It is often said that numbers don’t lie. With that in mind, we can find some hard truth in the numbers from last year. The 2017 season found the Florida Gators ranked 109th in total offense. Despite their best efforts, 9 receivers managed less than 1,800 yards and just 8 TDs last season.
Many factors contributed to such poor output, including the season long suspension of star receiver Antonio Callaway. But suspensions, injuries, and erratic quarterback play -while all valid points- are only part of the equation that led to such impotent offensive numbers. The receivers have to shoulder some of the burden as well.
With a weak strength and conditioning program and no visible leadership to hold each other accountable, the receivers had grown soft and complacent. So, what’s different?
Enter (HC) Dan Mullen, (S&C Coach) Nick Savage, (WR Coach) Billy Gonzales, as well as a couple of big transfers in Trevon Grimes and Van Jefferson. While the quarterback situation continues to be a question mark until proven otherwise, the new expectations, fresh energy, and wide open offensive scheme should provide an immediate bump in productivity from a group that has been mostly underwhelming for the better part of a decade.
It seems odd to think that a player with two of the most memorable catches over the last two years -a 98 yd TD at LSU and last year’s 63 yd TD to beat UT- would be waiting to breakout. But despite his on field heroics, Tyrie Cleveland has been limited by injuries and a rotating door at the QB position.
Cleveland should be a big part of the offense this year. His size and speed have proven to be a solid downfield threat and he will look to improve on his already impressive 18.64 yards per catch from last year. Even in the anemic offense of 2017, Cleveland found himself in the top 25 in that category a season ago.
Another guy to watch this year is quarterback turned wide receiver, Kadarius Toney. Like Cleveland, Toney was banged up quite a bit last year but has bulked up during the offseason, thanks to Savage. Toney proved to be troublesome for defenses when he was on the field a year ago, totalling 15 catches for 152 yards and another 120 yards on the ground.
Toney was built for Mullen’s spread attack and should be a lot of fun to watch. Expect him to be used in a similar style to Percy Harvin this year.
Possibly the biggest commitment for the Gators 2018 class was Jacob Copeland, a 4 star receiver out of Pensacola. Copeland has great size and a lightning quick first step but has been very limited during fall camp.
Copeland was seen wearing a knee brace and limping during the first few days of practice and missed all of last week. When asked if he had an idea of how long Copeland would be affected by his injury, Mullen replied, “Yes I do,” but declined to elaborate. “We’ll do an injury update after training camp.” However, many sources claim that his injury required surgery and that he would be out for some time.
One of the biggest reasons for optimism in the coming season is the arrival of Ole Miss transfer, Van Jefferson. Since getting on campus, he has been stellar. He has provided veteran leadership and experience to the room and has developed an outstanding chemistry with the QB’s and his fellow receivers.
Jefferson is clearly the go to guy for each of the quarterbacks. An expert route runner, Jefferson’s long frame and soft hands provide a powerful weapon for the Gators. Before transferring, Jefferson compiled 999 yards on 91 catches and 4 TDs in two years for the Rebels.
Trevon Grimes has also been a bright spot in an already great group of receivers. The Ohio State transfer has impressed in practice so far and provides another deep threat for Florida. His big size will be useful in red zone situations as well.
While he isn’t as experienced as some, he is pretty well polished. Receivers coach, Billy Gonzalez loves his size and physicality and has urged him to use his body even more. Like Jefferson and Cleveland, Grimes factors into this year’s gameplan in a major way.
Dre Massey has struggled to live up to the expectations surrounding him and that includes his own. Since arriving from JUCO in 2016, he has suffered a torn ACL and recorded a paltry 149 yards on 11 catches with a solo touchdown. He has the natural tools but whether or not he will reach his potential remains to be seen.
Others vying for reps are Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Daquon Green. All three have talent but need to take that next step in their development in order to shine in a room that’s so bright. With a group full of leaders, that might just happen. “Pressure busts pipes but not us!” has been the group motto according to Grimes. Let’s hope he’s right!
This might just be the most talented group of skill position players that UF has seen since 2008. This receivers corps is deep and wide and will be keeping defensive coordinators up at night.