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The 2018 Gators have a bowl game left to go, but with the early signing period happening in December again, focus must turn to the 2019 signing class as well. An important consideration is just how many spots UF has to sign players in this cycle.
In theory they can sign a full 25 and count three additional early enrollees to last year since they didn’t max out 2018’s allotment. In reality, the University of Florida as an institution doesn’t allow oversigning, so Dan Mullen can only sign up to the 85 scholarship cap. That limit is the more important one than the annual limits.
The Gators have 78 recruited scholarship players, including transfers, at present. At least two former walk ons — R.J. Raymond and Nick Villano — and possibly a third — long snapper Ryan Farr — have scholarships, but they won’t use scholarships next year. Raymond and Farr are seniors, and Villano, listed as a redshirt junior, participated in Senior Day. From here on, I am only going to be talking about the recruited scholarship players.
Among the 78, nine are seniors: Dre Massey, C’yontai Lewis, Moral Stephens, Martez Ivey, Tyler Jordan, Fred Johnson, Kavaris Harkless, Cece Jefferson, and Khairi Clark. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has also declared for the NFL Draft. That means a max of 68 scholarship players could return, giving UF a minimum of 17 slots in the 2019 class.
Some number of other Gators will go pro early, however. Here are my guesses as to who it’ll be.
LIKELY NFL ENTRANTS
Jordan Scarlett: There has been no expectation that Scarlett would return for more than one year once he announced he’d be back for this year. He didn’t have the breakout year some had envisioned, but he did register his highest yards per carry rate of his career. Running backs have short shelf lives and he’ll impress at the Combine, so he’s gone.
Jachai Polite: He has impressive speed, length, and motor. He had a midseason lull in his production but came on strong down the stretch. His mom will retire very soon.
Jabari Zuniga: The rap on Zuniga in his first two years was that he dominated lesser competition but didn’t produce against top teams. He changed that this year. He made fewer spectacular plays than Polite did but proved to be a reliable force in both run and pass defense. I think he could be a top 2 or 3 round pick, which means he should go.
POSSIBLE NFL ENTRANTS
Van Jefferson: I’d have put him in the prior section in the offseason, but 31 catches for 439 yards doesn’t scream high NFL pick. I don’t know if that’s good enough to jump, but I don’t know if he’ll improve those numbers much next year with how much the offense spreads the ball around. Maybe scouts will see how many times he was overthrown deep and give him a better grade. We’ll see.
Lamical Perine: He had a nice but not dominant year in a platoon. He’d be in a platoon next year too even without Scarlett because Malik Davis will be back and Dameon Pierce will get carries. He won’t be a top pick, but I don’t know if another year of taking hits in college will significantly raise his stock.
Vosean Joseph: I’ve seen some other writers I respect suggest he might go, so that’s why I’ve got him here. I would caution him not to. He needs to learn to be something other than a complete liability in pass coverage, and he has to show he can exercise restraint and not overrun so many plays. He’s fast and a hard hitter, but his technique isn’t NFL ready.
Jawaan Taylor: His name has gotten thrown around as a potential early entrant for more than a year, but he’s yet to play much left tackle in college. It’s my understanding that NFL teams don’t draft right tackles high, so he’d be better off to return and play a year on the other side of the line.
If three guys go pro, that would give the Gators 20 spots in the 2019 class. If three maybes decide to declare, that’d be 23.
Players can also transfer, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if some number chose to leave. Three players left last offseason because they were buried on the depth chart and wanted to seek playing time elsewhere. Any transfers this time around would need to head out before the February signing day for Mullen to be able to use their spots on recruits, so timing will matter.
Here are some players who either don’t have a clear path to playing time or may be ready for a new start. If they chose to leave, it would be understandable for that reason.
Kyle Trask: He’s good enough to start somewhere in FBS. Right now though it appears that Feleipe Franks is the present at quarterback with Emory Jones the future. That would make Trask the odd man out, but he may try to stick around through spring practice one more time to try to win the job. If he does, then Mullen couldn’t use his roster spot for a signee unless it was a really late one like Lucas Krull last year.
TJ McCoy: He went from starting center to missing man in a year. He doesn’t have the size John Hevesy is looking for in his linemen, so if he wants to play a major role again, he’ll have to go elsewhere.
Rick Wells: Between injury, BB guns, and credit cards, Wells’s career has never really gotten started. The receiver room will be crowded next year even if Jefferson leaves, so he’s looking at maybe contributing as a senior in 2020.
Daquon Green: His eligibility clock is ticking thanks to Jim McElwain giving him meaningless playing time in two games last year. The same things about the wideout depth chart apply to him as Wells. He reportedly has put his name into the NCAA’s transfer portal, which doesn’t guarantee his exit but does allow other schools to contact him.
Antonneous Clayton: The appropriate football cliche/euphemism for him seems to be that the light hasn’t turned on for him yet. Florida was so stacked at DE and Buck that it was possible for him to redshirt to help that light along a little bit. The question is whether he’ll decide to step it up and compete with those spots clearing out from NFL declarations or look for a fresh start elsewhere.
Lacedrick Brunson: He’s only a redshirt freshman this year, but he never challenged for real playing time. Linebacker will return everyone plus or minus Joseph, and Mullen has a stacked linebacking crew committed in the 2019 class.
Nick Smith: He redshirted last year with a knee injury, and this year he only appeared in the opener against Charleston Southern. He may stick it out if that knee never gets right, but UF might guide him to a medical hardship in that case. He has the same depth problem Brunson does.
Quincy Lenton: Another guy like Smith who just can’t get healthy. Even though safety isn’t completely settled, he lost out on a year’s worth of experience to his peers.
If everyone who I have listed as potential NFL entrants and transfers go, then that’s 15 more roster spots opening up on top of the 17 available. In that case, the Gators can sign up to the max of 28 and still have more left over.
It’s quite unlikely that all 15 of them would go, however. If, say, the three likely NFL entrants do declare for the draft and half of the potential transfers say goodbye, that makes for 24 spots in the class. That’s not full, but it is more than Mullen had to work with a year ago.
Florida has 17 commits right now, which precisely the spots available after solely graduation and Gardner-Johnson’s declaration. I’ll be watching to see if, after the mid-December signing day, the number of signees plus commits is greater than 17. If so, and by how much, will give us a glimpse at how many more exits are still to come.