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June 29, 2014

20/14 of 2014: VH3 a beast in the secondary

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20/14 OF 2014 COUNTDOWN: I | II | III | IV | V | VI

With the 2014 off-season quickly dwindling away, Inside the Gators will count down the 20 veterans and 14 youngsters most critical to Florida's success during the 2014 season. Players are ranked in terms of their importance in the Gators' upcoming season, not pure talent, and ordered into two categories - established returning players and players who are no further along their sophomore seasons and haven't really contributed as of yet.

This 10-part series will give you an idea of who Florida simply can't live without come August.

TOP 20 MOST IMPORTANT RETURNING PLAYERS

No. 8
JAKE McGEE
Position: Tight end
Class: Redshirt Senior
Size: 6-foot-6, 255 pounds
Richmond (Va.) Collegiate School
2013 season: 43 catches for 395 yards and two touchdowns (at Virginia)
  • Why he makes the list: The number is burned into your brain by now. Florida got a total of four catches for 42 yards out of its tight ends in 2013. Enter McGee, a transfer from the ACC who will play his last season of eligibility for the Gators and be asked to immediately create production at a position that featured two former defensive linemen and two future transfers last fall. He's living with Jeff Driskel and should be a favorite target in Kurt Roper's offense.
  • Question to be answered: Are we making too much of him? Billy Donovan loves talking about the "legend" that comes along with transfers where they're prematurely talked into superstar status just because they bring an unknown quality. McGee had 769 yards receiving in two years as a tight end at Virginia. Maybe assuming he'll be anything more than a serviceable target is too much hype.
  • Best case scenario: McGee lives up to the hopes of Gators fans desperate for the next big-time tight end at Florida. Now surrounded by better talent and more consistent quarterback play, he flourishes and puts up numbers that surpass either of his two years with the Cavaliers. More importantly, his size gives Driskel a reliable red zone option to help fix an issue that has derailed Florida's offense in recent years.
  • Best guess: The word "safety net" was tossed around a lot to describe Jordan Reed in 2012. When things broke down, that's where Driskel went. McGee will have the same quality and therefore will be a popular target for a quarterback who likes to make plays on the run. Expect him to at least push for the team lead in receiving.

VOTE: HOW MANY CATCHES FOR MCGEE IN 2014?

No. 7
VERNON HARGREAVES III
Position: Cornerback
Class: Sophomore
Size: 5-foot-11, 194 pounds
Tampa (Fla.) Wharton
2013 season: 38 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass breakups
  • Why he makes the list: If we were simply ranking Florida's best players, Hargreaves would be the clear No. 1. But even with proven depth a little lower than usual at defensive back, the Gators still have a talent surplus at the position. That talent is just young. Still, Hargreaves is critical because of the leadership he brings and the value of having an All-American locking down one side of the field. Past him, Florida's secondary is uncertain.
  • Question to be answered: Will there be noticeable progress? The key to turning a magnificent freshman season like the one Hargreaves had into a truly special collegiate career is continuously improving. Most impressive about how he approached spring practice was that he was not satisfied with how he played in 2013 and was working as hard as anyone to get better.
  • Best case scenario: Hargreaves continues to evolve and marks his spot as one of the best shut-down corners in all of college football. He creates an "island" mentality that takes away one side of the field from an offense and opens up playmaking opportunities for young defensive backs like Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor.
  • Best guess: We've been given no reason to expect anything but the best from Hargreaves. He is a rare combination of raw natural ability, character and football smarts ironed out from being the son of a football coach. He has an extremely bright career ahead of him, and his sophomore season is only the next step.

VOTE: WHAT TYPE OF SEASON FOR VH3 IN 2014?

TOP 14 MOST IMPORTANT NEWCOMERS (THOSE WHO HAVE YET TO MAKE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTION)

No. 4
KEANU NEAL
Position: Safety
Class: Sophomore
Size: 6-foot-1, 203 pounds
Bushnell (Fla.) South Sumter
2013 season: Five tackles
  • Why he makes the list: Safety will be one of the most tightly contested positions on Florida's roster come fall camp. Neal dealt with hamstring injuries throughout spring practice or else there's a healthy chance he would have already locked up one of the two positions by now. Coaches have been high on him since he arrived on campus, and Neal has physically been ready to play at this level all along.
  • Question to be answered: Will the hamstrings continue to be a problem? There is a lot of muscle packed on Neal's frame, and as Will Muschamp will tell you, tightly-wound players like that can have troubles with muscle injuries. This could be something that comes into consideration when you're trying to find starters at a position that is already a bit of a mystery.
  • Best case scenario: Neal emerges out of fall camp as a definite starter, preferably alongside a knowledgeable veteran like Jabari Gorman, and becomes the enforcer at the back end of the secondary. He is able to come down when necessary and play like a linebacker against the run while establishing a certain level of intimidation across the middle.
  • Best guess: The biggest worry for Neal in 2014 has to be staying healthy. If he is able to do that, he is a clear favorite for a starting job at safety. Neal seems to be next in line for development as a big star in the secondary. After working on special teams as a freshman, 2014 is his year to make a jump.

VOTE: WHAT IS NEAL'S ROLE IN 2014?





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