Florida Gators Post-Spring 2021 Depth Chart Projection: Defense

The Florida Gators defense will look a lot different in 2021. A preview of its depth chart before the fall camp starts in a few months.
Author:
Publish date:

The Florida Gators have officially concluded its 2021 spring football camp. Spring represents an opportunity for players to earn valuable developmental time and helps the coaching staff shape the roster to its liking.

Perhaps the most interesting unit on the football team heading into this season, the defense will almost definitely be reshaped. With old players cast out and new players entering the fray, Florida will have plenty of decisions to make in regards to who cracks the team's starting 11.

In 2020, the Gators' defense was one of the worst units in football for some time of the year, particularly in its secondary. While there were moments of good play, it was few and far between, with many calling into question the decision making by its defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Now, in 2021, it appears the defense is prepared to turn over a new leaf, and we've prepared a preliminary depth chart to provide a little guidance on what the opening 11 could look like this season. It should be noted that we used only players currently on the team's roster, including the team's early enrollees.

Click here to view our offensive depth chart following spring football.

Cornerback

Starters: Kaiir Elam, Jaydon Hill

Perhaps one of its strongest position groups, the Gators' cornerback position could end up taking shape this season with Elam and Hill to start out on the boundary. Elam is a rising star within the SEC and is likely entering his final season at the program after two above-average seasons.

Last season, Elam accounted for 39 total tackles (28 solos), two interceptions and 11 pass breakups as a true sophomore. He would add one tackle-for-loss and a fumble recovery. His ascension has been noted by new cornerbacks coach Jules Montinar, and he was named a first-team All-SEC defensive back by coaches.   

Hill, a true junior, made five starts with the Gators last season after spending the first two years of his career at the program as a reserve. He would come on as the team's other boundary cornerback opposite Elam after the team moved cornerback Marco Wilson inside at STAR.

Hill wouldn't record any turnovers but showed plenty of flashes, including seven pass breakups on the year, three coming in the team's bowl game against Oklahoma to end its season. The position is currently flexible, but don't be surprised to see Hill man the position to start the year.

Backups: Patrick Moorer, Jason Marshall Jr.

It's important to note the likely immediate backups and both Moorer and Marshall fit the bill. While Avery Helm is likely in contention too, Moorer fits the bill as the team's most veteran defensive back as a redshirt senior entering this season. He has showcased plenty of skills during spring practice, too, AllGators has learned.

Marshall, an SI-All American, and one of the most highly sought-after recruits during the 2021 recruiting cycle has shown plenty of promise during spring practice too. He will likely have to wait his turn as he progresses to the collegiate game, but don't be surprised to see his name called if a couple of players go down.

Depth: Avery Helm, Jahari Rogers, Ethan Pouncey, Jordan Young

Rounding out Florida's cornerback room are several young and intriguing players. All three of Helm, Rogers and Pouncey are redshirt freshmen who will want to get their feet wet this season, with Young being the other highly recruited freshmen on the team that enrolled early.

STAR

Starter: Tre'Vez Johnson

The STAR position for the Gators is perhaps its most important on defense. A player who holds many hats on defense including manning the team's slot or nickel back position, but also plays down as a safety/linebacker hybrid defending the run and rushing the passer.

Johnson fits the bill to a T, with plenty of experience from his freshman season last year manning the position. He would go on to appear in all 12 games, recording 15 tackles (12 solos), two pass breakups, one tackle-for-loss and an interception. Johnson will likely enter the season as the team's starter at the position as a true sophomore.

Backup: Kamar Wilcoxson

Another true sophomore Wilcoxson is an intriguing blend of size and speed for the position. Entering last year as a true freshman, Wilcoxson enrolled a year earlier than expected and was recruited as both a cornerback and safety, perfectly fit to play STAR with Florida.

It will be intriguing to see what the Gators do at the position as players will typically jump in and out of the lineup at the STAR position. For instance, Amari Burney, one of the team's linebackers has played the position before. This is perhaps the team's most fluid position group beyond its starter.  

Safety

Starters: Trey Dean III, Rashad Torrence II

Florida lost two of its starting safeties to the 2021 NFL Draft entering this year in both Shawn Davis and Donovan Stiner, ushering in new players to start at the position in 2021. Expect Dean and Torrence to man the positions this season as the two were poised to take over during the 2020 season, at least near the end.

Dean entered the year in 2020 as the team's backup cornerback before transitioning full-time to the safety position. He played well in spot starts with the team near the end of the season, including in the SEC Championship game. His athleticism for the position was sound, and he should provide much more of an impact this year.

Dean finished the season with 34 defensive stops (21 solos), one sack, one interception and a fumble recovery

A true sophomore, Torrence also received plenty of playing time last year as the team's reserve safety, starting in place of an injured Davis at times. He would go on to start three games, earning 25 tackles on the year.

Backups: Mordecai McDaniel, Donovan McMillon, Corey Collier Jr.

McDaniel is likely the only safety who is locked in at his position on the depth chart, becoming a sort of urban legend on the backend of the defense, consistently earning praise from his teammates. A true sophomore, McDaniel played sparingly for Florida last year.

Both McMillon and Collier are highly-recruited freshmen who enrolled early. McMillon has already received some praise during his short time with the program during spring.

Linebacker

Starter: Ventrell Miller

The Gators have two off-ball linebackers, the first is a standard linebacker that typically plays inside, the second is its WILL (weakside linebacker) or MONEY linebacker. For their standard linebacker position, Florida will likely go with its starter from the 2020 season in Miller.

Miller became one of the team's most-reliable players last season, tallying a team-high 88 tackles, adding 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. He was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Week multiple times throughout the season as well. Florida will do well by having Miller return for his redshirt senior season, particularly within the leadership department.

Backups: Lacedrick Brunson, Derek Wingo

Following the departure of James Houston IV via the transfer portal, the Gators will look towards Brunson as the team's immediate backup at the position. Brunson has been a key contributor with the defense for several years and is entering this season as a redshirt senior.

Last season he would appear in just three games against Ole Miss, South Carolina and Texas A&M. He missed the remainder of the season, but is expected to play a role moving forward, likely as the team's backup middle linebacker.

At least early, it is likely Wingo takes the spot directly behind Brunson until he shows the coaching staff he is ready. As a true freshman last season, Wingo saw action in seven games, primarily on special teams. Wingo should be in line for much more playing time this season.

MONEY

Starter: Mohamoud Diabate

The Gators will do well by implementing Diabate into its starting lineup in some way, shape, or form. It appears the Gators' defensive coaches like Diabvate as its MONEY, or WILL linebacker on the outside. While he is probably best suited to play as a pass rusher primarily, Diabate showed plenty of upside as an off-ball linebacker.  

Last season, Diabate appeared in 12 games, starting six. He finished the season with the second-most stops among Gators defenders, accounting for 69 tackles (33 solos) seven tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery and forced fumble.

Diabate is a rising star within the SEC, and one of the leaders on the defense entering his true junior season.

Backups: Amari Burney, Ty'Ron Hopper, Chief Borders

While the favorite amongst fans to become Diabate's immediate backup at the position will likely be Hopper, the Florida staff has routinely placed seniority ahead of anything else and Burney, a true senior, fits the bill.

Burney would go on to start four games last season at linebacker, finishing with 52 tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles-for-loss.

Hopper, a redshirt sophomore heading into 2021, will likely be the backup to Burney, playing as a reserve this season. Don't expect this to last very long, however as the Florida staff will want to deploy their ultra-athletic linebacker plenty throughout the season.

Rounding out the position will likely be Borders, a true freshman. Don't expect him to receive much playing time this year.

BUCK

Starter: Brenton Cox Jr.

Cox entered the year as a transfer from Georgia, earning the No. 1 jersey on the defensive side of the football. He earned it with his showing during practices the previous season and didn't disappoint during the season itself.

While his production on the stat sheet wasn't overly impressive, tallying just four sacks on the year, Cox showcased his incredible athleticism and his ability to make big plays happen throughout the year. Starting all 12 games, Cox finished the year with 41 tackles (21 solos), 9.5 tackles-for-loss, and led the team in hurries with 18.

This year, Cox is expected to make yet another step as the team's starting BUCK, with the Florida coaching staff wanting more consistency out of the player.

Backups: Jeremiah Moon, Khris Bogle

Florida enters the year with some questions behind Cox at the BUCK position. With Moon returning for his sixth season with the team, don't be surprised to see him early and often as the immediate backup to Cox Jr.

Moon played in just four games last year due to injury, earning 14 tackles and one sack.

Bogle, a true junior, should earn plenty of playing time at the position as a reserve. He is one of the team's most talented pass rushers, and the Gators rely heavily on just that within Todd Grantham's defense. Last season, Bogle accounted for 28 tackles in the season (10 solo), 4.0 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. 

Depth: Andrew Chatfield Jr, Mohamoud Diabate, Derek Wingo, Lloyd Summerall

The Gators will have plenty of options at BUCK beyond its immediate backups in Chatfield Jr., who enters his redshirt junior season with plenty to prove after earning a solid number of repetitions at the position last season. 

Both Diabate and Wingo provide plenty of pass-rush ability and should be used at the BUCK position as well as linebacker, which we’ve seen from Diabate this far in his career. Expect Wingo to do the same.

Summerall, a redshirt sophomore, hasn't been active with Florida for much of his career, making his collegiate debut in 2019 against UT Martin, playing in just three games that season. Last year, Summerall would see time only in the team's contest against Missouri.

Defensive Tackle

Starters: Antonio Valentino, Daquan Newkirk

There's a reason why Florida solicited the services of two graduate transfer defensive linemen shortly following the season and with the exodus of TJ Slaton, Marlon Dunlap and Kyree Campbell.

The team needed help at the position, desperately. With both Valentino and Newkirk firmly on board, Florida is looking towards its defensive line as a position of strength. Both Valentino and Newkirk should be expected to at least start out the year as the team's starters at defensive tackle.

Backups: Gervon Dexter, Jalen Lee, Desmond Watson

Dexter is the primary backup at both positions entering fall camp. Similar to last year, look for the true sophomore to receive plenty of repetitions regardless as Florida likes to rotate its defensive linemen in and out, heavily. With a strong showing at nose tackle during spring camp from what we’ve been told, don't be surprised to see Dexter start ahead of Newkirk at the position.

Lee, a true sophomore, earned some playing time last season but is in line for a lot more heading into this year. With a lack of veteran depth at the position, Florida will look towards its younger players and Lee is certainly apart of that group.

While young, if Watson is able to bring his weight down some - he entered spring camp at a healthy 432 pounds -, he should be expected to contribute some at the position.

Defensive End

Starter: Zachary Carter

Carter is the Gators' leader on defense, and likely their most impactful player returning for the 2021 season. A redshirt senior, Carter is slated to be the team's starting defensive end, playing the role full time this year after flipping inside and out last year. His spring performance has been impressive, too.

Last season, Carter appeared in all 12 games of the season, starting 11. He tallied 36 tackles and led the team with 5.0 sacks and 9.5 tackles-for-loss. He also had a fumble recovery for a touchdown. One of the SEC's best defenders should be in for an impact season in 2021.

Backups: Princely Umanmielen, Justus Boone, Dante Lang

Perpahs one of the most talked-about depth players on the team, Umanmielen enters his sophomore season with plenty of hype, understandably. Last season, Umanmielen accounted for three defensive stops, two tackles-for-loss and two sacks on the year.

The man with a name tough to pronounce (and spell if I might add), will likely earn plenty of playing time this season behind Carter as the next man up.

Behind him are Boone and Lang, two players who will likely see their snaps increase as the season wears on. Boone enters his sophomore season, while Lang, a converted tight end, enters his redshirt junior season. He was converted to the defensive side of the football last year.