FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
The summer is flying by and the Florida Gators 2019 campaign is approaching quickly. As the players and coaches prepare for their August 24 kickoff against Miami, here at Inside the Gators we take stock of the roster to break down our list of “20/19” players for the 2019 season.
It will go like this: the 20 most valuable returning players with considerable game experience and then the 19 most valuable players who have yet to appear for the Gators and/or make a significant contribution in game play to this point. These are not necessarily the best players but the most valuable in relation to the team this season.
This is a 10 part series that will take a look at two returning players along with one to two upcoming players each time. Today we dive in with players 17-18 from our Top 20 list and players 16-17 from our Top 19 list.
20 MOST VALUABLE RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS
No. 18-FREDDIE SWAIN
- Position: Wide Receiver
- Class: Senior
- Size: 6-foot, 199 pounds
- High School/Hometown: North Marion High (Ocala, Fla.)
Why He’s Important: Swain’s not the Gators’ biggest, fastest or highest-jumping receiver. His stats in 2018 were modest: 14 catches for 265 yards and five scores. He averaged just 10.2 yards as the team’s primary punt returner. Still, he’s an important piece to this team’s overall puzzle. He’s sure-handed and seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He’s also good for a couple of explosive plays per year, such as his 85-yard punt return score against Colorado State and 65-yard receiving touchdown against Tennessee in back-to-back games last season.
Questions to be Answered: Perhaps Swain’s best quality is the lack of questions surrounding him. You know what you’re going to get each Saturday – a hard-playing slot receiver who knows his role and catches just about everything thrown his way. The only question is what his role will be. With Josh Hammond returning as the starter in the slot, if Toney continues to polish his receiving and punt-catching skills and Jacob Copeland is healthy, where will Swain stand on the depth chart?
Projection: Swain is likely to retain his punt-returning job because he’s the most consistent at catching the ball. He’ll average about 10 yards per return, which means the offense will have one less first down to gain to score. His role on offense will decrease with Toney’s emergence, but there are enough cupcake games on the schedule that he’ll finish in the 15-20 catch range. He’ll score about five touchdowns combined. If nothing else, he’ll provide veteran leadership and serve as a nice decoy for UF’s weapons on the outside.
No. 17-DONOVAN STINER
- Position: Safety
- Class: Junior
- Size: 6-foot-1, 203 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Bellaire High (Houston, Texas)
Why He’s Important: The Gators have a deep and talented defensive line, an experienced middle linebacker (David Reese) and a pair of lockdown corners (CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson). The only thing keeping this defense from making the jump from great to elite is consistent safety play. Stiner made a trio of game-sealing plays in 2018: the bone-jarring sack of Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and interceptions against LSU and Florida State. However, he also took poor angles defending the run at times, and Georgia and Missouri picked on him in coverage with a lot of success. For Florida to have a chance against some of the more high-powered offenses in the league, Stiner needs to become less of a liability.
Questions to be Answered: How much patience will Todd Grantham and safeties coach Ron English have with Stiner? A year ago, Shawn Davis and Jeawon Taylor were injured for portions of the season, so they had no choice but to roll with Stiner. Davis and Taylor were healthy in the spring, and they saw snaps with the first-string defense. Can Stiner hold onto his starting spot, and, if he does, will he do his job more consistently?
Projection: Stiner will begin the season as a starter, alongside Brad Stewart. He and Stewart are UF’s best safeties against the pass, while Davis and Taylor seem to be better run-stoppers. So, don’t be surprised if Stiner doesn’t see the field as much against some of the more physical, run-oriented teams on the schedule, such as Auburn and Georgia. He’ll produce a couple of more highlight-reel plays but also some frustrating, head-scratching ones. That’s who he is at this point.
19 MOST VALUABLE WHO HAVE YET TO CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY
No. 17-ANDREW CHATFIELD
- Position: Linebacker
- Class: Redshirt Freshman
- Size: 6-foot, 245 pounds
- High School/Hometown: American Heritage High (Plantation, Fla.)
Why He’s Important: Buck is a position of need, and he figures to be part of the future at the position. He’s a gifted pass rusher, as evidenced by the 14 sacks he recorded as a high school senior. However, at 245 pounds, he should be able to put his hand in the ground as an every-down player as well and not just as a pass-rush specialist. He seems to be the most game-ready of the young Bucks.
Questions to be Answered: He only played against Charleston Southern and Idaho in 2018. Now that he’s likely to be a key part of the rotation, how will he play in big games? UF’s had some outstanding edge rushers in recent years, such as Jachai Polite and Dante Fowler. They’ve also had several busts, such as Cece Jefferson and Antonneous Clayton. Which category will Chatfield fall in?
Projection: Depending on how his fall battle with David Reese ends, he’ll be No. 2 or No. 3 on the depth chart at Buck, behind Greenard. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with as a pass-rusher, and he’ll record about five sacks. But, like a lot of young edge rushers, he’ll struggle to set the edge in the running game, and that will keep him from truly blossoming this season.
No. 16-DAVID REESE
- Position: Linebacker
- Class: Redshirt Freshman
- Size: 6-foot, 221 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Vero Beach High (Fort Pierce, Fla.)
Why He’s Important: Grantham loves versatile players. They allow him to get creative with his blitzes and coverages without having to tip his hand by substituting players on and off the field. Reese provides such versatility. He signed with UF as a linebacker, worked at safety in 2018 and moved to the hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position that the Gators call the Buck this spring. He seems like an ideal fit for the position, whether it’s this season or years to follow. He hits like a linebacker, covers like a safety and rushes the quarterback like a defensive end. The Gators have to replace Jachai Polite and his 11 sacks from a year ago, and the competition at Buck seems to be wide open. He’ll likely also play a big role on special teams.
Questions to be Answered: Is it possible that Reese is a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none? He’s clearly athletic, but he’s still learning a new position. He played in just two games in 2018. Until he proves his worth in games, the hype surrounding him doesn’t mean anything. Buck is one of the deepest positions on the team, with players such as Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Chatfield, Jeremiah Moon and Mohamoud Diabate all working to earn reps. Will he be able to crack the rotation this year, and, if so, how effective will he be coming off the edge?
Projection: Barring a rash of injuries, he likely won’t be a regular in the rotation, but he’ll make a few ‘wow’ plays this season that’ll get you excited for what his future could hold. He’ll be a mainstay on all four special teams as well.