Ranking the Florida Gators Most Important 2020 Offensive Skill Players
Plenty of 2019's contributors return to Florida for the 2020 season. But at the offensive skill positions, there is quite a bit of turnover.
Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales loses four of his top five guys in Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Josh Hammond, and Tyrie Cleveland. Meanwhile, the running back room loses the senior leadership of Lamical Perine.
So, with five of UF's top offensive playmakers gone to the NFL Draft, who are the five most important guys that need to fill those voids? As Florida looks to build upon its success as the No. 16 passing offense in the nation in 2019, there will be high expectations for several contributors.
5. WR Kadarius Toney
The fourth-year wide receiver has made a plethora of plays since his freshman season with the Gators. However, he has yet to establish himself as an every-down pass catcher.
The Mobile, Alabama, native has been a gadget guy throughout most of his contribution. Coach Dan Mullen and Gonzales have had to specifically draw up plays designed for Toney, often screens, reverses, Wildcat sets out of the backfield, and so on. His most important contribution in 2020 will need to be availability on every down, after missing six games last year and lacking consistency as a receiver in 2018.
If Toney can work within the flow of the offense more and not have to be schemed into the game, Gator fans can watch plenty of this in his senior year.
4. WR Trevon Grimes
The Ohio State transfer has caught 59 balls for 855 yards and five touchdowns in his two seasons with the Gators thus far. This season, the weight on his shoulders will be significantly heavier.
Grimes in all likelihood will emerge as the No. 1 receiver for UF. He needs to be the guy that defenses have to pay extra attention to to get guys like Toney and Jacob Copeland open. According to Pro Football Focus, Grimes was a deep threat and explosive after the catch last season, averaging 14.9 yards per catch and turning 23 receptions into first downs.
Alongside Copeland, Grimes is a do-it-all wide receiver. He can catch screens and make plays in space and be a downfield threat as well. Grimes' route running isn't up to par with Jefferson's, but it has improved during his time at UF. That type of versatility should give defensive coordinators fits all year.
3. WR Jacob Copeland
Copeland is higher on this list than Grimes because of how Mullen's offense works. Florida likes to spread the ball around to different receivers within the passing game and not rely too much on one guy. That could be seen in 2019 as eight pass catchers caught at least 20 passes.
So, Copeland needs to be that second wide receiver that has big games when teams key in on Grimes. Quarterback Kyle Trask enjoyed a rare luxury last season in college football of multiple weapons with tons of experience. To emulate that feeling, it is imperative that Copeland takes a big leap.
Coming out of high school, Copeland produced freakishly good testing numbers with a 4.44 40 yard dash and a 37.4" vertical jump. We've seen flashes of his athletic potential come together at times such as his three reception, 89 yard, and one touchdown game against South Carolina in 2019. Those performances must now become consistent.
2. TE Kyle Pitts
Pitts is Florida's most talented returning player at perhaps any position. He emerged last season as a serious mismatch for any defense given his size and speed combination and was truly a headache to defend. He caught 54 passes for 649 yards and five touchdowns in 2020, often scoring on well-executed routes across the middle of the field.
The only reason Pitts is not No. 1 on this list is because, barring injury, he is essentially guaranteed to be a top tight end in all of college football anyway. Mock drafts and early rankings for next season from ESPN, PFF, and others are already dubbing Pitts a first-round talent and his rapport with Trask is obvious.
Again, barring injury, Gator fans will in all likelihood enjoy plenty of this in 2020.
1. RB Dameon Pierce
It was obvious that Florida struggled to run the ball in 2019. The Gators averaged 4.3 yards per carry in 2019, down a yard from 2018's 5.3 and ranking 117th in FBS rushing yards per game. That simply cannot happen again in 2020 with four wide receivers departing.
That is why Pierce is No. 1 on this list. The biggest improvement UF can make this coming season is in the running game and Pierce's bruising, direct style of running can do just the trick. While the Gators' offensive line struggled in run blocking last season, Pierce's aggressive rushing style compared to Perine's elusive play ended up being more effective as Pierce averaged 5.6 yards per carry compared to Perine's 5.1.
Should the Gators' line improve to the point where Florida can balance out run and pass, this could end up being a career year for Pierce as the leader of Florida's backfield. He's found success in a limited sample size and looks continue doing so in a much bigger role.