Florida was hit pretty hard in the off-season with five juniors declaring early for the NFL draft. The defensive side of the ball lost three players when cornerback and All-American Vernon Hargreaves and safety Keanu Neal both declared. Defensive end Alex McCalister added a hit to the defensive line as well when he decided that he would forego his senior year. The offense also lost star receiver Demarcus Robinson and running back Kelvin Taylor.
The return of Davis and Maye is a significant deal and should help solidify a defense that looks to be pretty good in 2016.
Davis was a wrecking ball at linebacker in 2015. He played in every game on the schedule and finished with 98 tackles on the season, just five behind senior Antonio Morrison. Davis also finished third on the team in tackles for loss and was most likely the surest tackler on the squad throughout the year. The linebacker position was especially thin in 2015 and with the loss of Morrison, it would have been crippling if Davis were to leave as well.
Maye finished fourth on the team in tackles with 82 and right behind Neal. He also finished third on the team with six pass breakups and showed that he is another sure tackler that likes to mix it up inside if called to do so.
With their return, Florida now can feel confident at every level of the defense to show up with experienced talent in 2016. Defensive end Bryan Cox will return as a senior that started most of the 2015 season. Joey Ivie returns at defensive tackle for his senior year as well as Caleb Brantley as a junior, both played well during the 2015 season. The Gators also return sophomore CeCe Jefferson, junior Jordan Sherit, sophomore Khairi Clark, and sophomore Taven Bryan who all had extensive and quality playing time up front.
Davis staying at linebacker is huge. Florida looks to be okay at the position if Alex Anzalone returns healthy for his redshirt junior year. Along with Davis, they look to be a terrific one-two punch. Matt Rolin finished the season off playing pretty well, but didn’t gain a lot of experience. He will be in his redshirt junior season in 2016. Daniel McMillian got on the field but struggled. The Gators are going to need true freshmen to come in and produce in 2016 at linebacker.
Maye is also a big deal in the secondary where he and Neal soaked up most of the playing time at safety. Juniors Nick Washington, Marcell Harris, and Duke Dawson all got playing time as sophomores in 2015, with Washington probably playing the most highlight minutes of that bunch. Maye helps solidify one of the two safety positions while others fight for Neal’s spot.
And at corner the Gators have a strong pair in juniors-to-be Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor. Tabor earned some All-American honors in 2015. But the defense plays NICKEL more times than not and the only other returning corner to play that spot right now is sophomore Chris Williamson. Look for true freshmen to come in and solidify the depth chart at the three main cornerback spots.
It looks like a very strong defense on paper, one with speed and size at every position, but one that needs some young guys to step in and play important roles in 2016.