We’ve packed over 20 years of combined experience covering the Gators and over 30 in terms of working in the football industry to bring you our ratings of how these Florida Gators have looked through half of the season.
This position looks much different than it did on Saturday. Will Grier took off during the fourth quarter of the Tennessee game and produced five quarters of dominant quarterback play. He was fine against Missouri on Saturday, but there were some areas he took a step back. He was too antsy in the pocket, just like he was during the first three games of the season. The first three games were likely a part of his learning curve at the position before he improved late against Tennessee and dominated against Ole Miss. Now it’s up to Treon Harris to elevate his play and continue to manage the offense while Grier is suspended.
We’re grading on what we have seen, not what is now expected. The best thing about the play of Grier and with Harris is that for the most part they have stayed within the confines of the offense. There were times that Grier took off running too early, like early in the Tennessee game, but when he forced himself to sit in there things opened up for him. Harris has always had less happy feet in the pocket, even if he is more inclined to take off running. Based on his early season work, he was pretty even with Grier in terms of overall production, yet maybe not in terms of seeing the whole field.
The difference in Kelvin Taylor this year is staggering, especially in recent games. He’s running hard and breaking arm tackles, which didn’t happen as often in his first two seasons at Florida. Taylor is still only averaging 3.8 yards per carry, but that’s not completely his fault. The offensive line hasn’t been great at run blocking, and he’s often forced to make defenders miss near the line of scrimmage before adding his yards. Freshman Jordan Cronkrite has been solid but not spectacular and the heralded Jordan Scarlett struggled early with ball security. Taylor is the unquestioned leader of the position, and he’s having a strong junior season.
I agree with Cody on the play of Kelvin Taylor. He has turned his game into an all-around one. I think he has had to make many plays in the backfield before even trying to get to any kind of hole and he has made something out of nothing more often than not. We know that he isn’t the fastest guy in the open field, but I don’t many I would trade for to run between the tackles right now. On the other hand, he has had to carry too much of the load and the issues with ball control and pass protection with freshmen backs Scarlett and Cronkrite aren’t helping the position grade right now.
The trio of Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell and Demarcus Robinson has been fine. Callaway is having the best season for a freshman receiver in a long time, and Powell has handled the transition to receiver well. Robinson isn’t consistently doing what the Gators want him to, but he has made big strides in the last two games against Ole Miss and Missouri. Behind them, there’s not much. Ahmad Fulwood looks better than in recent seasons but still not impacting the game the way his 6-4 frame should. After those four, it’s hard to pinpoint a trusted receiver. The Gators simply need more playmakers at the position.
I agree with Cody completely here except I do believe that Robinson is playing very well. I think he needs more reps in a position down the field a little instead of being the horizontal pass guy that he has become. That isn’t his fault. Like Cody, I believe the depth issue is concerning here. An injury to those top four receivers and this position takes a big hit right now.
It’s hard to know if the tight ends are significantly improved or just finally being used. Jake McGee was injured last season while C’yontai Lewis redshirted and Deandre Goolsby burnt a year of eligibility mostly on special teams. Goolsby and McGee, fourth and fifth on the team in receiving yards respectively, have both been difference makers while Lewis sits to allow his hand injury to heal. McGee’s return was important for a young starting quarterback, and Goolsby has shown elusiveness and run after the catch ability that the Gators haven’t had at tight end since Jordan Reed left in 2012. The return of Lewis will only help this position, but they’ve been very productive even without him.
I’m not going to fault Lewis for being injured and when he was on the field he was a weapon. All three guys are weapons and that is just unheard of. This position actually allows the receiver position to not be such an issue. I love the versatility of the group and although some aren’t the best blockers up front, you cannot fault their intensity on the field.
Relative to preseason expectations, the offensive line has been an A+. It’s hard to imagine there’s an assistant coach anywhere else doing a better job with his position group that Mike Summers. That said, this unit still has a lot to improve on as Florida heads into the second half of the season. Pass protection has been fine, but opening holes in the run game has to happen more often. The offensive line showed progress in that area at Missouri, but the next two games against LSU and Georgia will serve as major tests for an offense that will have to lean more on its running game with Grier suspended.
Agree with Cody on how to grade here. Based on where they should be given the inadequacies we knew of in preseason this would be a terrific grade. But, we are basing this on them being a Florida caliber offensive line and they have a ways to go. If we split up pass protection and run blocking, the pass protection would be a higher grade. Simply put, they are not getting much traction in the run game and they are going to have to start really moving people up front when they run the ball for this offense to continue to be effective.
Defensive line coach Chris Rumph has his unit playing at a high level, and he trusts so many of them that he’s continuing to rotate and keep bodies fresh. Jonathan Bullard is the unquestioned star of the group, embracing the defensive tackle position and recording 9.5 tackles for a loss. There are six different defensive linemen with at least two tackles for a loss this season. The most impressive part of this group is that they aren’t just specialists. It’s deep with defensive linemen that can impact the opposing offense’s rushing or passing attack.
My whole thought process coming into the season was that there would be a big drop off from losing the top player, but the rest of the unit would be better than a year ago. Alas, they lose top three NFL pick Dante Fowler from last year and Jonathan Bullard is playing at an even higher level up front. The other guys like Alex McCalister, Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Bryan Cox, CeCe Jefferson, Taven Bryan, and maybe more are all playing at a higher level than expected in my opinion. The Gators have two of the best line coaches in America right now in my opinion.
There are no questions about Jarrad Davis or Antonio Morrison. They have been nothing short of dominant players, especially in recent games. When Alex Anzalone was hurt against East Carolina, Davis stepped right into the starting role and is second on the team in tackles, behind only Morrison. The duo has also combined for 13 tackles for a loss in six games. The only thing keeping this grade from being higher is the production behind the two. As Florida waits for Anzalone’s return, they’re an injury to Davis or Morrison away from being in serious trouble at linebacker because the players behind the two starters simply haven’t been good.
Depth worries me here and will feel much better about that when Anzalone returns. The Tennessee game was awful for Morrison, but outside of that he has played pretty spectacular. They were getting some really nice play from Jeremi Powell as well when he was healthy. Beyond that the position is a liability. A healthy Powell and Anzalone make this grade jump a full letter in my opinion.
Pro Football Focus has All-American Vernon Hargreaves III grading out as the third best corner on the Florida team behind Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Whether accurate or not, it’s a testament to the depth and playmaking ability Florida has at the position. Tabor leads the SEC with eight passes defended despite being suspended for one game. Add in continued strong play at the nickel position by Brian Poole, and this position has found a way to live up to the massive hype in the offseason.
Two pick-sixes for Tabor, three INT’s for Hargreaves, Wilson has an INT and Brian Poole is an unsung hero on this team. When they get beat it is usually a great play by the offense, and that is going to happen.
Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye started to come on late last season, but they’ve taken major steps forward this year, especially Maye. He’s playing closer to the line of scrimmage more often this season, even working in at linebacker some when the team needed help at the position. Maye is third on the team in tackles despite being suspended for the opener, and he had his first interception of the year against Missouri and has a team-high three forced fumbles. He is a playmaker for a defense with plenty of them. Neal has been solid at the safety position while backups Marcell Harris and Nick Washington have been inconsistent.
The play of Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal has been outstanding and when they were missing at the beginning of the year it was felt. They need to stay healthy because the others seem to certainly show a little bit of a downgrade at this time.
This grade might still be too kind. The only standout player or unit on special teams so far is punter Johnny Townsend, who is averaging 44.7 yards per punt, hitting 11 of his 33 punts for 50+ yards and dropping nine of them inside the opponent’s 20-yard line with only two touchbacks. Townsend has been everything the Gators could have hoped. No one else on special teams has been. Austin Hardin and Jorge Powell have both struggled with field goals and extra points, leaving the Gators with serious questions if a game comes down to a late field goal. The kick return unit would be better taking a knee in the end zone since Brandon Powell is averaging 20.6 yards per return. It’s hardly his fault though, as the Gators have struggled to block it. The special teams unit simply has to get better for Florida to continue playing with some of the best teams in the country.
The Gators cover pretty well on kickoffs, even if the ball isn’t getting into the end zone right now as often. Antonio Callaway is a threat as a punt returner and has had some nice ones with a few called back. Townsend has performed the best here. The other three units are not good ones with the most perplexing being kickoff returns.