1. Jeff Driskel plays well enough to consider leaving for the NFL after the year. REASONING: I understand the skepticism here. However, when I’m trying to find a breakout player, I’ll always bet on the ones with the skill level. Driskel has that. Physically, there aren’t many shortcomings. He has the arm strength, physical strength, speed and athleticism to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country this season.
As most have seen in recent years, those aren’t the problems. Driskel has struggled in processing what happens on the field and what defenses are doing. Accuracy has also been an issue at times.
The good news for Driskel is that he’ll have one of the best quarterback coaches in America working with him. Kurt Roper has a reputation for getting the most out of quarterbacks, and it didn’t take long for him to see the upside Driskel has. He spent the first week of spring practice raving about the physical gifts Driskel showed. And if there’s anyone that can put it all together and lead Driskel to that big season, Roper is the guy.
2. Demarcus Robinson leads Florida in receiving yards. REASONING: We’ve seen the talent Robinson has during open practices after he enrolled last year. The veteran Florida secondary struggled to cover him before the 2013 season, and that was before he had a full year in the Florida strength and conditioning program. He now has his freshman year behind him and is talented enough to make plays and be a complete receiver the Gators need.
That isn’t what could hold him back. Robinson went through two suspensions last season, missing three total games. Players have spoken about his maturity in the spring and believe he has ironed out the off field issues. He is the most talented receiver on the Florida roster. If he matures this year, there’s no reason he can’t be the Gators’ top receiver.
3. Jalen Tabor intercepts at least four passes. REASONING: The physical gifts are all there for Tabor to be an immediate impact freshman. Muschamp said throughout the spring that Tabor is “what they look like,” referring to his tall frame and long arms at the cornerback position. If the spring is any indication, he could be primed for a big year.
The bold part of this is the number of interceptions. Since Will Muschamp took over in 2011, Matt Elam is the only Florida player to collect four interceptions in one season. The logic is this -- opposing teams are going to stay away from Vernon Hargreaves this year. We saw opponents do the same thing after the first four games last year, and it will be no different this year. That means they’ll throw somewhere else, setting Tabor up for a big year.
4. Matt Jones catches more than 35 passes this year. REASONING: The running back position is the deepest on the Florida roster. Because of that, Roper could be in a position to move players around to get his best on the field. Muschamp confirmed in the spring that Jones would learn the B-position, a tight end/fullback hybrid spot, once his knee was healthy in the fall.
Catching the ball has always been a strength Jones has. He is a natural pass catcher with soft hands that can catch the ball in the open field or in traffic. With Kelvin Taylor’s break out last season and the return of Mack Brown, Mark Herndon and Adam Lane, Jones could be better used at another position.
5. Vernon Hargreaves wins the Thorpe Award. REASONING: He was one of the best defensive backs in the country last season when he was a freshman. This year, Hargreaves is the only guaranteed starting in the Florida secondary heading into fall camp. He intercepted three passes in the first four games last season but still made a big impact when teams stopped aggressively throwing at him. His freshman season ended with a team-high 11 pass breakups.
There are a lot of good secondary players across the country this year, but Hargreaves was a semifinalist for the award last season. If he continues to progress, he’ll have a chance to win the award this year.