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Three Questions About Florida Gators Wide Receivers in 2022

The Florida Gators head into 2022 with plenty of unresolved questions at the wide receiver position, but how close might they find themselves to answering them?

Photo: Keary Colbert and Florida's wide receivers; Credit: Zach Goodall

For the Florida Gators in 2022, the wide receiver position is perhaps one of the more intriguing of the lot. Not because of the immense talent expected to be thrust into the depth chart, but due to the unknowns that are brought with a change at the position and young talent being forced to step up.

With spring football squarely in the rearview mirror, and not much going on in the realm of college sports, we at AllGators decided to take a jab at going over various position groups and the three pressing questions for each room.

We've already covered the quarterback and running back rooms and will continue on the offensive side of the ball, posing three questions in need of answers by the time the season gets underway at wide receiver.

Here are three questions about the Gators' wide receivers entering 2022.

Is there a No. 1 receiver on the roster?

It's college football, there's typically not a No. 1 receiver on many teams due to the heavy rotation that programs utilize. Still, that has been even more the case with the Gators over the past few seasons under former Florida head coach Dan Mullen and his staff.

The team has often utilized a deep rotation, typically around 4-5 players that will see targets on a game-by-game basis. This season, though, it is not yet known how Florida will ultimately utilize the team's pass-catchers, especially with an emphasis on the run game that new head coach Billy Napier will be sure to bring to Gainesville.

This will be expanded on later, but with Napier will come some changes to the team's offense this season. During his tenure at Louisiana, Napier's offenses ran the football 2065 times, while throwing the ball just 1,471 times.

That comes out to around 59:41 in terms of run-to-pass ratio, which means there will likely be an emphasis in that area moving forward.

With that being said, Florida will rely heavily on 21 personnel, a run-heavy formation featuring two tight ends, one running back and just two receivers on any given formation. Of course, that won't be the only formation the program is likely to run, just the most common.

With that, the receiver who will dominate those repetitions will need to be adept at both pass-catching and run-blocking.

One receiver who makes sense to be solid in those areas is redshirt junior WR Justin Shorter, who was the team's second-leading receiver last year with 550 yards on 41 receptions, tied for the lead with now-Maryland WR Jacob Copeland.

Shorter, listed at 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, also has been often used on the perimeter of the team's offense, and was the best blocker in the room in 2021 with more than 74 reps, according to Pro Football Focus. 

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Shorter has by far the most experience on the team in the room and makes sense to become the veteran and leader of the pack moving forward.

How much will the Gators feature the WR position?  

How much Florida will even feature a receiver in the team's new offense will be something to look for moving forward, too. As mentioned previously, Napier's offenses at UL relied heavily on the run game, and it's likely to do so again while at Florida.

Even while considering the 59:41 split, Napier's receivers didn't get much action to begin with.

In 2018, Napier's leading receiver was Ryheem Malone who accounted for just 44 receptions for 525 yards, the next leader was Ja'Marcus Bradley with 40 receptions for 608 yards. No one else topped 349 yards receiving.

In 2019, Napier's receivers jumped up a bit with Bradley leading the pack without Malone on the roster, accounting for 60 receptions for 906 yards. The team's next leader would be WR Jamal Bell who would net 34 receptions for 445 yards. The team didn't have anyone else above 405 yards on the year.

Over the next two seasons, the receiver position would regress with the program spreading the ball out much more and relying heavily on the run game. UL's leading receiver in 2020 would catch just 28 passes for 364 yards in 11 games, while two other receivers topped 334 yards on the year.

In 2021, the position group would yet again be spread thin with the leading receiver, Peter LeBlanc netting 37 receptions for 417 yards.

Simply put, there was a lot of action for multiple players, but no one truly stood out near the end of Napier's tenure, and with the Florida depth chart as it stands today, there could be some expectations of similar results to follow. It shouldn't be expected that the Gators' WR position is relied on too heavily.

How much can the WR room change with a transfer?

Florida is a bit behind the eight-ball in terms of player acquisition at the receiver position, with just one true receiver, Caleb Douglas, set to join the team via the 2022 recruiting class this fall. That means the team that lost Copeland to the transfer portal hasn't really done much to bolster the current group.

On the roster, the receivers that are returning and set to play major roles include Shorter, Trent Whittemore, Xzavier Henderson, Ja'Quavion Fraziars and Marcus Burke. The team has also converted former cornerback Fenley Graham Jr. to the WR position this spring, which exemplifies the attrition the team is dealing with.

Adding more talent is likely a priority moving forward, and there's at least one receiver in the transfer portal that can assist in the area — Arizona State WR Ricky Pearsall, who is currently being pursued by the Gators and several other programs around the country.

Pearsall offers Florida something they really don't have much of on the roster currently, proven speed-in-space, something that can help the team move forward with yards-after-catch and other areas.     

Pearsall spent 40% of his time last season in the slot, and is listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, a lighter mold of receiver than Florida is used to. He also accounted for 283 YAC last year. For context, Florida's best YAC receiver last year was tight end Kemore Gamble with 229 YAC.

Adding a player like Pearsall could alter Florida's receiving corps for the better, allowing Napier and his staff to get a bit more creative moving forward as they look to fill the room with talented athletes in the future.

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