Florida won the SEC East for the 1st time under Dan Mullen in 2020, and after Day 1 of the December Early Signing Period, the Gators also appear poised to sign their best recruiting class yet under Mullen. Florida’s class appears likely to leave the December recruiting window ranked either 7th or 8th nationally in the 247 composite, and the Gators will have inked a top-4 class among their SEC brethren for the 1st time in the Mullen era. Here are 5 takeaways from Florida’s Early Signing Day haul.

1. Tyreak Sapp sticking and signing early was huge

If you had asked Florida recruiting insiders which high-profile Gators commit they were most worried would defect throughout the fall, to a person the answer would have been Sapp. Some analysts were so convinced he’d leave, they even logged 247 Crystal Balls elsewhere, with a defection to more local Miami a common choice. Alabama, who recruited the 4-star defensive end out of Fort Lauderdale power St. Thomas Aquinas very hard, was also thought to be a real possibility.

In the end, Sapp valued his relationships with the Florida staff, including defensive line coach David Turner. The Gators spent more than 2 years courting Sapp, who is big enough to be an edge-setter in college but has the quickness and strength to play inside as well, making him a great fit for a 3-4 scheme.

Keeping blue chips in the fold is the key to any Signing Day. The Gators did well to get Sapp signed early after he flirted with extending his process for months.

2. Justus Boone is the most underrated guy in the defensive haul

At 6-5 and pushing 260 already, Boone is a player who should play at near 300 pounds once he enters Nick Savage’s strength program. He piled up a number of offers after the Gators, but he maintained strong relationships with the Florida staff and ultimately never wavered in his commitment. He will give Florida a potentially dominant edge setter, which the program has lacked since the departure of CeCe Jefferson.

Improving Florida’s depth at defensive tackle and their ability to hold the edge was a priority in this class. Boone is going to be a versatile piece who can line up anywhere in the Gators’ scheme.

3. Jason Marshall will play right away

Five-star corner Jason Marshall may end up being the top-rated signee in the entire Florida class, depending on which direction the battle for offensive tackle Tristan Leigh goes over the next few weeks. If Florida can’t lure Leigh to campus, Marshall is a more than capable headliner.

In fact, given the Gators’ offensive line haul generally, Marshall may be the most important recruit Florida signs in this period. The Gators have 1 excellent corner in Kaiir Elam, and sophomore Jaydon Hill had his moments this season. But Florida’s pass defense really missed CJ Henderson, who took pressure off the Gators’ very pedestrian safeties by covering so much of the field elsewhere.

Marshall lacks Henderson’s top-end speed, but he makes up for it with more size and freakish athleticism. A ball hawk who plays smart and fast, Marshall should see the field immediately as a freshman and may be good enough to start by the end of his freshman season. He’s a huge get for the Gators after a long recruiting battle with Miami and Alabama.

4. Gage Wilcox and Nick Elksnis continue the ‘TE U’ run for Florida

First things first. Neither Wilcox, a 4-star out of Tampa, nor Elksnis, a 3-star out of Jacksonville, is Kyle Pitts. Who is?

Still, there’s reason to be excited about both.

Wilcox, who picked Florida over Alabama after ace recruiter Tim Brewster joined the Gators staff, has the potential to crack the tight end rotation early in his career thanks to his polish as a route-runner and physicality that is beyond his years. He is also quick and agile once he gets going, which makes him a threat on seam routes and post vertically because of his fluidity as a route-runner. He’ll start one day and could be a difference maker.

Elksnis was less highly touted but had a nice offer sheet, with Florida holding off Penn State for his services. He’s just as fast as Wilcox but lacks the SEC-ready frame and may need a year in Savage’s strength program to fill out. Fortunately, he joins a tight end room that includes blue chips like Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer, which means he does not have to be a difference-maker right away. Elksnis’ huge size (6-6) stands out on paper, but it’s his hands that stand out on film.

Florida loses Pitts but will still have one of the best tight end rooms in the country next season.

5. An underwhelming Gators linebacker room got a lot better

Florida received great news when Scooby Williams, a 4-star linebacker out of Birmingham who is among the nation’s top 75 players, decided to stick with the Gators and sign early after considering extending his recruitment. Williams is fast and a perfect fit for an edge guy in a 3-4, where he can use his speed and agility to overwhelm slower linemen and tight ends. Williams stuck with the Gators after a late charge from in-state Auburn.

Diwun Black, who commited to Florida originally in 2018 only to miss out on qualifying academically, gives the Gators the No. 1 JUCO player in the country in this class and a kid who is a natural leader. He has great size, is a big hitter and will play immediately.

Chief Borders, an Under Armour All-American, is the last of the group who signed. Out of Carrollton, Ga. (typically Auburn country in recruiting), Borders is a freakish athlete with a huge vertical and elite speed. He flirted with extending his recruitment as well but ultimately decided his relationship with Gators linebacker coach Christian Robinson, one of Florida’s best recruiters, was too good to leave behind. He has good size for an 18-year-old and could play right away as well.