Gators Recruiting: Making Sense of Florida's Defensive Backs Numbers
The Florida Gators have been hot on the 2021 recruiting trail over the past few weeks, and with now-four defensive backs added - three over the past two weeks -, many are speculating whether or not it could become too many.
Thus far, the Gators have received verbal commitments from four defensive backs in the 2021 recruiting class, including Clinton Burton Jr., Kamar Wilcoxson, Jordan Young and Dakota Mitchell. There are also potential commitments looming within the position group such as Donovan McMillon, Corey Collier and five-star cornerback Jason Marshall - all players have the Gators in their "top" teams, currently.
While it is not yet clear whether or not any or all will commit to the Gators, they are all still viewed highly on their presumptive recruiting board.
Since Dan Mullen became the Gators' head coach in 2018, Florida is tied with Mississippi State, funny enough, for the most commitments from defensive backs in the SEC with 15, including any transfers. For context, the rest of the SEC recruited defensive backs as follows: Alabama (14), Kentucky (14), Ole Miss (14), Missouri (12), South Carolina (12), Georgia (11), Texas A&M (11), Vanderbilt (11), Tennessee (10), Arkansas (9), Auburn (9) and LSU (8).
All numbers provided include transfers and all players as listed on 247Sports' database as of the end of the recruiting cycle of that given year. It is also worth noting that some of the players originally slated to be apart of a given class may not have made it to campus either due to transferring or otherwise.
In 2020, the most recent incoming recruiting class, the Gators recruited seven total defensive backs. Only Missouri (2019), has brought in an equal amount of defensive backs in a single cycle.
On the surface, it seems as though the Gators are bringing in an excessive number of defensive backs - something not all teams have to or have been shown to do in the past - for an erratic reason. However, the reasoning actually could lie in how the team uses its defensive backs schematically.
For the Gators over the past three seasons under Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the team has operated primarily in a nickel-based defense with three cornerbacks on the field. Typically, a team deploys three linebackers, however with the ever-growing spread offenses around the nation, Florida - along with other teams - have begun to use three cornerbacks as their primary base package.
One more unconventional playing style the Gators deploy has been their dependency on multiple safeties being used in a given game, often splitting time between four separate players depending on the scenario.
Last season, the Gators utilized their safeties quite equally compared to their top competitors. Donovan Stiner drew 396 snaps while Shawn Davis (494), Brad Stewart Jr. (295), and Jaewon Taylor (434) all had a similar amount of playing time.
By comparison, all of Georgia, LSU and Alabama played their safeties on a "normal" snap count last season.
Alabama's Xavier McKinney (827 snaps) and Jared Mayden (800), LSU's Jacoby Stevens (979) and Grant Delpit (885), and Georgia's Richard LeCounte (820) and J.R. Reed (754), all played near fully allotted snap counts during the 2019 season.
While injuries did play a factor at times, Grantham and safeties coach Ron English stood firm in their beliefs: Deploying the best players, regardless of "starter" status during a given game or series.
“We just felt like with the guys that we have, they all have talent, they all have ability. It’s better to play all four of those guys say in the 40s as opposed to a couple guys 75 or 80,” Grantham said last season. “I mean, trying to keep guys fresh. So really it’s just a matter of trying to keep guys fresh and into what we’re doing. We have the luxury of having four guys that we can do that.”
With the amount of emphasis the team places on defenses backs within its scheme, it makes sense why the team may bring in such a large number in a given cycle. Not only will the players who enroll at Florida receive playing time, but they'll also be highly featured within a defense that relies on safeties and cornerbacks as their primary back-seven.