20/20 for 2020: Slaton’s last chance

Jun 27, 2020 | 0 comments


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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 continue today with players 11-12 on each of our two lists.

20 MOST VALUABLE RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS

No. 12-SHAWN DAVIS

  • Position: Safety
  • Class: Senior
  • Size: 5-foot-11, 185 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Southridge (Miami, Florida)

Why He’s Important: Davis is the hardest hitter on the defense, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance in coverage, such as his two interceptions against Kentucky and his one-handed interception and 41-yard return against Auburn in 2019. Like the rest of the safeties, though, he got out of position and surrendered big plays too often. For the Gators’ defense to become more consistent, they need Davis and the rest of the safeties to up their game. He clearly has the athleticism to be an All-SEC caliber safety. They just need him to play like an all-conference player more than two or three times this season.

Questions to be Answered: Davis’ biggest weakness is his coverage skills. He’s not the fastest safety, and he sometimes compounds his problems by not executing his assignment correctly. He also gets himself into trouble sometimes by going for the knockout hit instead of making the safe play and wrapping up. Can he become a more disciplined player and cut down on his mistakes this season? Despite Davis performing better than the rest of the safeties last season, the coaches seemed more comfortable with Donovan Stiner at free safety, presumably because he was more consistent at being in the right place at the right time. Can Davis beat out Stiner for the starting job in fall camp?

Projection: Davis will get the first crack at a safety spot, although they’ll continue to rotate three or four players through the two safety positions rather interchangeably. He’ll continue to be a boom-or-bust player. He’ll make a couple of bone-rattling hits and breath-taking interceptions, but he’ll also give up his share of big plays. The Gators just have to hope that his bad plays don’t cost them any games.

No. 11-TEDARRELL SLATON

  • Position: Defensive tackle
  • Class: Senior
  • Size: 6-foot-5, 358 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: American Heritage (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

Why He’s Important: No one has been a bigger mystery on the defense over the past three years than Slaton. He’s large enough to have his own zip code, and his teammates have raved about the insane things he’s done in the weight room. Still, he’s struggled to find consistent playing time. As a starter in the first two games of 2018, he got unfathomably pushed around by offensive linemen 40 or 50 pounds lighter than him. However, the Gators had enough options at tackle the past two years that they could get by without Slaton contributing much. That will not be the case this season. He’ll be in the starting lineup on Sept. 5, and his primary backups will be freshmen that haven’t participated in a college practice yet. He played the best football of his career over the second half of 2019, making 2.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks over the final five games. He stopped relying on sheer strength and played with more technique. The light bulb seemed to come on from a motor and conditioning standpoint. They need more of that Slaton this season.

Questions to be Answered: Slaton’s effort level and conditioning have always been the biggest things holding him back. Being bigger than everybody else worked extremely well for him in high school, but there’s more to it in college. Can Slaton maintain the competitive fire and determination he showed down the stretch in 2019 for a full season? From a personal perspective, Slaton could be the biggest riser on NFL Draft boards from the Gators. Front office personnel will be blown away by his size, agility and jumping skills. They just need to see more production on film. Can he work his way into the top two or three rounds with a consistent season?

Projection: Slaton will start every game and be a high-level performer for the Gators, but his stats won’t be anything special. This defense is designed for edge rushers and linebackers to rack up disruptive plays. Slaton will make three or four sacks and eight tackles-for-loss. He’ll eat up a ton of space in the middle of the field and help UF rank among the nation’s top defenses once again. He’ll be drafted in the second round.

20 MOST VALUABLE WHO HAVE YET TO CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY

No. 12-JUSTIN SHORTER

  • Position: Wide receiver
  • Class: Redshirt sophomore
  • Size: 6-foot-4, 220 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: South Brunswick (Monmouth Junction, New Jersey)

Why He’s Important: Florida needs several new targets to emerge at wideout following the departure of four seniors, and Shorter could be one of them. The former five-star recruit entered the transfer portal in December, committed to UF in January and enrolled earlier this summer. He has excellent size, and he and Trevon Grimes could combine to be one of the most physical receiver tandems in the SEC. If he plays up to his five-star billing, he will help spread the field and give players such as Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Jacob Copeland plenty of room to work with over the middle. His physicality should also play immediate dividends as a blocker in the perimeter running game.

Questions to be Answered: Shorter needs a waiver from the NCAA to play this season. If his eligibility status were certain, he would be higher on this countdown. Will Shorter’s waiver get approved, and, if so, when? For being one of the most coveted players in America two years ago, he’s underachieved massively so far. He caught just 15 passes for 157 yards for the Nittany Lions. He struggled with weight problems at Penn State, with coach James Franklin saying he was “a cheeseburger away” from 250 pounds at one point. Will he make a bigger commitment to staying in shape at Florida? Can he resurrect his career?

Projection: There’s no way of knowing what the NCAA will decide regarding Shorter’s eligibility. Based off of the information that is publicly available, he doesn’t appear to have that strong of a case, but the NCAA has awarded waivers for less. We’ll go out on a limb and say he gets cleared to play. He’ll be UF’s top reserve at the outside receiver positions, much like Grimes was the past two years. He’ll catch around 30 passes for 450 yards and three touchdowns.

No.11-JA’MARKIS WESTON

  • Position: Wide receiver
  • Class: Redshirt freshman
  • Size: 6-foot-3, 217 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Clewiston (Clewiston, Florida)

Why He’s Important: He’s important for all the same reasons that Shorter is, but he’s higher on this list because he’s guaranteed to be eligible to play and he has a year of experience in the offense. Like a lot of the other receivers Dan Mullen has signed, Weston is big and physical but sacrifices a bit in the speed department. He could be another big weapon in the deep passing game and a jump-ball threat in the red zone. He wasn’t very highly recruited, so he should play with a chip on his shoulder, a quality Mullen’s offense needs to run at its highest level.

Questions to be Answered: He was a mid-level three-star prospect who only had two other Power Five offers, and he failed to catch a pass in three appearances in 2019. However, Mullen has spoken highly of him since he signed with UF. Whose evaluation was correct: Mullen’s or the scouting services? Playing time could be difficult to come by, with Dionte Marks, Rick Wells, Jordan Pouncey, Trent Whittemore and possibly Shorter battling for backup duties at receiver. Can Weston earn his way onto the field and contribute this season?

Projection: Weston will rise to the top of the redshirt freshmen trio and earn himself some playing time this season. He’ll snag around a dozen passes for 150 yards and the first touchdown of his college career. He’ll show glimpses of the high upside Mullen saw when he recruited him and set himself up for a larger role in 2021.

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