20/10 for 2021: Diabate becoming a difference maker

Aug 13, 2021 | 0 comments


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The summer is flying by and the Florida Gators 2021 campaign is approaching quickly. As the players and coaches prepare for their September 4 kickoff against Florida Atlantic, here at Inside the Gators we take stock of the roster to break down our list of “20/10” players for the 2021 season.

It will go like this: the 20 most valuable returning players with considerable game experience and then the 10 most valuable players who have yet to appear for the Gators and/or make a significant contribution in gameplay 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 new player each time. 

20/10 for 2021 Series

20 MOST VALUABLE RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS

No. 10-MOHAMOUD DIABATE

  • Position: Linebacker
  • Class: Junior
  • Size: 6-foot-3, 245 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Auburn (Auburn, Alabama)

Why He’s Important: He makes up the inside linebacking duo of him and Ventrell Miller. As a former outside backer, Diabate definitely has the athleticism to fly around make plays at the position. Gator fans saw him in his first year at inside backer in 2020. And he found ways to make an impact even with all of the growing pains he experienced. Todd Grantham said Diabate improved from Game 1 to the final game of the year in 2020. Now, with a full offseason and added weight, he’ll be relied on to be a valuable part of the Gator defense.


Questions to be Answered: How much has he improved? How big of an impact can that improvement make? With his only opportunity to get comfortable at the position being in live games that counted, it was apparent there was still time that needed to be taken. He struggled with getting off blocks and playing full speed because he wasn’t used to it yet. He’s got a season and full offseason at the position. The improvement starting from zero is always the biggest jump. Was that jump big enough for him to be a consistent playmaker?

Projection: Diabate’s bulked up and had the time to study the position. It’s all about him putting all together on the field now. He got the nod from Brandon Spikes when we spoke with him about some of the Gators linebackers and Diabate himself has even mentioned the position came more naturally than he thought. Maybe we’ll still see some growing pains but with some weight and more confidence, I expect Diabate to come in and mix it up with the best of them at that linebacker spot.

No. 9-JACOB COPELAND

  • Position: Wide receiver
  • Class: Redshirt junior
  • Size: 6-foot-0, 202 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Escambia (Pensacola, Florida)

Why He’s Important: With Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, and Trevon Grimes gone, Copeland’s the projected No. 1 option on the outside. He’ll be needed if the Gators want to have an effective passing game to complement the possibly more run-centered offense. People had confidence in Copeland’s playmaking abilities when he arrived on campus. And even as the No. 4 receiving option on the outside in 2020, he still racked up 435 yards on just 23 catches (a team-leading almost 19 yards per catch). He’s a dangerous option for the Dan Mullen offense.

Questions to be Answered: Can he clean up the drops? Cope had some struggles with dropping balls last season. His catch, yardage, and touchdown totals would definitely be up if those didn’t happen. But as now the No. 1 guy both on the depth chart and the jersey listings, he needs to be a consistent pass catcher for the Gators.

Projection: Copeland is a weapon and a playmaker. Hard to think an expanded role as WR1 won’t give him more opportunities to showcase those characteristics. He lines up to be the Gators’ leading receiver in 2021. Opposing secondaries will definitely be keying on him this year.

10 MOST VALUABLE NEWCOMERS/NON-CONTRIBUTORS

No. 5-ANTONIO VALENTINO

  • Position: Nose tackle
  • Class: Redshirt senior
  • Size: 6-foot-3, 312 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Westerville-North/Penn State (Columbus, Ohio)

Why He’s Important: The Gators lost their nose guard from last year with senior Tedarrell Slaton leaving and getting drafted by the Green Bay Packers. The interior defensive line was in need of a replacement and tapped Valentino to be that. The middle of the line was susceptible last season with not very much depth in it. Valentino will be used to fill that Slaton role and also help develop/lead the very young nose tackles Florida has on the roster.

Questions to be Answered: Can his game translate to the SEC? Valentino was a contributor for the Nittany Lions as he started in 21 of 22 possible games over his final two years in State College. In 2020, he earned Honorable Mention All-Big Ten by coaches and media plus was named a third-teamer by Pro Football Focus and a fourth-teamer by Phil Steele. He’s smaller than big TJ Slaton but seemed just as capable of taking on guards and centers and fitting run gaps given the Big Ten has great football players and offensive linemen too. It’s just not the trenches of the SEC so that’s where the question comes into play.

Projection: I know it sounds like I’m contradicting myself but I think Valentino will be a good presence for the Gators in the middle. Just the sheer fact he and Daquan Newkirk are experienced bodies will help tremendously inside because it’ll help provide a rotation and keep everyone at that position fresh. Fresh bodies means guys can play all out with better output when they’re in. Plus, even if he doesn’t rack up tackles, he still has the ability to eat blocks and allow the linebackers to make the tackle for him.

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