Like most things these days, one can spin the Florida Gators 2016 recruiting class however they want. It can be considered an overall success or failure for head coach Jim McElwain, one that either fills needs for Florida or falls short of being good enough for the Gators to be appreciably better next season.
So with the ability to really go deep on either angle, it may be better to take a look at why there are legitimate arguments for each.
Let’s start with the positives.
» Florida’s 2016 class included what is believed to be a program-record 12 early enrollees with three of its five top signees and a number of players who needed to get in school as soon as possible in order to participate in spring practice and potentially win starting jobs next season. “For us, having 12 of those guys in here, it totally changes the locker room, the meeting rooms and what we’re going to be able to accomplish in spring ball,” the coach said.
» Two of those early enrollees are a pair of much-needed quarterbacks in four-star Feleipe Franks and three-star Kyle Trask, players that help improve depth for a one of the least populated last season. “We’re excited about [Franks] and Kyle, that are in here with that class as freshmen,” McElwain said. “I know this: We are going to be able to complete some routes on air because these guys can throw it.” Another is three-star kicker Eddy Pineiro, a much-needed pledge and big pull away from Alabama whom McElwain recruited harder than any other kicker before.
» There are five wide receiver commitments in the class, including the No. 2 player at the position, four-star Tyrie Cleveland, two four-star early enrollees in Freddie Swain and Joshua Hammond, and an experienced JUCO transfer in Dre Massey.
» Four-star running back Mark Thompson, the nation’s No. 5 JUCO player, is more than a body in the backfield. With SEC size, strength and speed, he could start from day one. “When you look at from the receiver, quarterback, running back side, I think we’ve got some really good talent in there,” McElwain said on signing day. “It will be fun to watch them, because the majority are here already. So we’ll get a good feel for that this spring.”
» The Gators were on four-star defensive end Antonneous Clayton early before he blew up on the scene and kept the No. 26 player in the nation committed for more than three months even as pressure increased for him to potentially flip to the program of his choice. “I think we were able to really get a jump on some guys, and I was very happy to see our evaluation as a lot of these guys had great senior years,” McElwain said. “You start a marathon, and then a bunch of people jump in with about a quarter of a mile to go and hand [kids] a cup of water.”
And now the other side of things.
» Florida took the biggest tumble in the country on National Signing Day, falling seven spots to No. 13 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings while three of its four primary rivals finished in impressive fashion, particularly in-state rival Florida State. UF did get a big signing in Cleveland, but it was also embarrassed by FSU with a flip and saw Georgia pull in a number of high-caliber players despite having a new coach who barely had any time to recruit.
» McElwain did help the Gators finish eight spots higher than a year earlier (No. 21), but he also closed much better in his first year. Most recruiting analysts believe a coach’s mettle is tested in his second class. Will Muschamp finished No. 4 in 2012. Urban Meyer finished No. 2 in 2006. Michigan went from No. 37 to No. 5 under Jim Harbaugh. By comparison, not so great.
» Florida also did a sub-par job recruiting its own state, which just so happens to be the most talent-rich in the country. The Gators got four of the top 50 players in the state, compared to eight for Florida State and 10 for Miami. By the way, UF’s total over the last two years is just nine. While Florida may have had some hits, it still has to play teams that did better in its own state with talent that arguably should’ve been suited up in orange and blue. “We’ve still got a long ways to go,” he said. “I kind of like how we’ve got some [recruits] from a lot of the different areas, as far as within the state, not just focused on one central area. That’s something that we still need to get better at.”
» Due to late decommitments, the Gators are not bringing in a single defensive tackle and have a relatively underwhelming defensive back class compared to recent years, despite losing two multi-year starters and knowing that a few more will be gone following the 2016 season. Though the numbers are there (five), it’s basically four-star Chauncey Gardner – the No. 45 player in the nation – and a handful of guys who really need to be developed at the position.
» Similarly, while Florida’s offensive line numbers are back to normal – a great job done by McElwain and his staff – there are only three new players being added this year and none are five- or four-star prospects. Star ratings are not everything, particularly among offensive linemen, but with so much opportunity at the position group, UF could have done much better. “Three guys that really wanted to be Gators. That means a lot. They will fit in there,” said McElwain of the offensive linemen.
Conclusion: So yes, there are arguments to be made about the Gators’ 2016 recruiting class, and you can call it whichever way you see it. For as many excuses as McElwain has been given or as much criticism as he’s received for the class, it will ultimately be evaluated by what he makes of it on the field. And with a full season under his belt and some lessons most certainly learned, it will be interesting to see what he and the Gators do in their next cycle.
Speaking of … let’s take an early look at the players Florida has committed already for 2017. If history is any indication, only two of three will ultimately make it into the class, but it’s still worthwhile to look at what the Gators have done to this point.
Four-star wide receiver Daquon Green (Tampa, FL) – The 150th ranked player in the nation, Green committed back in late July despite having offers from Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Ole Miss and Tennessee, among others. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, he looks to still be growing and is a high-upside prospect who explodes off the line and has trustworthy hands.
Four-star quarterback Jake Allen (Fort Lauderdale, FL) – Florida’s first 2017 pledge, Allen is rated as the ninth pro-style passer and 180th overall player in the nation. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier locked Allen down early, and the prospect has been all about the Gators since making his verbal pledge. Though Allen still needs to be polished and must learn to be less robotic in his movements, his strong arm and ability to make most throws already has him coveted in 2017.
Three-star offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort (Miami, FL) – Continuing co-coordinator Randy Shannon‘s reach into Norland High School, Telfort committed days after Allen and surprised many by flipping from Miami to Florida. He’s more of a run blocker at this time, but the 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman could be a big get for the Gators, especially with possibly two more years of development in his future.