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
- Part VII: Cox could be a terror off the edge
20 MOST VALUABLE RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS
No. 6-STEWART REESE
- Position: Offensive lineman
- Class: Graduate
- Size: 6-foot-6, 345 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Fort Pierce/Mississippi State (Fort Pierce, Florida)
Why He’s Important: He’s Florida’s most experienced lineman with 49 games between his tenures at Mississippi State and Florida so far. It’s bound to end with 61 barring injury or a significant drop in play. As the oldest and most experienced, Reese is likely to be the leader of the group. His presence is key to aiding an offensive line still shifting pieces with several new faces poised to see significant snaps for the first time in 2021. Not to mention, he’s an interior lineman. That’s a place on the offensive line that needs production if it wants to establish a solid running game with its stable of backs and mobile QBs.
Questions to be Answered: How much of a difference will there be now that he’s in shape? Can he sustain run blocks longer? Reese himself mentioned in availability how out of shape he was last season and the 2021 offseason really allowed him to get back in the form he’s expected to be in. He also brought up how that likely affected him in the middle of the game. Reese was a better pass blocker than run blocker in 2020 so the hope is he can improve on that. The Mississippi State transfer was used quite a bit as a pulling guard, some increased physical fitness will only help him in that aspect. Not to mention, where will he play? He played right guard in 2020 but the Gators are still trying to find the right mix along the offensive line, He could’ve gone to center but who will take that position is still in limbo.
Projection: Reese wasn’t the offensive lineman Gator fans complained about the most and almost everyone on that line struggled with run blocking in 2020. A new physique will help Reese be an anchor for the Gators in the run game as they’ll need him and everyone to make strides if they hope to run the ball more effectively in 2021. And Reese definitely will make them. He’s not afraid to work into the second level and he always keeps his head moving, looking for work as a lineman.
No. 5-TREY DEAN III
- Position: Safety
- Class: Senior
- Size: 6-foot-3, 206 pounds
- High School/Hometown: Dutchtown (Hampton, Georgia)
Why He’s Important: For starters, Dean is the senior-most defensive back Florida has with major playing time and especially at safety. This season is his first as a full-time starter at safety and he’ll be the leader of a group that owns a plethora of young players. He had some really nice games in 2020 as a reserve overshadowed by just some horrific defensive performances by the unit as a whole. Now, he’s an important figure in a position group that was a liability for the Gators in 2020 and is saddled with a major retool. If he goes down or can’t produce, the other safeties will need to grow up really quick.
Questions to be Answered: How well can he produce in the run game and can he help create turnovers? Like most of the Gator defense, Dean did have some missed tackles in the open field. While the other teams have guys on scholarship too Florida will need the safety position to get guys on the ground in the open field more often than not. And Dean’s not afraid to come up and lay some wood. They also need to create some turnovers too. Florida’s secondary almost couldn’t buy a takeaway in 2020 with only six interceptions compared to 2019’s 14 and 12 in 2018. Dean made a spectacular one against Alabama that could’ve had that game turn out differently if he holds onto the ball after John Metchie blindsided him.
Projection: I think Trey Dean’s found a home at safety for Florida. We saw him burst onto the scene as a corner in 2018, struggle at Star in 2019 and show some potential as a safety in 2020. In 2021, Dean’ll be the player who can provide some stability to the Gators’ backend. He’s hungry and ready to show that, at least in his eyes, he’s the best safety in all of college football.
10 MOST VALUABLE NEWCOMERS/NON-CONTRIBUTORS
No. 3-DAQUAN NEWKIRK
- Position: Defensive line
- Class: Redshirt senior
- Size: 6-foot-3, 308 pounds
- High School/Hometown: The First Academy/Auburn (Orlando, Florida)
Why He’s Important: Kyree Campbell was the other part of the Gator interior line who departed for the National Football League. His replacement is a three-year veteran of the Southeastern Conference and former Auburn Tiger in Daquan Newkirk. His responsibilities, along with Antonio Valentino’s at nose guard, are to help shore up a Gator interior on a defensive front that had plenty of issues throughout 2020 along with leading an incredibly young group of players at the position. Dan Mullen said that he brings in older transfers to not just play but to also be leaders. Well, why Newkirk’s importance falls very much into that topic. Newkirk’s felt at home since he got on campus and he’s ready to help the Gators in any way possible.
Questions to be Answered: Can he stay healthy? The Orlando native dealt with some injuries during his time with the Tigers. He’ll need to stay healthy this season considering the inexperience on the depth chart behind him. Also, how much of an impact can he make on those same inexperienced players? Newkirk can’t be out there every single snap on the defensive front especially not with how Florida likes to rotate players. The amount to which he can get those younger guys to improve can help keep Florida be consistent in the trenches on defense.
Projection: Newkirk is the newcomer I’m most excited to see. He’s a big man with good agility and quick feet to him. He’s played at the one through the three techniques. And Auburn’s been a good producer of defensive tackles lately just by looking at Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, and Tryone Truesdell. I think Newkirk can be really good for Florida and would love to see him possibly make an All-SEC team.