Why Florida's 2020 signing class could be the one that helps the Gators regain control of SEC East
Heading into Wednesday’s National Signing Day, Florida appears poised to sign its best class under Dan Mullen.
The Gators rank 8th in the 247 composite team rankings and appear poised to add coveted 4-star safety Avantae Williams to the class on Signing Day. The class also includes elite talent on both lines of scrimmage, including 5-star defensive tackle Gervon Dexter, who was basically unblockable at the Under Armour All-American camp last month.
On paper, it’s a great class, even if not a perfect one. The class picked up steam late and sustained that momentum after the Early Signing Period, as Florida has been one of the most productive programs on the trail since December. Dan Mullen and his staff did an excellent job selling the program’s upward trajectory, improving facilities and momentum, and the group addresses the bulk of the program’s core needs with minimal weaknesses.
It’s difficult to truly evaluate a recruiting class for 2 and really, 3 years, but if this class plays out somewhere in the range of what it promises to be on paper, here are 4 things that we’ll remember most about this group.
The DL haul is among the best in America
This class has outstanding balance on both lines of scrimmage, with 3 blue-chip offensive linemen and 5 blue-chip defensive linemen in the fold.
Florida needed improved talent and depth up front, and Mullen and the staff delivered in the 2020 class.
Five-star Dexter leads the way, but every one of Florida’s defensive line prospects carries at least a 4-star rating and the Gators cleaned up at defensive tackle in particular, where in addition to Dexter they inked Johnnie Brown, Jalen Lee of New Orleans, who flipped from LSU, and Lamar Goods. Plus, ESPN’s Tom Luginbill was among analysts who raved about early enrollee Antwaun Powell, a 4-star defensive end out of Virginia who profiles beautifully as the next “Buck” at an agile and lean 6-2, 220.
That fills a huge program need and gives the Gators the type of defensive line depth they’ll need to compete for championships moving forward.
Florida addressed WR problem after the Early Signing Period
If you read SDS’ Florida coverage consistently, you know a common theme of our postseason pieces has been the daunting challenge Florida faces replacing their fantastic quartet of senior wide receivers. From a leadership and production standpoint, it’s the most significant talent drain Florida has had to replenish under Mullen.
Early returns were concerning, with only 4-star wide receiver Jaquavion Fraziars, a strong and physical possession type receiver, in the fold. That’s changed significantly in the past 6 weeks.
Florida rallied and held off Clemson and Alabama for high 4-star Xzavier Henderson, who elected to keep it in the family and follow in big brother CJ”s footsteps by attending Florida. “I could give you a tour of the place, it just feels so much like home,” Henderson said when picking the Gators. That was a huge close that warded off what would have objectively been a brutal miss — but even more important, it gives Florida a playmaker with elite speed who will contribute immediately.
The Gators are also in decent shape to close with 3-star athlete DaMarcus Beckwith of Florence, Alabama, who at 6-4 and 215 would give Mullen the type of prototypical physical receiver he’s always found ways to utilize. Couple that with the addition of 5-star transfer Justin Shorter, and a huge concern coming out of December seems like a good haul. That’s an impressive turnaround.
Florida’s misses at RB warrant criticism
The list of highly coveted running backs who have turned down Florida in this class alone is staggering.
It starts with Demarkcus Bowman, of course, the 5-star out of Florida football factory Lakeland who picked Clemson instead. Five-star players from a school that has always sent its best to Gainesville should not pick Clemson. This was a whiff by Florida’s staff and the worst moment of the recruiting cycle.
Unfortunately for running backs coach Greg Knox, the misery doesn’t stop there. Florida missed on E.J. Smith, whose dad’s name graces the Ring of Honor. That was a bit more understandable — Smith loved Gainesville but wanted to carve out his own legacy and Stanford affords him the chance to do that and earn a world class degree.
But the misses don’t stop there. Florida is likely to miss on a longtime flip project Wednesday when high 4-star Jahmyr Gibbs, who has rocketed up the rankings in the past few months, chooses between Florida and Georgia Tech, where he is committed. Tech running back coach Tashard Choice has a great relationship with the Gibbs family — so good that late suitors Alabama and Georgia couldn’t get into the mix. Florida has done well to get Gibbs thinking — but if Gibbs sticks with the Jackets, as expected, it will be another swing and a miss for Knox.
Florida has signed 1 running back in the past 2 classes. That’s a problem they need to address moving forward.
Help on the way for DBU
Much of the class on the back end depends on what Avantae Williams does, but if he signs with Florida as we anticipate, it’s tough to not love what Florida has done with the secondary for the 2nd consecutive class.
The Gators add great depth at corner in 4-stars Avery Helm, Mordecai McDaniel (who can play anywhere on the back end), Ethan Pouncey and Jahari Rogers and they add 2 of the best athletes in the class in Fenley Graham, a kick return specialist who will play right away, and safety Tre’vez Johnson, who SDS thinks is the most underrated player in Florida’s class.
Florida signed a solid haul of corners a year ago but needed to upgrade at safety. With Williams, McDaniel and Johnson in the fold, Florida ups the talent at safety and continues the project of building championship depth.
All told, it’s a terrific class for Mullen and the Gators, and one that is already helping the program generate momentum on the trail in 2021.
When Mullen took the job, the culture was in tatters and Florida’s recruiting had dipped for nearly half a decade. The scale of the rebuild was something many fans didn’t comprehend. Slowly and steadily, Mullen is building the program back — and the 2020 class might be remembered most of all as the one that helped Florida turn the corner.