Can the Florida Gators Salvage Miami Palmetto's Remaining Recruits?
At the beginning of the year, the Florida Gators entered the 2021 recruiting cycle with the expectations to pry talent from Miami Palmetto High School. A school loaded with top prospects interested in Florida, coming on both sides of the ball, the Gators were given a chance to stamp their footprint in recruiting hotbed that is South Florida.
Of the five top prospects set to graduate from Palmetto in 2021, three have committed to the Miami Hurricanes - two coming in as many weeks despite major pushes from Florida's staff. Elite defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, arguably Florida's top priority, pledged to Miami over Florida on Wednesday, while wide receiver Brashard Smith - a former Florida commit - pledged to the Hurricanes on July 26th.
So far, things aren't going so well. But Florida has a chance to right the ship.
Two Palmetto targets remain, in elite cornerback prospect Jason Marshall Jr., and his secondary running mate, safety Corey Collier Jr. Marshall, a consensus five-star, includes Florida in his top five schools, along with Miami, Alabama, LSU, and Oregon. He has yet to announce a commitment date, but shortly following Taylor's commitment, Marshall tweeted:
Collier, meanwhile, is down to Florida, LSU, and Miami. He is set to commit on August 10th.
While losing out on Taylor and Smith stings, the Gators can regain momentum on the trail and exit South Florida pleased with their results in the 2021 cycle should both Marshall and Collier end up in orange and blue.
The Gators have specifically looked to stockpile secondary talent within the class of 2021, and have done well to-date. Currently, four defensive backs are committed in Florida's 2021 class in IMG Academy (Fla.) cornerback Kamar Wilcoxson, Gaither (Fla.) cornerback Jordan Young, Winter Park (Fla.) safety Dakota Mitchell, and Peters Township (Pa.) safety Donovan McMillon. However, Wilcoxson is in the process of reclassifying into the class of 2020 and enrolling at Florida on August 24th, knocking the count down to three defensive backs.
With two cornerbacks and four safeties on pace to graduate following the season, barring a medical waiver adding a sixth year of eligibility for cornerback C.J. McWilliams, defensive back recruiting has arguably never been as important under head coach Dan Mullen as it is right now.
In Marshall, 6-2, 180 lbs., the Gators would be getting an elite, ready-to-play boundary cornerback who wins with physicality and a knack for making plays on the ball in the air, as seen by his five interceptions and 15 defended passes a season ago. Despite the Gators have loaded up at outside cornerback recently, signing three in 2020's class (plus Wilcoxson) and watching true freshman Kaiir Elam emerge in the national spotlight in 2019, Marshall's skill-set should lead to snaps right out of the gate at Florida or wherever he ends up.
Below, you can find a snippet of Marshall's Sports Illustrated All-American scouting report:
Bottom Line: Marshall is the class of the cornerback position in the 2021 recruiting cycle with about all the tools one could ask for. He’s big, fluid, physical and attacks the football with success while it’s in flight. With well advanced coverage technique, he can stand to improve intricacies like back pedal rate and develop into the type of cover man who is responsible for an entire side of the field. He won’t sit very long, if at all, once he gets to a big-time college program.
As for Collier, while the Gators have added two safety commits this year and signed another two last year - three, if you consider Tre'Vez Johnson's projection to STAR nickel cornerback as a body at safety, like Mitchell - the team hasn't added a safety with Collier's skill-set in some time.
At 6-2, 170 lbs., with immensely long arms and range in coverage, Collier profiles as a free safety who can play single-high and allow Florida more flexibility with its coverage and blitz calls. Like Marshall, Collier is a ball-hawk, recording four interceptions and 13 pass breakups as a junior.
More on Collier, from his SIAA scouting report:
Bottom Line: Collier, the son of former Florida State defensive back Cornelius Collier, has the makeup of a versatile secondary prospect with an extremely high floor. His athleticism won’t jump off the page but he compensates with incredible savvy, ball skills and sheer play-making ability that gets defenses off the field on third down. Collier projects as a signal-calling deep safety with the advanced technique to hold up in man coverage as needed.
Getting Marshall and Collier into the mix would not only compensate for the two previous Palmetto misses, but would also solidify Florida's 2021 secondary recruiting by filling the room with two top talents to pair with an already well-put-together class.
The question is: Can the Gators salvage the remaining talent seeping out of Palmetto? The momentum is not in their favor, but the race isn't over yet.