his great hands to go with good speed with long strides. Get used to this sort of body type running routes for Florida because he is the prototypical big wide receiver in Will Muschamp’s system. He also played safety so he has a very good understanding of the receiver concepts from both sides of the ball, which is a big plus for any receiver wanting to see early playing time. His size and athleticism gives Pease some nice options when he’s in the game, being able to play wide, in the slot or tight to the line as a tight end as we’ve seen some receivers do with great success in the past like Chris Doering and Cornelius Ingram. He is recovering from injury so obviously we don’t know when he will make his initial impact on the team, but if healthy, he will play a lot this year.
Wide receiver — Alvin Bailey
Regardless of how and when he will fit into the receiver rotation in his career, this looks like our future return guy. He has great vision and quicks in tight places, which Brandon James will tell you are perhaps the two most important qualities in a big play kick and punt returner. These skills will also garner him plenty of YAC — yards after the catch – over his career as well, which is a key to any receiver consistently making big plays. Alvin will likely take a redshirt in 2013 to work on refining his routes and hands, as he played more at quarterback than wide receiver in high school. Though only 5-foot-11, he plays taller. I like the way he elevates for the tough catch. And you must respect the high top fade.
Wide receiver — Marqui Hawkins
This is another typical Will Muschamp wide receiver. He is a big guy at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, and is another guy who can get off the line against the physical Southeastern Conference defensive backs. He plays very physical, he’s a great blocking wide receiver, and he is a perfect jump ball guy because he will out-fight any defender for the ball. On our National Signing Day broadcast, Gator Country’s recruiting guru Andrew likened Hawkins’s skill set and playing style to those of Riley Cooper, and it is a very apt comparison. This is a kid that did not get a lot of fanfare or attention during the recruiting cycle, but the coaches love him — and this staff has shown that they should be trusted in the area of talent evaluation.
Wide receiver — Chris Thompson
A local kid from Gainesville High, Thompson’s signing harkens to the mid-1990s era when Florida benefitted from a number of local kids who stayed home and made good for the Gators. Whether Chris Doering walking on from P.K. Yonge, or fellow Blue Waves Terry Jackson and Travis McGriff, to Buchholz signees Doug Johnson and Tyrone Baker, Gainesville used to provide Florida with a lot of top shelf home-grown talent. But since Chris Stephens signed in 1999 as a courtesy scholarship (with his father being the Gators’ offensive line coach at the time), Florida has only inked two in-town kids, the last one being way back in 2004 when running back Eric Rutledge came onboard from P.K. Yonge. Thompson is only the second player from Gainesville High to pledge to the Gators in over twenty years, the only other one being Vernell Brown in 2001. Time will tell if Thompson is reopening a Gainesville pipeline or making his own path, but whatever he does, he will be doing it quickly. He is probably the fastest signee in the Gators’ class of 2013, running in the 4.3-4.4 speed in the 40, bringing a much-needed and sorely missed deep threat to the Florida offensive arsenal. He will also run a lot of jet sweeps and end-arounds and could be a perfect fit in the slot or even taking a direct snap or being used in other creative ways out of the backfield as an occasional surprise for opposing defenses. He is also good with the ball in his hands. Thompson wanted Florida only, and when the Florida staff saw him, the feeling was mutual. He went to one football camp — Friday Night Lights at The Swamp and earned a UF offer the very next day.
In Part II, I will break down the lineman on both sides of the ball, where the Gators signed one of the best groups in the nation and in school history — at least based on the bona fides on National Signing Day. Until then, remember that every day is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.