The list below is one that is based on my observations, from stuff I am hearing, and from some things I believe will take place. In essence, these are the top seven Gators based on the potential they have to have a great season.
The top two guys are interchangeable in terms of public perception, but I will give the slight edge to junior BUCK Dante Fowler. I think Fowler is set up to have a tremendous year and although he had a very good one in 2013, I think it could have been even better if defensive tackle Dominique Easley was healthy all year.
Fowler finished 2013 with 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles on the year. Behind the eight ball when he arrived out of shape two years ago, Fowler has worked himself into better shape throughout his time at Florida. A look at him this spring and he is as heavy as ever (270), but he is leaner with more muscle mass. He is also faster and continues to work on his quickness.
He was so disruptive in the spring that they made him sit out most of the drills and I expect him to have a monster season with an overall better cast to work with up front for the better portion of this season.
Right behind Fowler would be sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves who adjusted very quickly to the college game and started the last ten games of the season. Hargreaves finished with 38 tackles, three interceptions, and 11 passes broken up in 2013.
By the end of the year Hargreaves was being tested more and more and some teams were finding success as he became more tired during games. He will be leaned on even more with a very young secondary in 2014, but the thing that separates Hargreaves from almost anyone else is his work ethic. He will find ways to improve his game and keep teams from gaining advantages on him.
The son of a college coach, he was destined for greatness as the number one corner coming out of high school. He is steadily living up to that with at least two years left to play at Florida.
After the first two it is a bit of a different animal. I went with more of a talent standpoint than anything proven and so my third best player on the squad is quarterback Jeff Driskel. I am as big a Driskel critic as anyone, but I can also see the physical ability he has and has been able to display at times.
A few might not agree, but Driskel has all the throws. He can throw it on a rope for 40 yards and has very good accuracy. One issue he has with the new offense is that coordinator Kurt Roper likes to call the deep pass and he has to learn to put some air and touch on the deep ball.
He's also a serious threat to run the ball. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he is taller than and almost as heavy as Tim Tebow. He is faster, and can run with power, but that isn't his game compared to the Gator Great.
In 15 starts Driskel has amassed 2,271 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He has also netted 469 yards rushing with a 6.9 yards per rush, which is the best on the squad.
Both the interception number and the touchdown number are issues that have to be solved before Driskel belongs in the spot I have him, but those are both numbers I believe will improve dramatically in 2014. A simpler offense that plays more to his tools that what he has been running should allow him to use his physical abilities and perform at a high level.
Demarcus Robinson just hasn't been given a chance yet. Fortunately it seems the people in his way from allowing that to happen have moved on to other places and he'll get his chance in 2014. As a freshman in 2013, the 6-foot-1, 205 pound receiver caught just five passes for 23 yards. He could get 10 times that many catches in 2014 or more.
Robinson was the main target all spring and the balls came in the very short field where he can catch it and make a play and they came in the mid-range area where had had to go get open. He can do all of it although he may not be the quickest in catching on to what is going on.The staff really likes Robinson and plan on making him a priority for Driskel in the offense. I expect big things to come from that.
It should be a big return for Andre Debose and return is the key word here. Although I expect the 6th year senior to excel on offense, Debose should return to his excellent form as a kick and punt returner as well.
Debose owns the Florida record with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. He has the ability to hit small creases at full speed and still head up-field. He's the fastest Gator on the field when it comes to running from point A to point B.
He also owns the four longest touchdown catches of any receiver on the squad. Debose has a career 543 receiving yards and 18.7 yards per reception average. He's a guy that can run up and under the long ball that Roper likes to call for in the new offense. Of course all of this is only going to happen if his speed is not an issue after ACL surgery.
One guy that is proven, but not around here, is senior tight end Jake McGee. The transfer from Virginia should be an instant ball magnet. McGee is huge 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds huge. He's also super athletic for his size which makes him a big time target in the middle of the field. With his size, he should be a premium blocker, but that isn't his game. Instead, he excels in the passing game which makes for a perfect fit in the new Florida offense.
In his last two seasons at Virginia, McGee finished with 769 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. He was a huge target for first downs and in the red zone. The Gators would very much like to return the tight end / B position back to where it was just two years ago when Jordan Reed had a strong season that pushed him into the NFL. McGee seems like the guy to make that happen.
Finally, sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor returns as the team's leading rusher. With 508 yards rushing and four touchdowns while starting just four games.
Again, the new offensive style should fit right in with the way Taylor plays the game. A find-a-hole runner, the Gators will be employing a zone blocking scheme which is perfect for a back that has the patience to wait for a hole to open and then burst through it.
Taylor isn't the fastest runner in the conference, but he is sturdy and plenty quick to make a difference. Starting a full season won't necessarily mean he'll break the 1,000 yard mark, there are other guys that will also get the ball, but there is a chance there if he gets off on the right foot.
Of this list, Fowler and Hargreaves are certainly the top two and there will be arguments as to which one is the "better" pf the two. I could see any of the next five in any order on this list. There aren't many guarantees in the group, but there is platy of promise and reason to believe that they can be big time in 2014.