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
Position: Running back
Size: 5-foot-10, 209 pounds
Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central
2013 season: 111 carries for 508 yards and four touchdowns, five catches for 37 yards
Why he makes the list: Florida's run game is expected to be strong in 2014 and it is led by the sophomore UF legacy. Taylor took over Florida's top backfield role in 2013 because of healthy problems and a knee injury to Matt Jones. Now it's his job to lose and his touches will only increase. The Gators need him to not only be reliable but also show the ability to break a big play from time to time.
Question to be answered: What will he have to do to earn feature back type carries? This isn't the UF offense of the past two years where the top running back goes into the season expecting to get 25 carries per game. If Taylor is going to get substantially more carries than anyone else in a crowded backfield, he is going to have to earn them. Even then, Kurt Roper might see more value in spreading carries and snaps around.
Best case scenario: It's safe to say Taylor is a player with All-SEC potential, and running back is a position where it's perfectly possible to make that kind of impact as a second-year player. Even if he splits carries to some degree, Taylor should push for a 1,000-yard season, which would be just the second at Florida since 2004.
Best guess: This is a big year for Taylor. He has a chance to seize the kind of opportunity Jones couldn't in 2013 for reasons outside of his control. Florida is talented at running back, but Taylor will do enough to stay comfortable ahead of the pack and become one of the top handful of running backs in the conference.
Position: Inside linebacker
Size: 6-foot-2, 225 pounds
Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County
2013 season: 24 tackles (two for loss), one pass breakup, one forced fumble
Why he makes the list: There's a lot to like about Davis and his future as a Gator. He's a smart, instinctive player who is faster and stronger than his lowly recruit ratings might have hinted coming out of high school. There were times when Davis was Florida's best linebacker on the field in 2013 and that kind of production must expand in 2014 if the Gators are going to be successful at the position. He is arguably Florida's most complete option in the middle of the defense.
Question to be answered: Are we in for another sophomore slump? If Davis' hype sounds familiar - sophomore feeding off flashes of freshman brilliance - it's because his story is almost identical to that of Antonio Morrison to this point (from an on-field perspective, at least). Morrison was supposed to take the next step in his sophomore year and instead looked woefully incapable of being a big-time SEC linebacker. It'd be even more surprising if Davis has a similar slump.
Best case scenario: Davis's excellent play expands to a starting role and he establishes himself as the type of linebacker who is going to be a big deal for the rest of his tenure in Gainesville. He is skilled and smart enough to put up big numbers and dance around the outskirts of Florida's "best defensive player" debate right outside of the obvious top two.
Best guess: Expect something in between an ultimate emergence and an average season. Asking Davis to suddenly be the anchor of Florida's linebacker corps might be a bit of a stretch, even for a player with his advanced maturity. He'll be good and maybe even very good in 2014, but a "breakout year" might require expectations he isn't quite ready to live up to.
TOP 14 MOST IMPORTANT NEWCOMERS (THOSE WHO HAVE YET TO MAKE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTION)
Position: Defensive end
Class: True Freshman
Size: 6-foot-2, 255 pounds
New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr
2013 season: Rivals100 member as a high school senior
Why he makes the list: He's one of the best recruits in Florida's 2014 signing class from a pure talent standpoint. Will Muschamp has already raved about his strength and power off the line, ahead of the curve for a player his age. Like they did with Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard before him, the Gators will find a way to make Willis an asset in his first season. The role he plays will likely depend heavily on how much Bullard shifts inside.
Question to be answered: How big will his learning curve be? Fowler and Bullard might have played as freshmen but in no way were they stars. It's tough for anyone to step right in and play up front in his first year, even these mega prospects who are touted as future NFL prospects from the time they make high school varsity. Willis might be close to physically ready but there's a lot more that goes into it.
Best case scenario: Through fall camp and early non-conference action, Willis gains enough trust to be a regular rotational player and help Bullard and Bryan Cox Jr. at a position that could use another capable body. From there, his skill level is enough to take him to a productive season with solid tackle numbers and his first taste of SEC quarterback.
Best guess: Willis will play. It's just a matter of determining how much. This defensive front cannot afford to redshirt a player of his caliber in a season here it is searching for depth. Expect him to have a similar role to the one Bullard had in 2012 - 27 tackles, 1.5 sacks.