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- 2023 Signing Class Superlatives
- Parental Perspective: A football family
- Class of 2023 Signee Bios
- Watch & Read: Billy Napier Signing Day Press Conference
- Florida’s class ranked 9th-to-12th
- Watch: A behind-the-scenes look at Caden Jones’ Florida official visit
- Watch: Florida’s 10 Most Important Commits
- Regular Season Report Card: Napier has a Muschamp like first season
- Florida players to keep an eye on as Portal Season is set to kick off
- Evaluating the Class of 2022
Normally Grading the Gators is reserved for Inside the Gators to look back on the previous day’s football game. We’re going to switch up somewhat today and use it to take a more in-depth look at Florida’s Early Signing Class of 2023.
Keep in mind, there are six weeks remaining in this recruiting cycle, these are not the final grades – they are based upon the prospects Florida has signed to this point.
(This article was originally published on December 23, immediately after the Early Signing Period. It is being updated to include the late addition of Caden Jones as well as the loss of Jaden Rashada while adding the Transfer Portal Signees in the position-by-position grades)
GRADING THE GATORS
(Note: The below tables are best viewed by turning your smartphone horizontally)
|QB||Our practice is to use the On3 Consensus, but since they don’t go back that far, by utilizing the 247 Composite, you have to go back to Feleipe Franks, No. 54 in the Class of 2016 for the last time Florida signed a more highly ranked quarterback. Of the quarterbacks Florida recruited and was involved with this cycle, it’s safe to say that Jaden Rashada was the most highly rated and best fit for the Gators’ offense. There’s no conceivable reason not to make this the highest possible grade.|
UPDATE: Well, that didn’t last long. Removing Jaden Rahsada from the class while adding Graham Mertz – who statistically speaking looks to be a less version of Anthony Richardson throwing the ball – isn’t cause for celebration. This goes from an A+ to a D+
|RB||Not to be down on Treyaun Webb at all, but the grade is based on recruiting at a position, not a singular player. Florida had three of the top four running backs in the nation, all ranked among the nation’s Top 55 prospects, on campus and wasn’t able to close on any of them. Also, judging by the current roster, visits, and offers, the Gators looked like they wanted two backs and only ended up with one. While UF has a proven, top-notch 1-2 punch, they are going to have to add a body via the portal.|
UPDATE: While he may not be a household name along the lines of some of the other backs in the Transfer Portal, when healthy Cameron Carroll was a productive back for Tulane. If Florida’s top two backs remain healthy, he’ll be a complimentary part next year rather than the go-to guy.
|WR||Florida signed a solid foundation for the future, but how many of the trio of receivers will be able to contribute immediately? Depending on what Ricky Pearsall decides to do, one or two might be needed to play next season. If that is the case, Aidan Mizell is coming off a season-ending injury and Eugene Wilson, as electric as he is, looks like he will need some time in the strength and conditioning program before he becomes a force. Regardless, Florida upped their talent level while adding speed and elusiveness, but not much size, at the position.||Then: A-|
|TE||You are probably looking at this and either getting ready to close the browser or have me committed because I didn’t assign the position an outright F. But, all things considered, I do believe that by resigning Tony Livingston, Florida did better than expected. Look, it’s going to be hard to get a pass-catching tight end with NFL aspirations to come to play in an offense where the position is more of an extension of the offensive line than a threat in the passing game. That’s just the reality of the situation as it currently stands. However, think back to the beginning of the last cycle, and the discussion was that perhaps Livingston was potentially a future offensive tackle. Combine that with the fact that I have seen him make an occasional eye-opening catch, and he could potentially be the perfect fit. Also, I do believe there is another player coming in at the position.||Then: D|
|OL||I do believe that this trio is slightly better than the On3 Consensus rankings, which have them as a four-star and two three-stars. The problem here is that according to what Bryce Lovett told us over the summer, Florida told him that they wanted to sign five linemen in the cycle. Meaning, the numbers just aren’t there. The Gators hosted eight of the top 11 On3 Consensus offensive tackles on campus and whiffed on each of them. Then when you add in what the Gators are losing along the line, depending on the transfer portal, they may have needed one or two early contributors, and did they get that in this cycle?|
UPDATE: Just when Florida was staring into the abyss after all the attrition along the line, along come two very big Transfer Portal additions. Just adding Baylor offensive guard Micah Mazzccua alone would in itself add a full letter grade to Florida’s offensive line signee class. Getting former five-star Kiyaunta Goodwin as well, bumps it up even further. Late signee Caden Jones has size potential, but he has some work to do before he is ready to be part of the rotation.
|OFF||There are some top-end building blocks that the Gator Nation should be thrilled with such as Rashada, Aidan Mizell, Eugene Wilson, along with some top complimentary guys such as Webb and Andy Jean. However, unless there’s a O’Cyrus Torrence clone waiting in the wings, you know, someone they had a previous relationship with, thus already have an ‘in’ with that they plan on signing, as you saw in the bowl game, the line is going to be an issue. To be clear, to this point, the staff simply hasn’t upgraded the talent level at the position. Actually, overall, in these first two cycles combined, six of the seven offensive linemen they’ve signed have been mid-to-low three-star prospects. Who cares who you have at the skill positions if you aren’t able to get it done upfront?|
UPDATE: While there were obvious positives, the line class as a whole and the receiver class from the high school ranks, not signing a top-end quarterback for two straight cycles is hard to stomach. The bottom line is college football is becoming more and more of a quarterback-driven game. You either need elite talent, or an elite quarterback to contend for titles, and when you get a combination of the two is when you become part of the CFP discussion. At this point, Florida’s quarterback room is closer to being in the lower half of the SEC than it is to being elite.
|DT||The losses of Jordan Hall and John Walker down the stretch were amplified the evening of Early Signing Day when Florida released their signee bios. What it showed in their own measurements, not what came from a recruiting site, only one of the five defensive line signees – Will Norman at 299-pounds – weighed more than 265-pounds. All five of the linemen have the frames to add 20-pounds in a college workout plan off-season, but it’s just different having a player who is more naturally 300-plus pounds and the anchor that comes with having that kind of size.|
UPDATE: It may not show up in some of these Transfer Portal rankings, but Florida landing Cam’Ron Jackson is one of the better signings for the Gators this cycle. He adds immediate size and experience to a defensive line that was in desperate need of both. Then, Caleb Banks adds more size, but less production to judge him by.
|DE||The news is much better here. In Kelby Collins, Florida has signed a player out of Alabama coveted by every major program in the southeast. He isn’t just a ranking. Seeing him a few times over the summer, including standing next to him at the airport, he has the build to come in and compete behind Princely Umanmielen from the very beginning. Kamran James moves well for his size (he was lining up at tight end during Florida’s summer 7v7) and has the frame to play in the 280s within a year. Then you have Gavin Hill and TJ Searcy – with Searcy being the pure outside rusher of the group.|
UPDATE: As a sign of where Florida stands here, Billy Napier said on Wednesday that rush end is a position that the Gators will focus on in the Spring Transfer Portal window.
|LB||I think more of Jaden Robinson than the recruiting services do. When I first saw him two years ago before the start of his junior season, I had him as the No. 2 overall Florida summer camp session performer based on the way he moved and the instincts he displayed. I thought he was well on his way to being a Top 100 type of prospect. The issue is, he was a bit undersized then and didn’t really hit a growth spurt. If he was a good inch and a half taller, he would easily be a four-star and one of the most coveted in-state defenders. This is the rub, two of the most coveted in-state defenders, and two of the top linebackers in the nation, Raylen Wilson and Troy Bowles, both ended up at Georgia. In the end, linebacker was much like tight end in that there wasn’t much hope of doing well at the position because there simply weren’t enough top prospects interested in the Gators.|
UPDATE: Florida added three bodies, and while all three (or at least two of the three) could play roles in 2023, none of them come in as being difference makers at their previous programs at the position. Because of his size and experience, Teradja Mitchell should help lessen the burden of losing Ventrell Miller. Before this past season Mannie Nunnery was more of a special teams ace at Houston than a contributor at linebacker. Florida certainly added depth at the position, but did the players they sign really provide an upgrade over what was currently on the roster?
|CB||It’s hard to find much wrong with a cornerback class consisting of Sharif Denson (though UF listed him as a DB rather than CB on their signee bios), Aaron Gates, Ja’Keem Jackson, and Dijon Johnson – except that at one time it looked like they would be joined by the No. 1 prospect in the nation at the position, Cormani McClain. If Florida landed him, you likely could have raised the overall grade below up one complete letter grade. However, Florida came up short, which was symbolic of this class as a whole, where Florida definitely brought in some talented players, but missed on the top tier, five-star type of kids, especially in-state. Having said that, it wouldn’t be surprising if three of the four signees (Gates is recovering from a knee injury) were on the depth chart for the season opener.||Then: A|
|S||As is referenced above, with Denson being listed as a DB – as is Jordan Castell – does that mean Florida sees him – or them – as more of a Star or safety rather than strictly as a cornerback? Add in Bryce Thornton, and it is a slightly above-average class at the position. Castell in particular brings needed size to the position.||Then: B|
|DEF||Florida could have used at least one more linebacker and a natural defensive tackle with the size to play early, but overall the Gators added talent at all three levels and really killed it in the secondary. Adding size along the line and more speed and athleticism at linebacker is of the utmost importance in the next cycle.|
UPDATE: Through the Transfer Portal Florida added at least two players (Jackson, Mitchell) who should be part of the two-deep from the start. Overall, it is enough to bump the grade up to slightly.
|OA||Who is going to complain about a Top 10 Class? Not me, and neither should you. This is a step forward where some needs were filled. However, the issue is some needs weren’t met, but with the way college football is nowadays, there’s still transfer portal recruiting to look forward to. Also, though this is a good start to the Billy Napier era, Florida still isn’t getting the very top-end kids. Not from in-state, not from out-of-state.||B+|
5) Florida finally sees progress with facilities
Talk about a case of Deja Vu. Coming in at No. 5 for Napier’s first full cycle is the exact same headline we used back in 2019 for Dan Mullen‘s first full cycle. Back then it was a simple upgrade to the locker room that had commits and targets talking. This time around it is a completely brand new football facility – that has a wow factor times 10. However, just like when the Heavener Complex debuted, you have to get as much bang for your buck as you can right off the bat because, in a never-ending arms race, the spectacular becomes routine in no time at all. Since UF opened their new facility a couple of months ago, Auburn has opened a $92 million dollar facility and earlier this month Florida State broke ground on a new facility.
4) Summer fun
Half of Florida’s signees (10 out of 20) committed during a six-week period spanning the summer months of June and July. Before Knijeah Harris started the party on June 20th (actually Tommy Kinsler jumped on board a day earlier, but he decommitted a couple of weeks later), Florida fans were rightfully wondering what was going on as the Gators. At that point they had a holdover in Aaron Gates, and the new staff had only added Bryce Lovett, Creed Whittemore, and Tyree Patterson – not exactly a murder’s row of pledges. That all changed when summer official visit, and summer camp sessions, began.
3) Florida learned to say in their lane
Here we go again. The second of the first three defining moments matches up with what Mullen did in his first full class. Back in 2019, only two of the 21 early signees came from outside Florida’s primary recruiting area. Napier and Company took it to another level with 17 of the 20 signees coming from Florida and Georgia. Here in the age of the transfer portal, the closer you can stick to home, where the players are more familiar with the culture and surroundings, the better chance they have of acclimating to the program and thus sticking around through the inevitable bumps in the road.
2) Disappointment down the stretch
When Jaden Rashada flipped from Miami to Florida in early November – the future was definitely bright. If just a couple of things fell their way it looked like the Gators were well on their way to a top-five finish. However, down the stretch, nothing else went as hoped or expected as target after target ended up elsewhere and UF finished up with the No. 10 rated class on the On3 Consensus.
1) Drama-filled cycle at quarterback
Can you ever remember a cycle where there was so much drama at one position? It started with Florida having to part ways with Marcus Stokes after he released a video of him singing a no-no word in a rap song and ended with the Jaden Rashada fiasco – which we probably not know the true story behind until ESPN does a 30 for 30 years down the road.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 80% – 16 of the 20 signees are enrolling early.
- 70% – 14 of the 20 early signees are from the state of Florida.
- 40% – Of the 20 early signees 8 are on offense.
- 60% – Of the 20 early signees 12 are on defense.
- 80% – 16 of the 20 early signees are rated as four-stars.
- 10 – This is where Florida is ranked in the On3 Consensus team rankings.
- 4 – Florida is ranked No.4 in the SEC.
- 5 – Florida’s 91.55 average ranking per signee is ranked No. 5 in the nation.
- 3 – In Collins (No. 59), Rashada (No. 65) and Mizell (No. 96) Florida signed three prospects inside the On3 Consensus Top 100 prospects in the nation.
- 1 – Of the 24 instate prospects ranked on the On3 Consensus Top 100, Florida signed just one (Adian Mizell)
- 0 – Florida signed zip, ziltch, none, nada, of the top 20 prospects from the Sunshine State.
Note: On3 did not include Tony Livingston in the class, so he is not included in the numbers above
THE BOTTOM LINE
As I stated above, I feel like there are so many similarities between Napier’s and Mullen’s first full classes, so some of what you read below will be similar to what I wrote to recap Mullen’s first class.
To be clear, recruiting in this cycle isn’t over yet. With six weeks remaining until National Signing Day, Florida could still add a signee or two (hello Caden Jones). However, for the most part, the heavy lifting is behind us. There are no unsigned players in the On3 Consensus Top 300 that Florida is currently a factor for (though former commit Raymond Cotrell may be worth keeping an eye on).
With that being the case, it’s time to see where Florida stands – not necessarily nationally – but rather in comparison to the programs they actually have to face on an annual basis.
The teams in the SEC and Florida State.
As for me, I am an absolute stargazer. I believe that on average the most reliable indicator of a prospect’s future success is the number of stars by their name. I think Florida did a great job in getting Dexter and Wingo regardless of whether it was early or late, not because of the timing, but because of the number of their ranking. The opposite is true of Brown. I didn’t think much of him when he visited and wasn’t bothered by the fact that he went elsewhere. It’s nothing against him personally, but the stars indicate that, on average, there are better options.
As an example, as we do each year, we broke down the All-SEC First Team by stars. 18 of the 22 first-team members were ranked as a four or five-star coming out of high school. Going on average across the nation, a five-star is over 45 times more likely to be named All-SEC compared to a three-star.
Those type of numbers proves true down the line as you start comparing the awarded stars of first-round draft choices.
The bottom line is the higher ranked the player, on average, the better chance he has of being successful.
With this class, it feels like Florida drove down the field for a touchdown but then missed the extra point. Yes, you feel good about putting points on the board, but you also feel like you left points out on the field.
Having said that, without question this class is a step forward for Florida. Last year the Gators had the No. 20 class in the nation, this year they are ranked No. 10. Last year UF had two consensus top 100 prospects signed, this year they have three.
While Florida has helped itself overall and bolstered a couple of positions that were areas of need, this class, to this point, hasn’t gotten Florida closer to the promised land of toppling LSU and Georgia.
That isn’t to say that Florida can’t pull an upset, but Kirby Smart said it best when he said ‘You can’t outcoach recruiting.’
He is correct.
Now, plenty can happen between now and when those games are played in the future, including another signing day six weeks from now, the transfer portal, injuries, etc… However, on paper today, those elite programs have once again out-recruited the Gators.
Florida and the programs the Gators play each year (Florida State, LSU, UGA, and Tennessee) combined to sign 26 prospects of the On3 Consensus Top 100 prospects in the nation. Of these four programs, Florida did better than one (FSU) while at the same time being absolutely lapped by the Bulldogs with 12. That big number is put further into focus when you realize that UGA had six signees ranked higher than Florida’s highest-ranked signee.
Top 100 nationally SEC signee breakdown
#6 Nico Iamaleava – TN
#20 Damon Wilson – UGA
#21 Nyckoles Harbor – SC
#22 Zalance Heard – LSU
#25 Jordan Hall – UGA
#29 Raylen Wilson – UGA
#32 Monroe Freeling – UGA
#34 Hykeem Williams – FSU
#39 AJ Harris – UGA
#42 Dashawn Womack – LSU
#44 Samuel M’Pemba – UGA
#45 Kelby Collins – FLA
#47 Joenel Aguero – UGA
#51 Daevin Hobbs – TN
#55 Ja’Keem Jackson – FLA
#59 Javien Toviano – LSU
#67 Gabe Harris – UGA
#68 Pearce Spurlin – UGA
#75 Nathan Leacock – TN
#76 CJ Allen – UGA
#79 Jalen Brown – LSU
#80 Shelton Sampson – LSU
#88 Troy Bowles – UGA
#90 Caleb Herring – TN
#91 Tyler Williams – UGA
#100 Aidan Mizell – FLA
And, God forbid if Florida has to face Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, where they will go up against the 14 Top 100 signees the Tide wrangled in this cycle. At this pace, it will take the Gators five cycles to do what Bama did this year alone.
There has to be a more even distribution of top talent if Florida is to catch up to, much less surpass LSU, and especially the Dawgs.
Georgia (seven) actually signed more On3 Consensus Top 20 prospects from the state of Florida than the Gators (zero) did.
Top 20 instate signee breakdown
Georgia – 6
Miami – 3
Alabama – 3
Ohio State – 2
Colorado – 1
Florida – 1
Florida State – 1
LSU – 1
Oklahoma – 1
Texas – 1
That is unacceptable.
To this point, this class feels a lot like Mullen’s first full class. It is good to very good, but it simply isn’t good enough if the Gators want to reach the promised land of the College Football Playoff.
There aren’t enough unsigned top-end prospects for the Gators to play catch up this time around, but if the next cycle looks anything like this one, Florida has little to no chance of supplanting UGA.
That’s just reality.
COMPARING MULLEN’S & NAPIER’S FIRST FULL CLASS
To be clear, this is a comparison of the two classes on signing day. There is no argument that so and so didn’t qualify or make it past the first year because you have no way of knowing who in this class may or may not qualify or make it past the first year. And, if you do have a crystal ball that looks into the future, please message me before tonight’s lottery drawing.
(Note: The below tables are best viewed by turning your smartphone horizontally)
|Dan Mullen Class of 2019||Billy Napier Class of 2023|
|#41 Chris Steele||#45 Kelby Collins|
|#48 Kaiir Elam||#55 Ja’Keem Jackson|
|#54 Kris Bogle||#100 Aidan Mizell|
|#70 Ty’Ron Hopper||#106 Eugene Wilson|
|#95 Keon Zipperer||#115 Dijon Johnson|
|#112 Mohamoud Diabate||#122 Roderick Kearney|
|#113 Diwun Black||#147 Kamran James|
|#269 Deyavie Hammond||#210 Will Norman|
|#271 Jaydon Hill||#234 Jordan Castell|
|#279 Nay’Quan Wright||#236 TJ Searcy|
|#287 Jaelin Humphries||#254 Sharif Denson|
|#293 Lloyd Summerall||#306 Gavin Hill|
|#308 Jalon Jones||#350 Treyaun Webb|
|#324 Michael Tarquin||#366 Aaron Gates|
|#399 William Harrod||#385 Caden Jones|
|#401 Wardrick Wilson||#394 Andy Jean|
|#429 Dionte Marks||#425 Jaden Robinson|
|#481 Chester Kimbrough||#463 Bryce Thornton|
|#485 Riley Simonds||#675 Bryce Lovett|
|#541 Ja’Markis Weston||#770 Knijeah Harris|
|#671 Jesiah Pierre|
|#715 Kingsley Eguakun|
|#717 Trent Whittemore|
|#718 Ethan White|
|Nat. Top 1-100||5||3|
|Nat. Top 101-300||6||8|
|Top 300 Total||11||11|
|Top 1-20 in Fla.||4||1|
|Top 21-50 in Fla.||5||7|
|Top 50 in Fla. Total||9||8|
* Note: 2019 commit Arjei Henderson is not ranked at all by the On3 Consensus that cycle
* Note: Tony Livingston isn’t included by On3 as part of Napier’s 2023 class
* Note: Deyavie Hammond wasn’t assigned a rating in the Class of 2019, but he was assigned a ranking (#269). Therefore, for our purposes he was given the same rating as the #269 ranked prospect this cycle (90.72)