Now that the hysteria that is National Signing Day has come and gone, the 2020 Gators roster is basically set. While UF returns enough talent to compete for an SEC East title, they must find a way to replace 11 starters.
Some of the replacements are pretty straightforward and should have minimal drop-off, if any. Other positions don’t have obvious successors and could prove a bit more daunting to fill.
Here is our breakdown of each vacant offensive starting job as the Gators prepare for spring practices.
- Running Back: Lamical Perine
- Probable Replacement: Dameon Pierce
- Dark Horse Candidate: Lorenzo Lingard
The Situation: While Perine didn’t have the big season running the ball in 2019 that many expected, the Gators have some giant shoes to fill at running back. Perine finished third on the team in receptions and performed consistently well in pass-protection. As the No. 2 back last season, Pierce is the leading candidate to become the lead back in 2020. He scored four touchdowns in 2019 and averaged more yards-per-carry than Perine at 5.6. Short and stocky, Pierce runs like a bowling ball, a quality that should prove valuable if the offensive line continues to struggle. He has enough speed to break off explosive runs. The biggest knock on him is that he doesn’t have the greatest patience or vision; he tends to run into the teeth of the defense too often. If granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, Lingard will also factor into things. The former five-star recruit never got things going at Miami but probably has the most upside of the group.
- Wide Receiver: Van Jefferson
- Probable Replacement: Trevon Grimes
- Dark Horse Candidate: Justin Shorter
The Situation: Jefferson led the team in receiving yards in each of his two seasons at UF, and he was a selfless player who didn’t mind blocking for others. He was an excellent route-runner who drew one or two pass-interference penalties almost every game. Grimes isn’t as polished of a route-runner, but he’s bigger and faster than Jefferson. He’s most effective on deep routes down the sidelines. Unfortunately, deep balls aren’t quarterback Kyle Trask’s strength, so it’ll be interesting to see how productive Grimes will be as the No. 1 receiver. Shorter, a former five-star prospect, dealt with injuries and weight issues at Penn State but possesses a similar skillset as Grimes. Like Lingard, he’ll need a waiver by the NCAA to play right away.
- Wide Receiver: Tyrie Cleveland
- Probable Replacement: Jacob Copeland
- Dark Horse Candidate: Xzavier Henderson
The Situation: Cleveland got lost in the Gators’ receiving depth the last two seasons and didn’t produce much statistically, but he was perhaps their best perimeter blocker and a key part of special teams. Copeland has the speed and quickness to be a big-time playmaker but has caught just 22 passes for 289 yards and two scores through his first two seasons. To his credit, he didn’t transfer as some would’ve in his situation, but you get the feeling that it’s now or never for him. He needs to become more consistent at executing his assignment on every play and not just the ones where he gets the ball. Because of the amount of receiving production Florida lost, Henderson should get a chance to contribute immediately. The top-70 prospect is nearly 6-foot-4 and was a state track champion in high school.
- Slot Receiver: Freddie Swain/Josh Hammond
- Probable Replacement: Kadarius Toney
- Dark Horse Candidate: Dionte Marks
The Situation: Hammond and Swain rotated starts at this position and were two of the biggest playmakers last season. Swain led the team with seven touchdowns, while Hammond turned in another solid season. They were known commodities. Toney is anything but that. He can make plays that blow your mind, such as his 47-yard catch-and-run against Florida State that seemed to defy the laws of physics. However, for every one of those, you’ll get a five-yard loss because he danced around in the backfield too long. After being a wildcat quarterback and gadget receiver his first three seasons, he’ll get a chance to play a more conventional receiver role as a senior. Marks redshirted in 2019 and could be the next in line when/if Toney proves unreliable.
- Center: Nick Buchanan
- Probable Replacement: Brett Heggie
- Dark Horse Candidate: Kingsley Eguakun
The Situation: Buchanan was the only semblance of consistency on a turbulent and ineffective offensive line. He wasn’t the biggest or strongest player, and that limited him, but they could always count on him to know his assignment and be at the right place at the right time. Heggie will slide over from left guard to give them a more talented center, albeit a less experienced one. He struggled mightily along with the rest of the line last season, and he needs to reignite the aggressiveness that made him an outstanding run-blocker in 2017 and 2018. He seemed a bit timid last season in his first full season back from injury. Eguakun trained at center during his redshirt year and seems to be UF’s center of the future.