How Does Justin Shorter Fit in the Florida Gators’ 2020 Offense?

Zach Goodall

Photo credit: University of Florida athletic association

Late on Thursday, Florida Gators wide receiver Justin Shorter received word from the NCAA that he had been granted a waiver for immediate eligibility, allowing him to play in 2020. The former five-star prospect transferred from Penn State in January.

Shorter has been a participant in fall camp and has just over two weeks left to continue preparing for Ole Miss. Meaning, so long as he's healthy, he should be expected to play right out of the gate and look to make an impact. As he's already begun to do in camp, according to head coach Dan Mullen.

Three Gators' wide receivers in Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland, and Kadarius Toney held out of the first week of camp, allowing the redshirt sophomore to step up in practice.

"The great thing, you have a veteran guy like Justin Shorter doing an unbelievable job. He was there kind of leading the way," Mullen said on August 25th. "It was great for him, great adjustment for him being an older, veteran guy getting in there while those guys were gone and really showed what he can do." 

Grimes (6-5, 214 lbs., 4.47-second 40 yard dash) and Shorter (6-4, 226, 4.52) are similar receivers in their builds and athletic makeups, profiling well as X-receivers who can win isolated matchups at the boundary given their length and speed to pair. That can leave it to be assumed Shorter primarily filled in for Grimes in the senior's absence.

Grimes started 11 of 13 games in 2019 but was noticeably limited in opportunities in Florida's deep passing corps, where eight players caught at least 20 passes. He caught 33 passes for 491 yards, 14.9 yards per catch, and three touchdowns on 492 snaps, out of UF's 909 total offensive snaps (per Pro Football Focus). Grimes turned 23 of those receptions into first downs, a feat that suggests his snap and target share must increase moving forward with fewer veteran receivers around him, as he's dynamic with the ball in his hands.

However, the Gators are known for rotating players in order to keep guys fresh, and last year's production at wide receiver validates the ideology. Florida saw three receivers selected in the NFL Draft in Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, and Tyrie Cleveland, while Josh Hammond was an undrafted free agent who signed immediately after the draft. The three drafted receivers made their 53-man rosters, while Hammond made the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad. 

Jefferson led the wide receiver unit with 568 offensive snaps, while Copeland had the fewest snaps of the 20+ catch receivers at 264. Tight end Kyle Pitts, Florida's leading receiver, had 708 snaps but obviously at a different position.

While Grimes is likely to see an increase, perhaps being the best bet to lead the position in snaps and targets, Florida will certainly look to create a rotation once again, among returning contributors and fresh faces. Shorter doesn't provide a ton of production, but the experience is there, tallying 358 offensive snaps in two seasons at Penn State, catching 15 passes for 157 yards.

All signs point to Shorter at least taking on a role within the rotation, primarily as an X-receiver given his skill-set and physical makeup. The Gators have other options that could play the X as well, such as redshirt freshmen Ja'Markis Weston and Trent Whittemore and true freshman Xzavier Henderson. But, experience and an early display of talent and leadership give Shorter an edge. 

Should Shorter and/or Grimes prove versatile in their development to take on another spot full-time, perhaps the team could look to start both receivers on the outside. There's room for both receivers on the field in redzone and third-down-and-long packages, at the very least.

One way or another, Shorter's immediate eligibility provides quality depth at the wide receiver position in a year it's needed most. Now, it's time to see how Florida unlocks his five-star potential.