Who Are the Cornerstones of Florida's 2020 Recruiting Class?
It's easy to get caught up in thinking about the future right now.
That holds especially true as a sports fan. As the sporting world is at a stand-still until the novel coronavirus allows athletes to take the field and fans to fill the seats once more, it's difficult to not look towards the future for your favorite sports team.
In the NFL, it's all about the draft. Who will everyone's favorite team select in late April, even despite the current circumstances complicating the selection ceremony? In the MLB, fans are fixated on what their favorite team's lineups and rotations were going to look like on Opening Day, which has been postponed from its original first pitch on March 26th? In the NBA, will the season resume where it left off, or get right to the playoffs?
The same line of thinking can be applied to college football. With the 2020 recruiting class recently in the books, who could programs look to build around when the time comes for those signees to get onto the field?
With that being said, let's take a look at the cornerstones of Florida's 2020 recruiting class. These six were chosen based on the importance of their position - both in general and in respect to the current roster - as well as each prospect's skill-set.
For example, Florida's safety signees - Rashad Torrence II and Mordecai McDaniel - were included over its cornerback prospects, despite the fact that the 247Sports Composite Rankings has two cornerbacks rated over the team's highest-rated safety signing.
Why is that? Because Florida's safety room is, arguably, one of the thinnest positions on the current roster, and the unit's showing on the field last season was nothing short of inconsistent. The 2020 safety signings have as good of a chance to push for early playing time as anyone on the roster.
Meanwhile, Florida returns two proven starters at cornerback in Marco Wilson and Kaiir Elam, and two rising second-year players expected to take on bigger roles behind the starters in Chester Kimbrough and Jaydon Hill. Signees Jahari Rogers, Ethan Pouncey, Avery Helm, and Tre'Vez Johnson certainly could emerge as important players, like anyone else, but the cornerback position is far more sound than safety at the moment.
So, who are the cornerstones of Florida's 2020 signing class?
QB Anthony Richardson
Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports, so of course, Florida's 2020 quarterback signee made the list.
When you watch Anthony Richardson's tape, it's hard not to see some Cam Newton in his game. Obviously, no one is ready to call Richardson a future Heisman Trophy winner or No. 1 NFL Draft pick, but there are plenty of similarities in both quarterback's skillsets.
Now standing at 6-4, 233 lbs., Richardson is an imposing specimen at the quarterback position with room to continue growing. And despite his stature, Richardson moves very well when extending throws or tucking and running.
And those skills go without mentioning his arm strength. While Richardson needs some technical refinement, an area of expertise for head coach Dan Mullen when it comes to grooming quarterbacks, the distance he can throw a football - and the velocity that comes with it - isn't something a quarterback can easily develop. For Richardson, it's natural.
With Kyle Trask returning for a final season and Emory Jones owning another three years of eligibility, Mullen will not need to force Richardson into action early. Rather, Richardson can be eased into action and stick to a development plan that, perhaps, results in his play at Florida being similar to that of Newton when the time comes.
WR Xzavier Henderson
One of the prized final recruits in Florida's haul, Xzavier Henderson is a big-bodied receiver at 6-4, 192 lbs., with 4.55 40 yard speed coming out of high school.
Pairing that size and speed on the boundary presents the perfect go-to weapon for Richardson when he takes the reigns at quarterback, but with four receivers off the roster after running out of eligibility, Henderson is in a position to push for early playing time as well.
Notorious for impressive catches, Henderson has the length and body control to go up and pluck the ball out of the air, plus the burst and balance to make explosive things happen after the catch.
While the Gators added numerous receivers in this class in Henderson, Jaquavion Fraziars, Penn State transfer Justin Shorter, and Texas transfer Jordan Pouncey (and perhaps Florida will receive a letter of intent from commit Leonard Manuel, though that has yet to be seen) Henderson could be the cream of this year's receiver crop.
OL Joshua Braun
While the safety position was previously used as an example for a weaker spot across Florida's roster, the Gators entered the 2020 recruiting cycle knowing well that attention was required across the offensive front.
The Gators certainly went to work on the offensive line, adding four prospects across the unit. The most notable being Joshua Braun, who flipped from Georgia shortly following the Bulldogs' offensive line coach, Sam Pittman, leaving Athens for the Arkansas head coaching job.
Braun makes the lost over the others given his incredible stature at 6-6, 356 lbs., and the nimble footwork that he boasts at his size. Not only did Braun line up at both tackle and both guard spots in high school, making him extremely versatile, but Braun also qualified for state quarterfinals as a doubles tennis player in 2019.
That's pretty incredible.
On the football field, Braun comes from a run-heavy offense at Suwannee High School, while the Gators drastically need improvement in their run blocks. Given all of these factors, Braun could legitimately push for a starting spot anywhere on the line, early in his career.
DL Gervon Dexter
The first five-star signing out of high school that Florida has landed since 2015, it's pretty obvious why Gervon Dexter is a cornerstone of the Gators' 2020 recruiting haul.
Considered the No. 12 overall prospect in the consensus rankings, you might be shocked to hear Dexter has only played football for two years. The 6-6, 294 lb. defensive lineman is an incredibly high-upside prospect with an elite blend of size, power, and speed - which led to an unreal 178 total tackles, 27 sacks, 53 tackles for loss, and 14 forced fumbles over the past two years.
Dexter is far from polished, which should be easy to assume as a two-year football player. But as a high school prospect with so much room to grow technically, any defensive line coach in the country would want to get their hands on Dexter's abilities.
And Dexter ended up with a proven defensive line coach in David Turner, who has developed the likes of Myles Garrett, Fletcher Cox, and other college stars-turned-NFL players. Perhaps he won't play often as a freshman as he continues to take in the knowledge that Turner can provide, but it will be hard to keep Dexter's uncanny traits on the sidelines for long.
LB Derek Wingo
During his first two seasons at St. Thomas Aquinas, Derek Wingo played quarterback. The 6-2, 210 lb. athlete certainly made things happen on offense, but he volunteered to move to the defensive side of the ball halfway through high school and never looked back.
Following that transition, Wingo went on to record 101 total tackles, 24 sacks, 28 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and two defended passes. Following a career-year in 2019, Wingo was named Gatorade's Florida Football Player of the Year, among other honors.
While Wingo was a bit of a chess-piece in St. Thomas Aquinas' defense, playing on the edge and off the ball, expect him to primarily play linebacker at Florida and one day take over as the quarterback of the defense at middle linebacker.
Wingo's processing speed and high football IQ should reap rewards as the man in the middle, and that goes without mentioning his athleticism to shoot gaps and drop into coverage as he thrives in space.
Safeties Rashad Torrence II and Mordecai McDaniel
Shawn Davis is the only safety on Florida's roster that the team should be confident in as a starter at this point, given his emergence last season. Donovan Stiner and Brad Stewart have both flashed in the past, including Stiner's four interceptions last season, but both struggled with being out of position to make tackles or plays in coverage at times in 2019.
Other than those three, Quincy Lenton is the only safety left in the room other than Torrence and McDaniel, and Lenton has logged 37 career defensive snaps in four years.
Should spring practice not have been rid of amidst the novel coronavirus, Torrence was in prime position to push for playing time or even a starting job at safety as he enrolled early. A technically refined safety, Torrence may never "wow" you with his athleticism but he understands coverages and where he needs to be on the field, not to mention he is a heat-seeking missile in run support.
Meanwhile, while he has yet to enroll, McDaniel is a big-bodied track athlete at the safety position, standing at 6-1, 195 lbs. and previously clocking a 10.81 100-meter dash. Speed and length make McDaniel an intriguing fit at free safety who should find a way to get his hands on the ball a good bit on the backend for Florida.
The Gators, simply put, need depth and consistency at safety moving forward. They're hoping these two incoming freshmen can provide that early in their careers. Both Torrence and McDaniel are relatively high-floor signings.