Florida Gators Five Most Important 2020 Rising Seniors
After spring practices were canceled and school schedules were altered due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams across the nation will be forced to rely on veteran contributors more than ever while younger prospects continue to get acclimated and develop.
Time simply isn't on anyone's side at this point, given how college sports had come to a complete halt just days before Florida and many other schools were set to begin spring practices. Now, schools will begin to open up for voluntary workouts, but preparation for the upcoming season will be unlike any season we've seen in the past.
Luckily for Florida, the team returns several key, experienced players at positions of importance entering the 2020 season - perhaps giving the Gators an advantage in the SEC. While there are certainly more than five key veterans set to play next season, here are the five we believe are vital for Florida to build upon its successful 2019 campaign.
Quarterback Kyle Trask (R-Sr.)
Returning arguably the SEC's best returning quarterback and what appears to be a more than capable backup behind him, Florida truly couldn't be in a better position at quarterback right now than they are.
Trask, who started ten games for the Gators in place of Feleipe Franks after the latter dislocated his ankle, finished his first year as a starter since his freshman year of high school with 2941 passing yards and 25 touchdowns, completing 66.9% of his passes and throwing only seven interceptions.
Given Trask's performance paired with struggles in the run game, the Gators flipped their offensive script from 2018 and finished with the nation's No. 16 passing offense. Following a shortened offseason, it's easy to assume head coach Dan Mullen will continue following that gameplan with Trask entrenched as the starter.
Now, Trask will enter his first full season as a starter with a new-look receiving corps and hopes for an improved offensive line. Should the two of those factors come together, Trask and Florida can both look to take the next step - Florida towards contending in the SEC, and Trask towards an NFL career.
Wide receiver Trevon Grimes (Sr.)
The presumed leader of Florida's new-look wide receiver corps, Grimes has shown plenty of talent in the past that was simply limited given the talent around him.
In two seasons since transferring to Florida, Grimes has caught 62 of his 88 targets for 875 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 14.1 yards per catch and tallying over half of those yards - 7.5 per reception - after the catch (per Pro Football Focus). Grimes has always provided a big-play threat for Florida, but with four senior receivers, a dominant tight end in Kyle Pitts, and a pass-catching running back in Lamical Perine around him, his opportunities have been limited.
With those four seniors now off to the NFL, and Perine joining them, Grimes is cemented in a starting role and will be expected to put all of his intangibles together to emerge as a dominant playmaker. You can't teach Grimes' size and speed combination, standing at 6-5, 214 lbs. and previously clocking a 4.47 40 yard dash.
Offensive lineman Brett Heggie (R-Sr.)
With 29 game appearances and 19 starts under his belt, Heggie returns as Florida's most experienced offensive lineman following a relatively healthy 2019 season. He missed the Vanderbilt game with a concussion, but otherwise played in a career-high 12 games.
Provided the loss of two-year starter Nick Buchanan to graduation, Heggie could make the transition to his old position at center. His experience could prove vital as the quarterback of the offensive line, and while his play could stand for improvement after allowing 20 quarterback pressures and a pressure rate of 4.29% (per PFF), he still performed well enough to warrant a starting gig going forward.
For reference, Florida's best pressure rate allowed by a multi-game starter in 2019 comes from redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige, at 3.72%. Freshman guard Ethan White gave up pressure on a mere 2.52% of his 119 pass-blocking snaps. Starting at center, Heggie can help ensure that these young contributors are on their game when the unit is on the field.
Defensive tackle Kyree Campbell (Sr.)
While his stats over a 29-game career aren't overly flashy, compiling 88 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, and nine tackles for loss, Campbell's contributions beyond the standard box score are badly needed in the immediate future.
A vocal leader, Campbell can be to the defensive line what we're projecting Heggie to be on the offensive line. Primarily a nose tackle manning in the middle of the trenches, Campbell is set to be surrounded by younger and less experienced talent in 2020.
Strong-side defensive end Zachary Carter gained valuable playing time in place of the injured Jabari Zuniga last season, but otherwise, T.J. Slaton should take on his first opportunity as a starter at three-technique tackle and the BUCK rush end position is open to competition. Returning redshirt senior Jeremiah Moon, Georgia transfer Brenton Cox Jr., and rising sophomores Mohamoud Diabate and Khris Bogle will battle for reps there.
Campbell will be expected to lead the young group, and continue improving his own game. He saw a spike in quarterback pressures in 2019 with 16, compared to eight the season prior, and should be expected to post even more in 2020.
Safety Shawn Davis (Sr.)
The Gators' safety room has been a position of concern for some time now, yet the team returns three players who started multiple games in 2019. Davis is the most proven of the bunch.
The 5-11, 185 lb. defensive back made plays flying around Florida's secondary, intercepting three passes and recording 51 total tackles last year. While Davis wasn't perfect, he returns as Florida's best coverage safety after allowing 62.5% of his 24 targets to be caught - Donovan Stiner follows at 63.6% on only 11 targets, and Brad Stewart Jr. at 71.4% on 14 targets (per PFF).
Davis also allowed an incredible passer rating of 37.8, per PFF, far ahead of his counterparts at safety and ahead of every meaningful defender on the team other than freshman cornerback Kaiir Elam, who came in at 18.3. Some additional insight: A quarterback's passer rating would be 39.6 if they spiked the ball on every snap.
As the safety corps looks to improve, adding two 2020 signees in Rashad Torrence II and Mordecai McDaniel, expectations will be high for Davis to lead the pack.