FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
Florida football players have returned to campus for voluntary workouts, and optimism abounds that the 2020 Gators football season will begin as scheduled on Sept. 5 against Eastern Washington. So, with the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel in sight, it’s time to look ahead at who the key performers will be for the Gators this season.
Here’s how it goes: the 20 most valuable returning players with considerable game experience and the 20 most valuable players who have either never played for the Gators or haven’t contributed significantly. Keep in mind that this is a list of the most important players, not necessarily the best players. Florida’s depth and skill-level at certain positions makes some players more valuable than others.
This is a 10-part series that will take a look at two returning players and two unproven players each time. We begin today with players 19-20 on each of our two lists.
20 MOST VALUABLE RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS
No. 20-EMORY JONES
- Position: Quarterback
- Class: Redshirt Sophomore
- Size: 6-foot-2, 199 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Heard County (LaGrange, Georgia)
Why He’s Important: Last season proved that you never know when you’ll need a veteran backup quarterback. Jones has completed 68.5 percent of his passes in his career for 392 yards and five touchdowns and no interceptions. However, his most important contribution this season will likely once again be made with his legs. He’s rushed for 307 yards and four scores at 6.8 yards-per-carry. UF’s offensive line was abysmal in run-blocking last season, and it didn’t help that they essentially played with 10 guys on the field in the read-option game due to Kyle Trask’s reluctance to keep the ball and his lack of mobility. The running game seemed to have a pulse with Jones running the show last season. The threat of him keeping the ball and gaining 10 or more yards caused defenses to remain just wide enough to allow a few more yards of open space between the tackles. With the offensive line a major question mark heading into this season as well, Jones should continue to have an important role.
Questions to be Answered: There were a couple of games last season where it seemed like Dan Mullen used a near-perfect combination of Jones and Trask, such as the LSU and Florida State games. In other games, such as Georgia and South Carolina, it felt like he could’ve used Jones more but didn’t for whatever reasons. Will Jones find consistent playing time, or will he disappear in a few games once again? His ability to run the full offense if needed is also in question, as he hasn’t had to do so yet. The offense seems to have been scaled back a bit when Jones has been in the game the past two years. If Trask were to get injured, will Jones be ready to keep the offense functioning at a high level like Trask did last season?
Projection: Mullen will have a more consistent package for Jones this season. He’ll average 6-8 rushing attempts and four or five passes per game. He’ll be an important asset in short-yardage situations. He’ll make a couple of ‘wow’ throws throughout the season that will get fans excited about the future of the position. Jones will set himself up nicely as the frontrunner in the 2021 quarterback competition.
No. 19-KADARIUS TONEY
- Position: Wide Receiver
- Class: Senior
- Size: 5-foot-11, 194 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Blount (Mobile, Alabama)
Why He’s Important: With four senior receivers gone from the 2019 offense that threw for more than 300 yards per game, the Gators need Toney to emerge as a legitimate weapon in the slot and not just be a gadget player. He’s as quick and explosive as any player in the country, as he averaged more than 11 yards per touch last season. His highlights from 2019 include breaking a handful of tackles on a 66-yard score against Miami and literally breaking a guy’s foot with his physics-defying cut on a 47-yard catch and run against Florida State. However, his career receiving numbers show just 50 receptions for 606 yards. The Gators might need him to match those numbers this season. He also figures to get the first crack at the open punt returning job.
Questions to be Answered: The biggest knocks against Toney throughout his career have been his route-running and decision-making. He doesn’t always run crisp routes, and his tendency to dance around in the backfield and create negative plays that frustrate coaches and fans alike. Can he refine his route-running and disciplined enough to become a factor in the normal flow of the offense, or will be limited to a special play guy once again? He’s only returned two punts in his career, and one of them resulted in a muff that nearly cost the Gators the game against South Carolina in 2018. He has the agility and quickness to be a game-changing return man, but can he consistently catch the punt for it to matter?
Projection: It’ll be more of the same for Toney as a senior. He’ll make a couple of SportsCenter Top-10-worthy plays that’ll make you wonder why he doesn’t get the ball more and then make a few mind-boggling mistakes that’ll remind you of why he isn’t as involved. He’ll catch about 25-30 passes, receive around 20 carries and be the primary punt returner. It’ll be a decent end to a career that feels like it could’ve been a lot more.
20 MOST VALUABLE WHO HAVE YET TO CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY
No. 20-DAVID REESE
- Position: BUCK
- Class: Redshirt Sophomore
- Size: 6-foot, 220 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Vero Beach (Fort Pierce, Florida)
Why He’s Important: Reese was in line to receive significant playing time last season before he tore his Achilles tendon over the summer and missed the entire season. He should be 100 percent healthy and ready to go at the start of fall camp. While UF has more depth on the edge than they did last season, you can never have too many pass-rushers, and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has shown a willingness to rotate multiple players at the position. The versatile and speedy athlete can also play outside linebacker if Grantham opts for more traditional 4-3 looks this season.
Questions to be Answered: Obviously, a heel injury is very concerning for a speed-rusher. Will Reese display the same quickness that positioned him for a role heading into the 2019 season, or will he show lingering signs of rust? The depth chart also doesn’t look very promising for him. Brenton Cox, Jeremiah Moon and Mohamoud Diabate will all start the fall ahead of him, and young players such as Khris Bogle and Antwaun Powell probably won’t be too far behind. Can Reese defy the odds and carve out a role on the defense?
Projection: Reese’s biggest contributions will come on special teams, but with attrition and three games against inferior opponents, he’ll record three sacks. This year is about proving that the injury is behind him and that he can be a player the coaches can count on in the seasons to follow. Moon will graduate after the season and Cox is draft-eligible, so this is a chance for Reese to establish himself as a building block for the future of the UF defense. He’ll do so successfully.
No. 19-JAHARI ROGERS
- Position: Cornerback
- Class: Freshman
- Size: 6-foot, 170 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Arlington (Arlington, Texas)
Why He’s Important: With Chris Steele’s transfer before ever playing a game at Florida, CJ Henderson’s early departure for the NFL Draft and Trey Dean’s possible move to safety, the Gators are still playing catch-up a bit when it comes to corner depth. A top-100 prospect, Rogers has a chance to earn the No. 3 outside corner job right away, much like Kaiir Elam did last season. Rogers is a physical corner with great quickness and above-average speed. He has the potential to be the next in the long line of star cornerbacks at Florida. His emergence could also free up the Gators to play Marco Wilson at nickel again this season if needed.
Questions to be Answered: Rogers primarily played quarterback in high school, so he’ll likely be a work in progress as a freshman. How quickly can he get up to speed, particularly when it comes to the various zone defenses Grantham likes to play? He’ll also find himself in a battle for playing time. Sophomores Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough gained experience last season, redshirt senior C.J. McWilliams is due back from injury, and Rogers will be pushed by classmates Ethan Pouncey and Avery Helm. Can Rogers beat out the competition and earn the No. 3 corner job?
Projection: Rogers will earn the No. 3 corner job by the middle of the season and will see significant action against spread offenses such as LSU and Missouri. He’ll perform well in man coverage but will get lost at times in zone coverage. He’ll be named Freshman All-SEC and enter the 2021 season as the presumptive starter opposite of Elam.