Summer is just around the corner and that means long hot days lounging on the beach, grilling out with friends, and doing whatever we can to pass the time between now and the start of the next college football season. Since we have nothing better to do than to wage war with mosquitoes the size of Boeing 747’s and work on that perfect farmer’s tan, let’s take a closer look at what to expect next season.
Florida is returning one of the most veteran sets of receivers in the country this year. More than that, this is a group that is as talented as they are experienced. In fact, as I trace back through recent memory, this is a combination of skill and experience that the Gators likely haven’t seen since the 2006 group that boasted talents like Andre Caldwell, Dallas Baker, and Jemalle Cornelius… oh and a young kid named Percy.
Dan Mullen’s acquisition of Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes through the transfer portal, is really looking to pay dividends in the coming season. Both added immediate experience and production last season and both look to build on that in 2019.
Jefferson returns for his redshirt senior season and has twenty-eight career starts under his belt. He is the most veteran wideout on the roster and is a favorite target of Feleipe Franks. Last season, Jefferson accounted for 503 yards receiving and hauled in six touchdowns. He is confident in this system and understands perfectly how to use his big body.
Grimes returns as a junior and although he only has one career start, he played in all thirteen games last year. Like Jefferson, Grimes has an excellent sense of awareness and control. His large frame and soft hands provide another outside weapon for the Gators and he managed to reel in twenty-six catches for 364 yards in 2018. Grimes finished the season with a pair of touchdowns and an average of fourteen yards per catch.
Also adding to the wealth of experience is, Tyrie Cleveland. Next season will be the last in a Gators’ career that has seen twenty-four starts, a 98 yard touchdown in Baton Rouge, and a game winner on the final play versus Tennessee. Throughout Cleveland’s time in Gainesville, he has certainly made his mark, although one has to wonder just what he could have accomplished with more consistent quarterback play and no injuries.
It certainly seems like Cleveland and the rest of the receiving corps now have a very capable quarterback to distribute the ball to them, in the new and improved Feleipe Franks. This is part of the reason I am hopeful that we will see a slight improvement on last year’s receiving numbers.
Joshua Hammond will also bring twenty-four starts into his senior season. Hammond came up big in a few games during Mullen’s inaugural campaign, adding 369 yards and three touchdowns. Hammond provides an excellent target that opposing defenses often make the mistake of overlooking. As a result, he had the teams second highest receiving yards in 2018.
Senior Freddie Swain has had a handful of remarkable moments in his time at Florida, including a beautiful run after catch on Rocky Top that resulted in a sixty-five yard touchdown in last year’s blowout win over the Vols. He played in eleven games last year and accounted for five Gators touchdowns on 265 yards.
One of Gator Nation’s more intriguing players to watch in 2019, is Kadarius Toney. The junior athlete was recruited as a quarterback and has the ability to break ankles as he zigs and zags through the defense. Despite his undeniable athleticism, Toney has struggled to get the ball, averaging just under four touches per game throughout his career. Part of the reason for this is his tendency to go away from the play design. He has worked hard to improve his game and his knowledge of the playbook throughout the spring and is expected to have a larger role next season.
Finally, we have Rick Wells, a junior who hasn’t quite found his place just yet, and Jacob Copeland, a highly touted recruit who is entering his sophomore season. Copeland battled injury through much of his freshman campaign and looks to contribute as much as possible within such a veteran group, next season. Both receivers will really have to push themselves in order to see the field.