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
- Part I: Gamble set to take over for Pitts
- Part II: Braun will help anchor the interior of the line
- Part III: Davis will be counted on to be a duel threat
- Part IV: Pierce enters camp holding down the top spot
- Part V: Shorter's time to take over
- Part VI: Diabate becoming a difference maker
20 MOST VALUABLE RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS
No. 8-BRENTON COX JR.
- Position: Outside linebacker
- Class: Redshirt junior
- Size: 6-foot-4, 253 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Stockbridge/Georgia (Stockbridge, Georgia)
Why He’s Important: He’s Florida’s lead pass rusher heading into 2021. The Georgia product led the team in quarterback hurries and tied for the lead with 9.5 tackles-for-loss in just his first year starting for Florida. Cox is a part of a Gator front that’s incredibly experienced and has something to prove as it struggled like a man trying to lick his own elbow to defend the run. And the Gators will need his pass-rushing ability to get to the quarterback and help a young secondary already dealing with a loss for the season in Jaydon Hill.
Questions to be Answered: Can be more of a factor in run defense? There were times last season Cox, for whatever reason, just couldn’t set the edge when teams ran at him. Sometimes he took himself out of plays. Now, in his defense, the Gators had to play him out of position a few times. But it’s something he and Dan Mullen acknowledged when they went over what he could improve on. An improved ability to slip blocks in the run game and utilize that burst he has to get into the backfield would be quite advantageous for the Gators in a year that could boost Cox’s draft stock if he shows improvement.
Projection: His play alone last year earned him Second Team All-SEC from the Associated Press. With a year in the system and playing in the conference, it’d be reasonable to think he can recreate that or even do better. Cox could very well be an absolute force on the outside for Florida in 2021.
No. 7-GERVON DEXTER
- Position: Defensive lineman
- Class: Sophomore
- Size: 6-foot-6, 303 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Lake Wales (Lake Wales, Florida)
Why He’s Important: Like Cox, Dexter is a piece in that defensive front looking to improve on its 2020 season. But he himself is looking to improve on his freshman campaign too. When Kyree Campbell was absent for the first few games Dexter was thrust into major playing time. The rawness was evident. Just getting lost in the shuffle of the scrum or unable to get off blocks. He’s a big, athletic guy who is still working on himself as a football player. He’s important for the same reason Antonio Valentino’s important, the middle of the Gator defense was an issue at times last season. The Gators need him to be a reason those problems are solved.
Questions to be Answered: How much has he improved? Defensive line coach David Turner mentioned in availability how far Dexter still has to go. He addressed things like playing with better pad level and eye discipline when it came to Dexter. He’s clearly still developing seeing as he didn’t start football until high school. Despite how raw he was, the Lake Wales product still made some plays for the Gators. The important thing with Dexter is getting to the point where it’s consistent.
Projection: Dexter seems to be coming along as a defensive lineman. He’ll be a part of the interior defensive line rotation behind Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Valentino. The ability to learn from them and contribute as a reserve will increase the impact he can make even with fewer plays.
10 MOST VALUABLE NEWCOMERS/NON-CONTRIBUTORS
No. 4-JASON MARSHALL JR.
- Position: Cornerback
- Class: Freshman
- Size: 6-foot-0, 191 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Miami Palmetto (Miami, Florida)
Why He’s Important: It could be preposterous to have him this high considering how many corners Florida’s stockpiled. He’s a big-time recruit who people think can play in the secondary right away. Marshall definitely falls into that “talented and young” category. He already got plenty of recognition in spring practice as an early enrollee. Even before Jaydon Hill went down with a torn ACL, people believed they’d be hearing Marshall’s name for the Gator defense. The secondary needs to improve and a talent like Marshall could be the change Florida needs.
Questions to be Answered: Obviously the biggest question surrounding him is: “Is he ready to get major minutes in Division I college football?” and not to mention “What kinds of growing pains are there to expect?” Yes, incoming freshmen can be good enough to play ball right away. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be mistakes or they’ll be completely used to it. And while there’s great ability to make plays, blunders are bound to happen. It’s all about how often they do and how much improvement Marshall can make from one play or game to the next.
Projection: I think you’ll see Jason Marshall Jr. in the secondary this season. Whether it’s on the outside at CB2 or in a nickel or dime package, Gator fans will see Marshall. Marshall will have plenty of competition between Jadarrius Perkins, redshirt freshmen Avery Helm and Ethan Pouncey, and new transfer Elijah Blades. But that comes with being a cornerback. Marshall will take advantage of the vacuum and make himself a good piece for the Gator backend and maybe earn a Freshman All-SEC spot. You know who the last cornerback to do that was? Kaiir Elam in 2019.