The Gators Wide Receiver Room, Present and Future
The Florida Gators suffered a heartbreaking shootout loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship. However, the wide receiving corps was a bright spot, as it has been throughout the season. Florida's strong play at the position is a no-doubt contributor to the program owning the nation's top-ranked passing offense. Stadium and Gale breaks down the room this season and takes a look at how the players stack up next season.
Seeing as Kadarius Toney’s heroics are a well-known entity, we'll keep this one short. Toney logged 153 yards on eight receptions plus 15 yards on two carries against Alabama, making his pre-bowl season total 1,451 all-purpose yards with 91 touches and 12 total touchdowns. The phenomenal receiver has been a nightmare for opposing defenses and will continue to be for years to come in the NFL, where he is now projecting as an early-round pick.
Next up is Trevon Grimes. The former Ohio State transfer is the third of a trio of players (Pitts, Toney, and Grimes) with at least nine receiving touchdowns in 2020 and has been instrumental to Kyle Trask’s success. With 589 receiving yards on the year, Grimes has become somewhat of a high-point artist. The senior fully extended himself for leaping touchdown grabs against the likes of Vanderbilt, Georgia and even Alabama. However, he should also be remembered for believing in Coach Mullen’s system enough to transfer to Florida during Mullen's first year as head coach. Grimes has helped transform Florida’s wide receiver room since then and create a culture of success among those playmakers. Like Toney, Grimes’ will likely be sporting an NFL jersey next year.
Moving onto returning players, Justin Shorter and Jacob Copeland will be looking to step into major roles in their second and fourth years, respectively, with the Gators. Both showed flashes this season and recorded similar stats on the season: 23 receptions for three touchdowns apiece, and both have made impressive catches in their times in Gainesville. Shorter has been quite reliable at times. Copeland, while extremely talented, should look to a be a little more sure-handed to go with his big-play ability moving forward. There’s no reason to believe the pair will not continue to improve, though. Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales has shown his ability to get more out of his receivers every year since his arrival with Mullen.
True freshman Xzavier Henderson and redshirt freshman Trent Whittemore serve as the next duo. As youngsters in a crowded position room, both made modest, but meaningful contributions. Matching each others' stats like Shorter and Copeland, each man logged one score on eight receptions this season. Henderson was on the receiving end of a flea-flicker that started with a bad snap and ended with the speedy freshman backpedaling into the catch for a big gain. As a top-100 player in the 2020 class, the younger brother of former Gators cornerback CJ Henderson appears poised for great things. Whittemore, while the least ballyhooed of the quarter, managed to make an incredible extending catch between two defenders against South Carolina and logged his sole touchdown of the year in the same game. He would regrettably be lost later in the season due to a broken rib and a punctured lung versus Arkansas. Mullen seemed genuinely excited about Whittemore, despite little hype coming into his career. The freshman has already made good on that enthusiasm early. When he returns for his third season, he should get his touches going forward.
Rick Wells falls into his own category and could return next season thanks to the rules surrounding the COVID-19 situation. If he does, Wells would be in store for his sixth season in Gainesville. The fifth-year senior has made nine catches for 110 yards across his entire career. Perhaps he finds a niche for himself in his potential sixth season. Much respect to the receiver for sticking through it all when he could have easily transferred like countless others.
The rest of the room has logged little-to-no statistics as of yet, but the remaining scholarship players include former four-star Ja’Quavion Fraziars, and three-stars Jordan Pouncey (a Texas transfer), and Ja’Markis Weston. The 2021 class includes a group of four-star wide receivers. Marcus Burke and Daejon Reynolds have signed and Trevonte Rucker is still committed.
The Gators reloaded in 2020 after losing four receivers (Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain) to the NFL, and they look poised to do so in 2021 with their returning talent.
Photo Credit: Jordan Herald/@JordanHerald5/UF Football
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