Photo: Gators defensive line coach David Turner, defensive end Justus Boone; Credit: GatorVision
Florida was able to patch up roster holes on the defensive line for the short-term via the transfer portal this offseason, acquiring former Penn State defensive tackle Antonio Shelton and former Auburn defensive tackle Daquan Newkirk.
The long-term outlook on the Gators' defensive line, however, remains a priority to address via high school recruiting. Florida already possesses one commit along the tenches in the class of 2022 in Edison (Fla.) defensive end Francois Nolton Jr., and looks to add more before the cycle comes to a close.
After already taking a look at some quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive linemen worth monitoring early on in the class of 2022, we'll flip to the defensive side of the ball today and begin with the defensive ends.
It's worth remembering that Florida's multiple-front defense considers its weak-side edge rusher as an outside linebacker, so today we'll primarily focus on strong-side defensive end prospects and save BUCK rush end for its own article.
Francois Nolton Jr. (committed)
Nolton Jr. is the second prospect currently committed to UF in the class of 2022, the lone defender and also a teammate of fellow Gators commit, wide receiver Syveion Ellis. Nolton Jr. pledged to the Gators earlier in February after sitting on an offer from Florida dating back to April 2020.
The 6-foot-4, 233 pound defensive end makes his money off of the edge, where he utilizes an explosive first step to quickly engage offensive tackles with an efficient bull rush before pressuring the quarterback. Nolton Jr. has shown the ability to rush as a stand-up edge rusher and with his hand in the dirt, displaying solid run-stopping as he continues to add strength and beef to his long frame.
Nolton Jr. will look to expand his pass-rushing arsenal given the length and athleticism that he possesses, which can be done with proper development under UF's defensive line coach David Turner.
At this rate, Nolton Jr. may not make an impact the day he sets foot on campus, but he is an intriguing developmental defensive end who could turn into a playmaker along the Gators' front.
Another lengthy defensive end prospect, Thompson is an elite athlete for his 6-foot-4, 230 pound and Lakeland (Fla.) has utilized that to its advantage on both offense and defense. However, Thompson profiles best as a defensive end and has the traits to turn into a great one, at that.
Thompson possesses an imposing stature with immense length and room to add plenty of weight at the next level, likely up to 20 pounds before losing any substantial amount of his speed and agility. He utilizes his speed in pursuit of ball-carriers both in the backfield and down the field as plays are extended.
Thompson has proven capable at dipping beneath blockers to utilize a rip move and has employed a nasty cross-chop move on tape. Although he has a couple of impressive pass rush moves in his back pocket, he can certainly add more given his athletic prowess. He also displays solid strength at times that can be further developed as he adds weight.
Lakeland has positioned Thompson as an end, a standing rusher, and even three-technique defensive tackle. So long as he pans out as projected, he could easily play those three positions in different packages at the next level, and maybe even earn a rep or two at tight end, which he has done effectively as a blocker and receiver in high school.
Thompson is the teammate of star 2022 defensive tackle Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, who will be evaluated in a coming story that focuses on his position. Florida originally offered Thompson in April 2020.
White is one of two defensive line prospects that Florida covets from Cedar Grove (Ga.), along with defensive tackle Christen Miller, who will be discussed further when we break down defensive tackle prospects.
The 6-foot-4, 240 pound defensive end is a solid athlete but perhaps not as explosive as those listed previously. White utilizes his strength well, though, and is technical in his hand usage to defeat blocks beyond the original point of attack in order to make up for a lack of explosion. White has shown the ability to defeat double-team blocks as such and continues to wreak havoc in the backfield.
White is also an attentive rusher as he keeps his eyes disciplined and in-sync with the ball at most times, another benefit that can make up for not being the most explosive player at his position. When he makes contact, White packs a punch and can deliver a blow as he brings ball-carriers to the ground.
UF sent an offer White's way in May 2020, two months following Miller's scholarship offer from Florida.
The likelihood of Stewart pledging to Florida is, well, it isn't likely. A dominant in-state prospect, however, Stewart had to be included on the board of considerable defensive ends for UF.
Florida offered Stewart during its March 2020 junior day event, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic shut down in-person recruiting. LSU, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Georgia, and other top programs were already in the mix at that point, and schools such as Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson have joined since.
Stewart, 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, is considered a future first-round NFL Draft pick by some evaluators as a junior in high school, a testament to his rare talents. Although he possesses ready-to-play size, Stewart should only get bigger as he fills out a long frame and could eventually play inside-and-out on a given defensive line. He's explosive, quick in pursuit, strong at the point of attack, relentless through contact thanks to powerful, constantly churning footwork, and violent within the proximity of the ball carrier to create tackles for loss and sacks.
His technique will need continual development in college in order to make the best use of his explosiveness and length, but that can be done. With such development, Stewart can become one of college football's most dominant edge rushers in a short period of time.