Photo Credit: Alex Shepherd
With the change of the calendar officially in the books, it's about time to start looking ahead to the next season of Florida Gators football in 2022.
This year is guaranteed to showcase some fun talent at all levels of football, and some of that will certainly come from the now more-experienced players heading into their sophomore seasons. We took a look at some of the players that could make an impact this year after playing a relatively small role during their freshman seasons.
Note: For the purposes of this article we took a look at players who are set to either become true sophomores or redshirt freshmen. We did not include rising redshirt sophomores.
Jason Marshall Jr.
We are including Marshall, 6-foot, 191 pounds, on this list almost based on a technicality.
The truth is, the rising sophomore cornerback already had his breakout campaign during his freshman season. After injuries at the CB position to players such as Jaydon Hill before the season and Avery Helm in-season, Marshall was forced to step up to the plate.
Marshall did very well in his playing time, too. He would play in 12 games last season, starting five. The former SI All-American added 23 tackles, two tackles for loss, an interception and three pass breakups. According to Pro Football Focus, Marshall allowed just 14 receptions out of 38 targets for 186 yards and two touchdowns.
Heading into next season, Marshall's importance will be that much greater. Perhaps the team does get back CB Kaiir Elam, who has a major decision to make as to enter the 2022 NFL Draft or not, but they'll be relying on Marshall more than ever before.
His breakout season may have already happened, but expect Marshall to be under the microscope from this point forward.
Burke, 6-foot-4, 187 pounds, is one of the fastest receivers on the roster. Combine that with his massive frame, he has the ability to take the top off of a defense while getting physical against the smaller corners he may go up against next season.
Coming in with the 2021 recruiting class, Burke was thought to be one of the best finds for Dan Mullen and former receivers coach Billy Gonzales. Though he may not become the team's top receiver next year, he will have plenty of opportunity with Rick Wells and Jacob Copeland no longer with the team, due to graduation and transfer, respectively.
This season, Burke played in just three games but showed off his deep-threat ability by hauling in a 61-yard reception against the South Carolina Gamecocks. He had another catch for 12 yards during the year, too.
Jeremiah “Scooby” Williams
For the Gators, there's perhaps no more uncertain position group heading into the 2022 season than the linebacker corp. While it is great that Ventrell Miller apparently will be returning following a season-ending biceps injury that kept him out of the majority of the year, there's much to be desired behind and around him.
Enter Williams, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, who has impressed in a short time at Florida, at least in practices, adding some side and speed to the linebacker position for Florida. Last season, Williams played in just three games, recording a tackle in the Gasparilla Bowl. While he didn't make much of an impact, his skill set is certainly intriguing.
With Jeremiah Moon finishing up his eligibility, Williams will likely become one of the top backup players for Florida behind Ty'Ron Hopper, Derek Wingo and Miller.
There is also a chance he could be behind Amari Burney, too, if he is to return for a fifth season. But, he's the future, and it should be expected for Williams to play a big role moving forward.
The big man out of Tampa (Fla.) will certainly play a big role this upcoming season as the team's starting nose tackle right out of the gate. At 6-foot-5, 400 pounds, Watson is the heaviest player on the roster. While he will need to continue working to take some of that weight off, as he told AllGators earlier last month.
"I made a lot of progress, but I've still got a ways to go for sure," Watson said. "[Former strength coach Nick Savage] always pushed me, gave me the same energy every day so I knew what to expect. I can tell that he wants the best of me. If I want the best for myself, he wants the best for me, all I've got to do is listen and I know I'm gonna get there."
The Gators are heading into yet another year with a lot of attrition at the defensive tackle position. The team brought in three graduate transfers in Antonio Valentino, Daquan Newkirk and Tyrone Truesdell, and all three will be out of the program, out of eligibility.
That makes it even more important for Watson to make an impact this season alongside DT Gervon Dexter, who has become one of the better defensive tackles in the SEC already.
He hasn't been talked about as much as other players have recently, but Elksnis, 6-foot-6, 243 pounds, is slated to be one of the top receivers at the tight end position next year. While Jonathan Odom also waits in the wing, Elksnis has the side and play-making ability to make the jump at the collegiate level after sitting out most of his freshman campaign.
Playing in just four games this year, Elksnis has plenty to show on the field heading into year two. He will almost certainly be thrust into the mix quickly with Kemore Gamble likely leaving, graduated, and Keon Zipperer, used primarily as a blocking tight end, entering his final year of eligibility.
The Gators will have to work quickly to figure out their options at the position, especially with Anthony Richardson at quarterback in need of some safety valves.
In a similar boat to Watson, but at a different position, Sapp will play all around the Florida defensive front four. With Zachary Carter now headed to bigger and better things in the NFL, his importance has skyrocketed as a depth player. Sapp, 6-foot-3, 251 pounds, didn't play in his freshman season but expect that to change in year two.
Providing depth inside and out, Sapp should be able to become one of the main fixtures along the Florida defensive line over the next few seasons. Expect his ability to affect the quarterback to play a big role in his playing time this year, too.
Almost a twin of Sapp at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, Boone will also play a major role moving forward for Florida next season. Boone played sparingly last season, recording two tackles and a half a sack against Vanderbilt while adding a tackle for loss in the Gasparilla Bowl vs. UCF.
Similar to Sapp, Boone will have to compete with rising junior Princely Umanmielen in order to earn more playing time, but that shouldn't come as a surprise. The Gators will need plenty of help on its defensive line as the rebuild continues into this upcoming season.
The Gators are headed into the year without starting safety Trey Dean, who is apparently heading to the 2022 NFL Draft after receiving an invite to the NFL combine. With that, there is a wide-open spot at safety and McMillon will likely be given an opportunity to compete for the position.
While Rashad Torrence seemingly has his heels dug in at the opposite safety position, one of McMillon, incoming freshman Kamari Wilson or another will have plenty of playing time this season. At 6-foot-1, 197 pounds, McMillon certainly possesses the size to play safety at the SEC level.
Another player that could see some time there includes Mordecai McDaniel, who is a rising junior for Florida.
He played in all 12 games last season, tallying nine total tackles. His role will only increase as the season inches closer and it will be interesting to see how co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney and the Florida football staff opt to use him.
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