How will Florida's QB situation play out down the road? And what's Dan Mullen's ideal scenario?
I honestly have no idea.
When I try and think about how Florida’s quarterback room will play out, I’m a bit stumped. I’m not talking about who will be the Gators’ opening day starter in 2019. I believe barring injury or offseason issue, Feleipe Franks earned that right. Despite what you’ll hear out of Gators camp whenever the promising Emory Jones does something, this won’t be much of a battle.
It’s after 2019 opening day that I’m stumped by. Usually there’s a somewhat obvious path for things like this. The incumbent starter uses his final year of eligibility or heads off to the NFL and his successor is some talented underclassman.
But I find myself going back and forth trying to think about how that’ll play out at Florida. And better yet, I’m wondering how Dan Mullen wants this all to play out.
Conventional wisdom suggests that in Mullen’s perfect world, Franks is brilliant in 2019 and the 2020 NFL Draft is the next step. Someone with his size and his cannon of an arm will impress scouts, even if his accuracy is still a question mark. We’ve seen that before with guys like Josh Allen.
That’s not to say Franks will be a first-round pick, but if he does indeed take that next step, he could declare after his redshirt junior season. There’s talk that he could declare even if he just maintains his 2018 season.
In that scenario, that would mean Jones and incoming freshman Jalon Jones — one would assume he’ll have a redshirt freshman season — would have the chance to battle for the starting job as a redshirt sophomore and redshirt freshman, respectively. Boom. Problem solved. Mullen turns someone who looked like a recruiting bust into an NFL quarterback and now he’s working exclusively with natural dual-threat quarterbacks that he recruited.
Easy enough, right?
Well, there’s a little more to that. You see, keeping Emory Jones happy is going to be an increased priority this year. Mullen effectively used the redshirt rule with the true freshman, which seemed like the obvious move if Franks wasn’t costing Florida games.
The challenge now is keeping Jones as an active part of the offense. Sticking the former 4-star recruit on the end of the bench and giving him occasional snaps in mop-up duty might not be enough. Let’s not forget that with transfer restrictions looser than ever, that’s always a possibility of that with a highly-touted quarterback who isn’t starting.
See: Fields, Justin.
I think Jones does have an increased role, and I think that dips into Franks’ production a bit. Mullen didn’t necessarily have to juggle that in 2018 because the plan was to keep Jones’ redshirt. How does Franks handle that dynamic now as a multi-year starter? We’ve seen him have a thin skin at times. Does Jones getting some increased rotational reps — and more buzz from the fanbase — create some resentment?
Again, I don’t know. But there are layers to this. Egos are at stake. That includes Mullen’s. At times last year, it felt like Franks got the benefit of the doubt because Mullen wanted to make his first quarterback project a successful one. Mullen made it his mission to get Franks comfortable playing in his system. Clearly.
Dan Mullen having some fun while Feleipe Franks pulls the Steph Curry with his mouthpiece. pic.twitter.com/iMkWqpPpZL
— Marcia Herold (@marciaherold) September 2, 2018
And there’s another way this could go because of Mullen’s loyalty to Franks. Let’s say that Franks either gets hurt or just regresses and decides he wants to return for his final year of eligibility. If Franks gets hurt and Jones emerges as a star, the grad transfer route would be possible. That would only happen if he felt like Mullen moved on to Jones.
The thing that is worth remembering in all of this is that there are now a bunch of elite quarterback recruits in that room, all of whom are eager for the opportunity to play in Mullen’s offense. I don’t know that Emory Jones is down to wait until potentially his redshirt junior season to be the starter. I’d say the same thing about Jalon Jones.
Mullen doesn’t subscribe to the new way of thinking when it comes to starting young quarterbacks. He’d prefer they have a couple years watching from the sidelines and learning his system. People forget that Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald weren’t MSU’s opening day starters until their fourth and third seasons, respectively, in Starkville.
Is Mullen assuming his young backups will be willing to wait that long? Hopefully not. Prescott and Fitzgerald weren’t blue-chip recruits who went around to quarterback camps hearing how great they were. That’s the difference between what Mullen had at MSU compared to what he has at Florida.
After the season that Mullen had in Year 1 in Gainesville, we shouldn’t second guess how he handles his quarterback room. Certainly, plenty of people (myself included) didn’t believe Franks would come anywhere near a 24-6 touchdown-interception ratio with a New Year’s 6 Bowl victory.
Mullen started the quarterback who he felt had the ability to execute his system and win games. Franks did that. If he continues to do that and picks up some NFL buzz along the way, Mullen’s quarterback room obviously gets a bit easier to manage.
But in a way, there’s almost more pressure on Mullen now than there was last year to get this thing right. Following the season that was, Florida seems like a lock to be a Top 10 team once the opener against Miami rolls around. Franks will still be the talk of the town, and so will Jones’ development. If Jones bridges the gap with more opportunities in 2019, Mullen will have a new problem on his hands.
Though I suppose Florida fans wouldn’t mind having that problem in their quarterback room. Finally.