Florida Gators recruiting: National Signing Day targets to watch, things to know

By Adam Silverstein
January 26, 2017
Florida Gators recruiting: National Signing Day targets to watch, things to know

Image Credit: ESPNI

With less than a week to go until 2017 National Signing Day, the only thing to say about the Florida Gators is that head coach Jim McElwain is in a precarious position with his most important recruiting class to date.

On Wednesday night, Florida saw one of its top remaining targets, four-star offensive lineman Kai-Leon Herbert (Fort Lauderdale, FL) cancel his official visit (scheduled for Saturday) and instead commit to Miami. Just moments later, the Gators lost their second-highest rated commitment for 2017 in four-star cornerback Elijah Blades (Pasadena, CA), who named a top five that includes Florida though most expect him to wind up at Nebraska or USC.

The loss of Blades dropped UF’s recruiting class down to 31st in the 247Sports team rankings. That’s also 11th in the SEC — behind South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas — and obviously in back of both in-state rivals in Florida State and Miami. Losing out on Herbert, a top 250 player, also gave the Gators less ammunition to take a massive step forward in the next few days.

When originally setting out to write this story, the plan was for it to have a relatively optimistic angle despite everything working against Florida this recruiting cycle. In fact, OnlyGators.com had been given positive signs from those close to the program that the Gators were set to finish up 2017 strong and perhaps even surprise some detractors come National Signing Day. That has changed over the last 48 hours.

So with less than a week to go until the big day, let’s take a fair and honest look at where Florida stands — no alternative facts allowed — as it looks up on nearly every major program in the nation.


1. The Gators are short-handed, and it does matter: Don’t think Florida being down two coaches makes a difference on the recruiting trail? Let’s ask Herbert. “I just want to know who the [Gators] offensive line coach will be,” he said days before cancelling his visit. “That’s the big thing in my recruitment. … [In Miami] all the coaches were there always with me. It was an all-star team.” Despite McElwain promising that he would fill the staff position vacated by Geoff Collins‘ departure to Temple in a timely matter with a strong recruiter after the new year, the job remains empty. This is largely due to Alabama offensive analyst Mike Locksley spurning Florida after being promoted to co-offensive coordinator with the Crimson Tide, but that was because McElwain decided to wait weeks until after the title game for Lockley to become available. And the staff vacancies doubled when offensive line coach Mike Summers left for Louisville, suddenly leaving UF in a terrible situation personnel wise.

2. Acting slow hurts in every way: One big issue with Gators recruiting these days is Florida “getting in late” on recruits. In other words, UF is either not identifying talent early enough or paying enough attention to quality players or pressing for commitments when the Gators are at the top of a prospect’s leaderboard. Recruits are not feeling the same connection to Florida as they do with other schools, particularly in state, which is one reason why Florida State and Miami are poised to embarrass UF this cycle. This molasses-like approach has also affected Florida’s coaching searches, too, which in turn also hurts recruiting.

3. The staff has its own issues: One thing Florida did not lose when Summers departed was a strong recruiter. But there are others on staff that also lack that talent — we’ll get into that more after signing day is over — which is leaving the Gators even more short-handed in terms of effective recruiters they can trust on the road to lock up top prospects. It’s not a surprise that offensive issues have some down on the Gators, and a top-10 class (while it would have been nice) was not necessarily expected. But Florida is not top 10, top 20 or top 30 right now — and that’s insane. The Gators, which after the 2017 NFL Draft will have placed four defensive backs in the first round over the last two years are struggling to lock up top-flight secondary prospects. That’s insane, too. Florida has playing time to offer all over the field, particularly on defense, and is not able to convince stud recruits to fill those roles.

Top targets

This list has taken a hit over the last week, but these are the best prospects on the Gators’ recruiting board that are either likely, probable or potential commitments.

Four-star lineman Tedarrell Slaton (Fort Lauderdale, FL): Next to Robinson (see below), Slaton is seen as the most likely player to commit to the Gators on signing day. Ranked 69th in the nation, he can play on either side of the ball is the top-rated prospect who could potentially commit to Florida.

Four-star wide receiver James Robinson (Lakeland, FL): The No. 114 overall player in the nation, Robinson is expected to commit to Florida and would be the Gators’ top-ranked playmaker.

Four-star defensive back Christopher Henderson (Miami, FL): The Gators have long been considered the leader for the nation’s No. 134 player, but recent rumblings have the Hurricanes trending to swoop away their former commitment. This would be a big loss for UF and now appears to be a likely one.

Four-star defensive back Brad Stewart (New Orleans, LA): LSU got in late on the hometown prospect and country’s 153rd ranked player, allowing Florida to keep an assumed lead in his recruitment.

Four-star defensive lineman Elijah Conliffe (Hampton, VA): UF was late to offer Conliffe but apparently impressed him during an official visit last Saturday. The Gators have an immediate need for a player like him, and this would be McElwain’s biggest recruiting win (outside of a possible Henderson commitment) if he can get Conliffe to choose Florida over Tennessee.

Three-star linebacker Nick Smith (Orlando, FL): There’s nothing to sneeze at here with Smith, a supremely talented player who many believe is under-ranked. In fact, he appears to be a relative sure-thing for the Gators after canceling his final official visit after taking a trip to Gainesville, Florida.

Four-star linebacker Levi Jones (Austin, TX): Jones is actually the second-highest ranked player on this list at No. 92, but he’s the least likely to commit, which is why he’s at the end of this section. McElwain landing Jones would be a massive victory, and the recruit named Florida his leader at one point, but he seems headed to Florida State.

Flip possibilities

Four-star defensive tackles Breyon and Brandon Gaddy (Virginia Beach, VA): Both Maryland commitments, the Gaddys officially visit UF on Friday and should find out at that time whether Florida believes it can get them into school from an academic standpoint. If the Gators are able to clear them, a flip is considered by many to be likely.

Four-star defensive tackle Cam Spence (Washington, D.C.): Also committed to Maryland, Spence took his lone visit elsewhere in the month of January to Florida and subsequently canceled a scheduled visit to Louisville. He plans to announce a final decision on signing day.

Three-star defensive back Donovan Stiner (Bellaire, TX): Stiner received a last-minute offer from the Gators and plans to visit UF over the weekend. Florida is casting a wider net with Blades decommitted, and should it bring in Stiner, it would mark the second straight year that UF would have snatched away one of Houston’s top three commitments.

Four-star defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt (Decatur, GA): Florida and South Carolina are both trying to sway Wyatt from his Georgia commitment, and though the Gators do get the last visit, most expect him to wind up with one of the other two programs with Wyatt most likely remaining with the Bulldogs.

Three-star offensive lineman Zalontae Hillery (Brunswick, GA): A Miami pledge, Hillery has decided to give Florida his last visit this weekend. Summers having left for Louisville may have affected his thought process of a flip being a possibility.

Secondary targets

Here are some other prospects on the Gators’ recruiting board that are either three-star recruits, have outstanding issues or are only takes if Florida misses on other higher-ranked players.

Three-star running back Adarius Lemons (Clearwater, FL): A two-time Florida commit and former four-star prospect, Lemons had a rough year due to a variety of off-field issues but has made it clear on social media that all he wants to do is play for the Gators. If he is cleared academically — or even if he’s close — Florida will likely accept him in its class.

Three-star defensive back Eric Stokes (Covington, GA): Florida has not pressed hard on Stokes, but with Blades decommitting, he could be a late add to the class. Stokes is also considering Georgia and Ole Miss, both of which he will have visited after taking a trip to Gainesville.

Three-star defensive back Brian Edwards (Hollywood, FL): Most expect Miami to land Edwards, but if the Canes take Henderson from the Gators, it may wind up being a swap with the lower-rated prospect seeing a better chance to play at Florida.

Three-star defensive tackle Tyrone Truesdell (Augusta, GA): The Gators appear to have backed off Truesdell as of late, but if Florida misses on the most of the players listed above at his position, he could be a take on signing day.


Florida is technically a finalist for five-star defensive tackle LaBryan Ray (Madison, AL) and four-star wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (Montgomery, AL), but as you can tell by their hometowns, both are expected to commit to Alabama.


Scottie Lewis (12)
Tre Mann (26)
Omar Payne (43)
Jason Jitoboh
Ques Glover
Alex Klatsky

* Early enrollee

All rankings referenced in this story are via the 247Sports Composite


  1. Jemery says:

    Now is it time for panic mode? Mac will obviously be judged by wins and losses, but this kind of recruiting doesn’t provide optimism that he’ll be able to take the next step or even maintain the ship. It’s also hard to inspire 2018 recruiting class (which will need to be fairly epic) when they’re seeing low ranking guys (i know it’s debatable and not everything) commit and other guys walk away. I’ve been staying semi-optimistic up until now, but I’m starting to feel some despair set in about the future.

    • T Mack says:

      Mac’s recruiting worsened au CSU as well. Granted, when you’re taking classes in the 80s it’s negligible but his 3 years in the Mountain West he finished last (his first year so short recruiting cycle and all of that), 5th, then 6th.

      This QB whisperer from the mighty Alabama couldn’t even outrecruit MWC coaches with his resume. We’re supposed to believe he’ll be able to compete with Richt, Meyer, Saban, Orgeron, Harbaugh, Fisher, Swinney (and apparently now Smart) ?

      Those guys are entrenched brand names regionally and nationally.

      Urban Meyer hasn’t coached in Florida in 6 years. Since the start of Mac’s tenure he has scored the same amount of 5 stars, and only 3 fewer blue chips. I’m talking about blue chippers in the state of Florida.

      Now if you take away the 2015 class, Mac’s first year and short cycle, it’s even worse. I take it away because a lot of the groundwork was done by the previous mess of a regime and Mac’s staff merely had to “hang on”

      Taking away the groundwork laid by Muschamp, Durkin, Robinson and using only Mac’s first two full cycles, Mac has secured 1 more in state blue chipper than Urban Meyer. In Ohio

      Yes, the Urban Meyers of the world don’t come along very often, but for a guy who was supposedly reviled when he left, he’s basically neck and neck with the head coach at Florida’s flagship school with regards to in state blue chippers.

      That’s disgusting.

  2. Craig says:

    On the whole, this is going to be Mac’s worst class. He’s going into year 3, right???

    • G2 says:

      I have to agree 100%, year 3 and no QB? Whats that going to be, a 2-3 year learning curve even if we have the right guy?
      We are struggling to get and keep 3* guys while our rivals are already loaded up. Now we have to wait till NSD to see who might pick UF? Number 3 in the state in recruiting is not going to cut it.

      Hope I’m wrong but this looks like about a #25 type of class which wont get us back to Atlanta anytime soon.

  3. jimbofisherfield says:

    Finally! It’s even starting to dawn on the writer that McElwain is a joke. Did anyone EVER think UF could sink so low in the eyes of prospects? What’s sad is the support McElwain gets. He’s 2-7 against ranked teams. The streak against Tennessee ended under his watch. UF isn’t even competitive on, or off, the field with FSU. Georgia appears to be curb stomping UF in recruiting, so even his success on the field against them is probably short-lived. His record is built upon the mediocre schedule he’s faced. He’s beat ranked teams, Ole Miss and LSU, but has lost to every other ranked teams. The norm,for losses under McElwain, is to not even be competitive with the other team. Even an unranked Arkansas embarrassed UF. Next year, UF has only two paid cupcakes, not the usual three. Michigan, despite losing almost every starter, will probably embarrass UF to open the season. Will a streak ending loss to Kentucky wake everyone up?

    • Even starting to dawn on a writer who has criticized him for months?

    • Jemery says:

      It’ll take another loss to an FCS school and a sub .500 record to get it turned around. The problem is so much winning against teams we should obviously beat. A “winning” record can harm having the discussion about the true state of a program. Mac has a winning record, but he hasn’t actually beat anyone that would show he’s producing a competitive team, but the W/L numbers game is on his side right now. It’ll be interesting going forward to see how Stricklin views this situation.

      • Matt says:

        I believe 2013 was a killer, just awful…Everybody got hurt, like 15 season ending injuries…Florida started that year as a preseason top 10 team, coming off of an 11-2 year, everything was looking good before that but the injuries stacked up at an unbelievable rate, we even broken arms from scooter accidents and a loss to a triple option offense that didn’t even complete a pass.. Skyler Mornigwig was QB, who should have been 4th sting and never saw the field, with Brisset transfering that spring, Driskel breaking his leg, Murphy hurting his shoulder, we had walkon playing LB against an offense we had never seen…That set the atmosphere for Muschamp to be fired in 2014, when Florida finished 7-5 with narrow and bizarre losses to LSU, South Carolina, and #1 ranked FSU..Missouri won 42-13 while gaining only 119 yrds of offense…The most insane loss in Gator history with a pick 6, fumble 6, opening KO for TD, and punt teturn for a TD!! There was no rhyme or reason to happenings on the field as Florida had good kick coverage that year other than the Mizzo game..In 2014 Florida averaged 30+ppg, was on a string of top 10 recruting classes…Muschamp was the coach who set the defense up, which is why Mcelwain has skated by his first two years…No one gives Muschamp credit for recruiting Fowler, Hargreaves, Neal, Tabor, Wilson, Davis, and Maye all first round picks or potential first round picks…This is backwards, Muschamp was the much better coach, program builder he needed improvement on offense, not as much unbelivably bad luck, to be National Title contender, Florida nearly was in 2012…Imagine if Muschamp is not fired, and Florida landed Lamar Jackson which he said he would have gone to Florida had Muschamp not been fired. All we needed is to average 33+ ppg with Muschamp’s defenses allowing only 13ppg or less and and with Jackson that seems easily attainable…Firing Muschamp was the mistake, hiring Mcelwain will prove to be a disasterous mistake…

  4. T Mack says:

    Florida should finish no worse thank 3rd in the SEC in recruiting and that’s in a bad year.

    They should be able to compete with Alabama year in and year out

  5. Tizz says:

    LaBryan Ray visiting this weekend? What other OVs we have?

    Go Gators!

  6. Kaput says:

    Winning the East has very much been a case of tallest midget the last two seasons.

    This program’s completely deficient recruiting efforts are embarrassing. I’m sure McElwain will say something stupid like, “Hey, it’s pretty cool. We got some new Gators and that’s pretty cool. Cool, huh? Man, that’s cool!”

    Will this down turn ever end?

    • Unacceptable says:

      I am a 3rd generation UF grad. I have been an avid UF fan since Pell was HC in the early 80’s. This is the absolute lowest I have seen the football program in almost 40 years. Pathetic!! Do not let winning the east nor our record fool you. Everyone who knows a darn thing about the state of our football program would tell you that McElwain has to go. He is not a leader. He is not confident in his own self. He can barely speak to reporters on the field during games without sounding like a dumb%#@. He is not a leader or a manager. I really hope our AD has already started looking for a new man. Lord help us on recruiting day.

  7. Alex says:

    This is what happens when you hire a second tier coach. They way foley mismanaged our football program the last 7 years is border line criminal.

    • G2 says:

      We are headed down the path UT took after Fulmer…several bad hires set them back big time. Not sure they have the right guy now but at least he can recruit top tier talent.

      We are still years away, don’t know what Foley was thinking. Guess he was trying to pull another Billy D out of the hat but we all can see Mac is in over his head at this level!

  8. Matt says:

    Mcelwain is 54…He spent 15 years in Division 2 as an assistant, if he was so talented why was his career so stagnant? He was part of a Raiders staff that was fired…Spent one year at Fresno State where the offense went from 23ppg to 35ppg in his only year…Sounds tremendous until you realize the year before was a bizarrely bad year for Fresno State, every year before that and after year produced 35 to 45ppg regarless of coordinator..When Mcelwain left for Bama the production remained the same. Then he goes to Bama, where in his first year the offense improved 4.3 ppg, ok pretty good, but that was Saban’s second year and they were already in an upswing when Mcelwain arrived, he essentially rode it…After he left, the offense got better, by a good margin, 5-6 ppg better the years after he left..In fact, Mcelwain’s offenses at Bama are 4 of the 5 lowest scoring offenses in the last decade. Bama had only one other year where scoring offense was worse than any of Mcelwain’s and that was a differnce of less than half a point. On to CSU where recuiting didnt improve offense did, as Mcelwain as benefited from a senior QB futre draft pick, he didn’t recruit…

    There is nothing in his history that points to adding value either recruiting or QB whispering..Its not there…His recruiting and offensive production are on average worse than the coaches that preceeded him or came after him. It is such a nonsense to call him a great QB or offensive coach, he is at best, below average…Recruiting is below average or even poor..Game management = below average. In game adjustments = poor, Florida has been a poor second half team. Relationship with media and fans = poor as he snaps at reporters when he confuses the facts…As for the QB position being touted as the only issue offense, not its not, there is also no running game, SEC worst in rushing offense and yards per carry..127th in redzone offense, second to last in the nation because he stupidly goes for it on 4th and goal from the 5 yard line..I see nothing that supports this guy being a good coach..Nothing..

    • Unacceptable says:

      It’s like they say…it’s not personal, it’s just the truth. I was too frustrated to break it down as your post does. I think that pretty well sums it up besides he can not retain assistants/position coaches which really does a number on recruits and all of this will show soon.
      Now we have to compete with a new Miami, a new FAU, a new S. Fla. program besides the normal FSU, BAMA, Auburn, UGA, oh and Urban is still plucking great recruits from the state of FL.
      What in the heck is wrong with our recruiting?
      The HC.
      Foley you did a heck of a job for a loooong time at UF but you really dumped a jewel on us with Mac. If we fired him today no legitimate program would touch him. At least Muschamp could recruit and had passion.

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