CLASS OF 2014 WRAP-UP
Welcome to the Inside the Gators RoundTable. From time-to-time, we gather up the ITG staff along with special guests to talk about the important topics facing Gator athletics.
Of course, the question on every one's mind this time of the year is recruiting and this edition of the RoundTable features five burning questions surrounding the class of 2013. Blake Alderman is joined by Gainesville Sun recruiting writer Zach Abolverdi (The Gator Prospectus) and Rivals.com analysts Mike Farrell and Woody Wommack for this in-depth discussion of Gator football recruiting.
1) Who in your opinion is the most important prospect the Gators signed? Not necessarily the most highly-rated, but the one whose commitment is the most important to future Gator success?
Abolverdi: Florida State's 2013 season with Heisman Trophy Winner Jameis Winston was just another example of what an elite quarterback can do for a football team. It's been four years since the Gators had one, and they're in desperate need of another. Enter early enrollee Will Grier. He has all the ability and accolades, but we've seen highly-rated quarterbacks come to UF since Tim Tebow and not pan out for one reason or another. Though they have different skill sets, Grier needs to have a Winston-like impact on Florida's offense for it to be successful in the future.
Alderman: With the Gators' depth issues at the position, I don't see how Grier isn't Florida's most important signee in 2014. Grier prefers to redshirt his first season, but will be expected to do big things for the Gators down the road. Grier was the guy the UF coaches put the full court press on early on, so there is no denying he was coveted by the Florida staff in 2014.
Farrell: I'll say Treon Harris for a couple of reasons. First, he gives them a second quarterback option to Grier in this class and we all know how important landing top quarterbacks is to the Gators now. Second, he is versatile enough to play many roles on offense - he could be a slot receiver, he could be used as a running back in certain sets or he can be a wildcat quarterback if he doesn't win the job outright. Landing him on Signing Day gives Florida so many more options.
Wommack: "I think it's Jalen Tabor. Not only is he is the highest ranked kid in the class yes, but for him to flip to Florida after committing on national TV is big. They have a huge need at defensive back so he will be expected to come in and play right away. Plus, to get a guy from that area makes it apparent that despite a down season, Florida is still a national brand."
2) Which Florida signee in your opinion is the most underrated and overrated?
Abolverdi: Four-star offensive tackle David Sharpe isn't polished at the position and needs to refine a few areas of his game. But if he can put it all together with his attributes already, watch out. Sharpe may be out of the Rivals250, but if he realizes his potential, his name could be called in the first round of the NFL Draft one day. There's no doubting J.C. Jackson's athleticism and value at Florida. However, he hasn't played a lot of cornerback and needs time to learn the position. Jackson is also dynamic with the balls in his hands, and there's a chance he'll get a look at receiver. When and where he makes an impact can't be said for sure.
Alderman: As far as underrated, wide receiver Ryan Sousa is quarterback's best friend. During his senior season Sousa caught 100 passes for 1,664 yards and 23 touchdowns after also totaling over 1600 receiving yards as a junior. Though he is only ranked as a three-star Sousa has a chance to see the field early with his route running and reliable hands. As for overrated, Rivals250 wide receiver Moral Stephens is coming to Gainesville to play tight end. Though he is talented he is going to have to bulk up, rebuild his game, and learn how to block defensive ends and linebackers before he is able to make a contribution at his new position.
Farrell: Underrated to me would be Brandon Powell. Even though he's a four star and ranked at No. 200 I think he will surprise and do a lot of great things at Florida despite his lack of size. He's electric in space. Overrated I'd say Sharpe. I know he looks great and has amazing feet, but I don't think he's physical and I don't think he loves football. He'll need a fire lit under him to be as good as his four star ranking.
Wommack: In the eyes of the fan I think the most underrated guy is C.J. Worton. He isn't a guy that really moves the needle in term of excitement over his commitment, but he is a reliable slot receiver type of guy."
3) Which player did the Gators lose out on that you think hurts them the most?
Abolverdi: The departures of Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane hurt simply because you don't want to lose offensive playmakers when you have them committed, especially if you're Florida. However, in 2013 UF signed two running backs and five receivers, some of whom could be special players if they continue to develop and the quarterback and offensive line play improves. Where the Gators came up a little short this year was at defensive end, and they led for the Rivals100 defensive end Lorenzo Carter in the summer. In the end Georgia might have landed Carter no matter what, but Florida's 4-8 record certainly contributed to that result.
Alderman: I think this one is Cook. The Gators were in dire need of a playmaker like him only to have him end up signing and enrolling early with their in-state rival Florida State - which makes losing him sting much more.
Farrell: I'd have to say Cook because I think he could really be a difference-maker the Gators need in their offense. He can do so many different things well and they haven't had a multi-purpose weapon like Cook in a long time. He's a bigger, better version of Powell and could have been the Gators best weapon since Percy Harvin - which is saying something.
Wommack: Damian Prince is a guy that they really needed. After the offensive woes suffered by Florida last year, caused in part by lackluster play and injuries along the line, Florida really needed a big time offensive lineman that can come in and make an impact next season. For them to miss out on him really hurt.
4) Which of the signees surprised you the most when they ended up inking with Florida?
Abolverdi: Tabor, without a doubt. When he spoke to Mike Farrell in late December, he had some harsh words for the Gators and their coaching staff about why he eliminated them. So it was a shock to see him flip to Florida just one week removed from announcing for Arizona at the Under Armour All-America Game.
Alderman: Not many people thought that Rivals100 defensive end Gerald Willis III was going to pick Florida over LSU at halftime of the 2014 Under Armour game. Landing Willis was not only a pleasant surprise for Florida, but the staff was able to pull him out of a state that has not been overly kind to the Gators in the past.
Farrell: I'd say Tabor. I thought for sure he was going to pick Maryland at the outset, then when I heard he was thinking about Arizona I suspected he'd pick them at the Under Armour Game. But then when I heard his parents wanted him closer, I expected Alabama. I thought the Gators were running fourth.
Wommack: "After looking around somewhat down the final stretch of his recruiting process, and with some of the things he said and did, I am kind of surprised J.C. Jackson signed with Florida. He was all over the place over the last couple of months and the writing was on the wall for him to end up with Miami, but Florida did a great job keeping him in the class. Honestly, he doesn't talk much, leaving others to do it for him, so I don't think really anyone had a solid idea where he was going until he faxed his letter in.
5) in 2013, on the field Florida was historically bad, posting a 4-8 record. Then, for most of the last two months of the cycle the Gators held on to a top 15 spot in the recruiting rankings before finishing 8th in the Team Recruiting Rankings. All things considered, overall, how would you grade the Gators' recruiting efforts this recruiting cycle? What do you expect of this staff moving forward?
Abolverdi: My grade is an A- for this class. Here is how I view it by position: QB (A+), RB (B), WR (C), TE (A), OL (A), DE (B+), DT (A+), LB (I), DB (A+). The most important needs in my opinion were quarterback, cornerback, defensive line, offensive line and tight end, and I feel like the Florida coaches added some quality prospects to those positions. To do that after a losing season is even more impressive. Next year they have to come up big at linebacker, safety, defensive end and receiver.
Alderman: When you take into consideration that Florida was coming off a 4-8 season, I would give the staff a 'A' on the recruiting trail in 2014. The Gators met a lot of their big needs, but also missed out on some key guys that were Florida leans before the season started to crumble. Going forward I think this staff will pull in a big time 2015 class because the state is loaded in areas which have traditionally been kind to Florida in the past.
Farrell: I think it is a great effort with some luck thrown in which always helps. They keep working and working on guys and it paid off. Tabor, Thomas Holley and to an extent Willis III all were expected to go elsewhere or committed elsewhere. But when you think of a 4-8 team that lost to an FCS team last year landing a top 10 class, that's impressive. I expect Florida to continue to use this momentum heading into the spring and summer and continue to overcome negative recruiting. However, all the work they do before the season could be undone if they have another bad year.
Wommack: I would give their efforts a B. They have a great class that is highly rated when taking into consideration all the teams across the country, but when you look at teams they compete against, Florida is really only kind of middle of the pack in their conference. They really needed a guys like Lorenzo Carter, Damian Prince, and Adoree' Jackson bad in this class to really turn things around after struggling last season.
6) In your opinion, which Florida rival did better and worse than you expected?
Abolverdi: You knew the Seminoles were going to sign a stellar class coming off their national championship, but the receiver haul they brought in was just ridiculous. Watching them face Florida's secondary down the road will be fun to watch. In a year where they beat Florida and had their NCAA sanctions come to an end, you would have expected the Miami Hurricanes to clean up on the recruiting trail. But they were outside the top-10 of the team rankings and missed on a handful of local guys.
Alderman: I would call it a win for Tennessee that they managed to pull off the fifth ranked recruiting class after finishing last season 5-7 and really being a bad team overall the past few seasons. I think it goes to show you that Butch Jones is a great recruiter. I think Miami was a disappointment if you take into account they had a much better season this past year, have their NCAA problems behind them and are located in the most talent rich area in the south. While I understand you can't land every big name recruit you want, there still is no excuse to miss guys in your own backyard like Cook, Lane, Sony Michel, and Khairi Clark to other schools.
Farrell: In hindsight you have to say that Tennessee did better than expected, there's really not a lot to explain there with a top five class. And I think South Carolina did a little worse than expected. They closed strong to finish 16th in the nation but that's 8th in the SEC and just ahead of Kentucky, that's an average year I'd say.
Wommack: In my opinion, the rival who I thought did better than expected is Miami, especially with a lot of their best guys in the area leaving to go elsewhere. They did a good job recruiting nationally and think they can have a good class now that their sanctions are over and if they can win some games.