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The D23AMTEAM: Florida's 2023 Class Less than a Month from ESD

As the regular season has completed, and only a few weeks left before Early Signing Day, Billy Napier and staff have been assembling their version of the dream team, working to restore the Gator Standard to its highest peaks. There have certainly been some bumps along the way, losing Cormani McClain in a shocking decision, announcing his commitment to the University of Miami. The last few regimes in Gainesville had struggled to generate momentum at times like these, but Billy Napier did what he was brought to Gainesville for, and was able to secure a monumental flip of Four-Star Quarterback, Jaden Rashada from that same Miami class. Serving as the all-important bump class - the idea that a coach signs his highest recruiting class in their first full recruiting cycle, selling the image of their program - how does Billy Napier's dream team compare to previous Florida classes and - more importantly - the rest of the SEC?

Currently, Florida's on pace to sign their best recruiting class in the last nine cycles, pulling in their highest score, average rating, and blue chip percentage. The thing that remains to be seen, and has plagued the last few Florida coaches, is how successful Napier is at closing on those game-changing type prospects within the top 50 of the rankings. In 2022, Kamari Wilson and Shemar James were two huge wins for top 100 prospects, but unfortunately the only wins that cycle.

In 2016, the Gators signed top 50 prospects Antonneous Clayton (transferred to Ga Tech), Tyrie Cleveland, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson along with the 54th-ranked Feleipe Franks at QB. While Clayton transferred, the rest of that class served as a foundation for Dan Mullen to build upon and lead the program to 10 wins in his first two years at the helm. In the next six recruiting cycles (2017-2022), Florida had signed just five top 50 prospects, while Alabama has six such prospects committed in their 2023 class alone. To get the Gators back atop the SEC, Napier will have to find a way to close on those game-changing prospects and push Florida back into the upper tier of the conference in regards to talent. The question is, how far do they have to go to get there?

Over the last eight cycles, a Florida class hasn't finished higher than 4th in the SEC, when they did so in 2018 and are currently on pace to do with this year's class. Additionally, with time still left to add to the class, the class score should be expected to be the highest its been since 2019 at 276.85. Looking back on that class, though it scored well, Kaiir Elam was the only major contributor considering that two players transferred out before playing a snap - Chris Steele and Jalon Jones - with three other top prospects transferring out before Napier's first season - Diabate, Bogle, and Hopper. With a defense that struggled mightily all season, all four of those defensive players could've had a chance to contribute to this year's team. If Napier can hang on to most of this class, it should serve as a much better foundation than the one he was handed.

Now, looking at a player level, we can start to determine key position groups the staff will need to focus on in the coming weeks as the cycle winds down. Florida has already used or scheduled 47 of the allotted 56 official visits in a given cycle, so they'll need to be deliberate about who they're working to get on campus.

Key Positions of Need

  • Offensive Tackle

    • Top Target - Samson Okunlola, Five-Star from MA

    • Realistic Target - Caden Jones, Four-Star from LA

    • Summary - Bryce Lovett is the only OT in the class as of now, but Sale and Stapleton have a few targets here to go along with Lovett. The most significant of those would be Samson Okunlola, a five-star OT out of Massachusetts. A prototypical OT with an NFL build, Okunlola would be a major piece in Florida's run-heavy attack while also protecting the current gem of the class, Jaden Rashada. His recruitment has been tough to get a read on but is seemingly coming down to a battle between Michigan State, Miami, and Florida. Jones, hailing from LA, is a bit more of a project and will take more time before becoming a significant contributor, but could also be the most realistic signee, as he's indicated Florida is at the top of his list throughout the fall

  • Defensive Line/Tackle

    • Top Target - Jordan Hall, Four-Star from FL

    • Realistic Target - John Walker, Four-Star from FL

    • Summary - Let's just say, David Turner and Dan Mullen didn't leave the cupboard very full here, but Sean Spencer has hit the ground running with five DL commits and - hopefully - more to come. Spencer's current commits along the DL would be five of the six highest-rated signees Florida has had at that position since 2015. The one thing this class appears to be missing is a true interior DL as most other commits are expected to play more along the edge at defensive end. Luckily for Florida, there are two great options in their backyard. Ironically enough, although Hall is the uncommitted prospect, Walker - committed to UCF - could be more realistic as he spent time in Gainesville on multiple game weekends this year and has scheduled his OV to Florida for December 9. Coming to Gainesville on December 2, Hall will be a tougher pull as he has been assumed to be leaning toward Georgia, the team that will get him on campus the following week.

  • Linebacker

    • Top Target - Grayson Howard, Four-Star from FL

    • Realistic Target - Jordan Hall, Four-Star from FL

    • Summary - Probably the most uncertain position, Florida has just one commit from Jaden Robinson at a position where the program experienced transfers - Diabate, Hopper - and guys who've exhausted their eligibility - Burney, Miller - so it's key for the staff to figure out a plan here. Currently committed to South Carolina, Grayson Howard is an ideal LB for today's game with the athleticism to roam sideline-to-sideline but also play downhill within the box. Unfortunately, Howard has been pretty locked in with the Gamecocks and hasn't visited Gainesville since the summer. Enter (the other) Jordan Hall. While Hall doesn't have the same level of athleticism, he also plays well within the box and could play a similar role on the inside as Ventrell Miller played this year. Like Walker and Howard, getting Hall's commitment would require a flip from his current Michigan State commitment. Taking a Florida visit on November 12 this season, it seems Hall is still leaving the door cracked should the Florida staff press.

The talent level on this team should improve over the next few years, barring any transfer chaos, which is a sign of hope after the last two regimes struggled on the trail. After a disappointing 2022 season, a few major wins on the trail for top targets could help fans forget about the regular season and instill some hope that this program is headed back to the top of the SEC.

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