The Florida Gators enter the 2021 season with high expectations. They were picked to finish 2nd in the SEC East behind Georgia at SEC Media Days. That’s high praise for a team that has to replace a lot of production on both sides of the ball. Let’s start with the offense.
Florida lost quarterback Kyle Trask, pass catchers Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes and offensive lineman Stone Forsythe and Brett Heggie all to the NFL this offseason. Redshirt Junior Emory Jones has waited his turn and is primed to step in as the starter at quarterback. He was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country coming out of high school in 2018. He brings a different dimension to the offense than now former Gator Kyle Trask did with his ability to make plays not just with his arm but also with his legs. Dan Mullen has a history of coaching productive quarterbacks with guys like Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott, Nick Fitzgerald and now Kyle Trask on his resume. I see no reason why Emory Jones shouldn’t be next in line on that list. Behind him is Anthony Richardson, who has been having an outstanding fall camp. I expect him to play in different packages throughout the year. He’s the more physical quarterback between the two, but he’s also a dual-threat with his ability to take off and run and is just too talented a player to keep in the sidelines.
At the skill positions Florida is replacing a ton of production. First off, Kyle Pitts, the 4th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and John Mackey Award winner is someone that many including myself consider a generational type talent. He leaves a hole at the tight end position that will not be easy to fill. However, Florida has a talented group of guys that will look to match that production. Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer will need to step up and be key guys at the tight end position this season. Another name to keep an eye on is true freshman Nick Elksnis. He has been turning heads ever since he stepped on campus in the spring and is someone that could make an immediate impact.
Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes were guys who could create mismatches. Toney, who was just 16 yards away from being the first Gators receiver to post a 1,000 yard season since Taylor Jacobs in 2002, lined up all over the place and was able to get open almost at will with his elite level quickness and improved route running. Grimes was a guy you could throw 50/50 balls to and he had the ability to come down with them more often than not. It’s always hard to replace NFL caliber guys but I think Florida has the talent on the roster to do just that. I expect guys like Jacob Copeland and Xzavier Henderson to step up and into those roles. They’re both poised for big seasons and are the leaders of a very talented wide receiver room. Other guys we’ll see get a lot of playing time are Trent Whittemore, Ja’Quavion Fraziars and Rick Wells. Another true freshman to who’s been turning heads during fall camp is Marcus Burke. I’m not sure how much he’ll play this season, but he’s making a case that he should be on the field.
The running back position is loaded with Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, Nay’Quan Wright and Lorenzo Lingard all coming back after being on the roster last year. They’ve also added Clemson transfer and former 5-star running back Demarkcus Bowman to that room making running back by far the deepest position on the team. Pierce, Davis and Wright bring experience and leadership, but Bowman and Lingard have the type of explosive, top end speed that you need from the running back position.
The offensive line is a work in progress, but they still bring back some experienced players. From what I’ve heard, the starting unit has been Richard Gouraige, Ethan White, Kingsley Eguakun, Stewart Reese and Jean Delance from left to right. Overall, the offense will look considerably different from last season as Dan Mullen will now have a true dual-threat guy at QB and likely look to transition to a more run heavy attack. Something that he has been known for as both an offensive coordinator and head coach. But I still think it has a chance to be a very explosive offense because of the pieces he has to work with.
Moving on to the defense, I’ll just be blunt and say it: last season was arguably the worst defense in the history of Florida football and things needed to change. The good news is that as bad as the defense was, they return some very talented players and brought in two new coaches in the secondary. Torrian Gray and Ron English are both gone and have been replaced by Jules Montinar and Wesley McGriff, aka Crime Dawg. Montinar is relatively new in the coaching ranks while McGriff is a known commodity that’s been a great coach and recruiter over the years.
The front 7 is absolutely stacked. Zach Carter is the returning veteran leader of the front 7 and poised to have a dominant season. Brenton Cox Jr. and Gervon Dexter also return and I expect both of them to have break out years. Florida also landed two defensive tackle transfers this past offseason in Daquan Newkirk from Auburn and Antonio Valentino from Penn State. Both bring experience and I believe will have a major impact in the trenches. Ventrell Miller returns as the leader of a very talented linebacker corps that will feature Mohamoud Diabate, Amari Burney and Ty’Ron Hopper. Two young players that I’m very excited to see play this year are Derek Wingo and true freshman Jeremiah Williams. Both players are very instinctive and fly to the football, which is an area that Florida was lacking in last season. Both players should play this year and provide quality depth to a room that struggled a bit last year.
The secondary features Preseason Second Team All-American Kaiir Elam and Trey Dean, who are the unquestioned leaders of the unit. Rashad Torrence is expected be the starter opposite Dean, but Mordecai McDaniel and true freshman Donovan McMillon will definitely play a lot at safety as well. Probably the biggest question mark on the defense is who will start opposite Elam with the loss of Jaydon Hill for the season due to an ACL injury. I think Avery Helm and Jason Marshall are the front runners for that spot but don’t count out transfers Jadarrius Perkins and Elijah Blades as Florida will likely rotate a lot early in the year to find someone to solidify that spot.
Looking at the schedule, there are 3 big games for the Gators: at home against #1 Alabama, #6 Georgia in Jacksonville and on the road at LSU. If Florida can go at least 2-1 in those 3 games, they’ll have a chance to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. There’s 2 other games on the schedule that could be considered trap games with having to travel to both Kentucky and Missouri. Both teams will be much improved and can definitely present challenges for Florida on both sides of the ball. If Florida beats Alabama in week 3, they have a chance to possibly go undefeated in the regular season for the first time since 2009.
If I had to give a prediction for Florida this season, I would say they finish the regular season 11-1 and play Alabama again in Atlanta for the SEC Championship.