The Florida Gators sloughed through a 7-6 season last year under first year Head Coach Will Muschamp. This year they’ll be breaking in a new starting quarterback and hoping to improve an abysmal offense that has almost no place to go but up. Here is a look at some of their draft eligible players to watch as they try to rebound after two sub-par seasons in a row. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Trey Burton* RB 6’3 227 – Burton was recruited as a quarterback, but has since bulked up and become a jack-of-all trades for the Gators. He’s not a burner but he has decent speed. Burton has an upright running style but will lower his shoulder to gain extra yards. Burton is also an able receiver out of the backfield, and while he doesn’t have a lot of elusiveness, he’s capable of picking up good yardage after the catch. As a freshman, Burton rushed for 11 TDs, averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and caught 32 passes. Last season, as a sophomore, his numbers took a dive as Florida’s entire offense stagnated. It will be interesting to see if the team and Burton can get anything going in their second season under Muschamp. At this point Burton projects as a tandem running back who would handle the power running, and possibly the third down duties.
Jordan Reed* TE 6’3 239 – Reed is another player who was brought to Florida as a quarterback, and has since switched positions. He has two years of eligibility left, but 2012 will be his fourth year out of high school. Last year he played exclusively at tight end, and caught 28 passes, for 11 yards per reception and two touchdowns. Like all Gator pass catchers, Reed suffered from inconsistency at quarterback. He has the athleticism NFL teams like in a pass catching tight end but is still a work in progress as a blocker.
Andre Debose* WR 5’11 186 – Debose came to Florida as a five star recruit and the second ranked wide receiver in the country, but he has yet to live up to that acclaim. He’s a big play threat who averaged 27 yards per reception last season, but he has just 26 catches through two seasons. Debose’s biggest impact has come as a kick return man where he has averaged 27.1 yards per return and brought three back for scores. He can flat-out fly and get open deep, but he doesn’t have the most reliable hands and is prone to letting the ball get into his body. Debose has show that he is capable of snatching the ball out of the air and making plays, but like so many of his teammates his lack of production stemmed from the overall offensive futility of a team that ranked 105th in the nation in yards per game. Debose has a lot of raw ability, but unless the program has an offensive awakening in 2012 expect to see him back for his final college season next year.
Dominique Easley* DT 6’2 286 – Easley was another five star recruit, and the nation’s seventh rated player overall coming out of high school. An undersized run-stuffing defensive tackle, he does a good job staying low and using his hands to fight off blocks. He’s not a great penetrator but he will stand his ground and keep after the play until the whistle blows. His lack of height will limit him to the interior of a 4-3 front, but he doesn’t have the ideal bulk for that role. In that respect, he’s similar to Cincinnati Bengals lineman Geno Atkins, but Easley doesn’t possess the same pass rush ability. Last season, Easley tallied 7.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, but he missed the team’s bowl game win over Ohio State after tearing his ACL. He is expected to be healthy in time for the start of the season. If Easley can bounce back from injury and work on his pass rush moves, he could be a candidate to leave school a year early.
Sharrif Floyd* DT 6’3 305 – Floyd was even more highly touted than Easley in 2010, as the nation’s fourth rated player overall coming out of high school. By the end of his freshman season at Florida, Floyd had worked his way into the starting lineup. He finished that season with 6.5 tackles for loss. Floyd followed that up with another 6.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore in addition to the first 1.5 sacks of his career in the team’s Gator Bowl victory over the Buckeyes. Despite his low career sack total, Floyd is more of a penetrator than Easley. He’s strong and can use a variety of moves to rush the passer. The Gators line Floyd up all along the line of scrimmage and show different looks to free him up to get into the backfield. Floyd was suspended for two games last season, but it was for taking improper benefits (around $2,500) so it shouldn’t affect his draft stock too much. And with a strong junior season, Floyd is likely to test the NFL waters.
Jelani Jenkins* OLB 6’0 233 – Yet another five star recruit (and the nation’s top rated linebacker in 2009), Jenkins redshirted in his first year with the Gators despite appearing in a couple of games. As a redshirt freshman he made 11 starts and recorded 76 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. Last season he registered 75 stops, six for a loss, two more sacks and an interception return for a touchdown while lining up as the team’s starting weakside ‘backer. Jenkins is undersized but can run, so weakside in a 4-3 appears to be his best fit at the NFL level. Given that this is his fourth year out of high school, 2012 may be his last one in Gainesvile.
Matt Patchan* OT 6’6 279 – Despite being recruited as an offensive tackle, Patchan began his college career on defense. As a freshman he appeared in 11 games on defense and special teams and recorded 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. In 2009, Patchan played in four games before tearing his ACL. He was given a medical redshirt for the season. In 2010 he suffered a fractured wrist and missed the entire season. Again, he was granted a medical redshirt. He returned in 2011 and appeared in 12 games, mostly at right offensive tackle; but he missed the Gator Bowl with yet another injury – this time to his back. It appears as if Patchan will never live up to his billing as the nation’s 18th rated recruit (and yes, he had a five star rating) in 2008, but he still has two years of eligibility remaining. He will battle sophomore Chaz Green for playing time at right tackle this season.
Matt Elam* SS 5’10 210 – The brother of NFL safety Abram, the younger Elam was still another highly coveted five star high school player. He began his college playing days as a nickel back and on kickoff teams. As a sophomore Elam started all 13 games at safety and collected the first two interceptions of his career. He also defended seven passes, sacked the quarterback twice and forced a pair of fumbles. Elam is a good coverage safety though he is not a centerfielder type. He does a good job reading the quarterback and breaking on the ball. Elam will line up and cover the slot and he can come up and play run support as well. He sometimes tries to go for the big hit or the strip rather than wrapping up and, as a result, he misses some tackles he should make. If he can shore up his tackling and avoid moments of overaggressive play, Elam could very well work his way into the first round next April.
Also keep an eye on: Omar Hunter DT 6’1 304, Xavier Nixon OT 6’6 309, Mike Gillislee RB 5’11 201, Omarius Hines RB 6’2 223, Frankie Hammond Jr. WR 6’1 185, Josh Evans FS 6’1 201, Jeremy Brown* CB 5’10 181, Sam Robey C 6’3 297, Lerentee McCray OLB 6’2 247