The Florida Gators Need to Find a Dominant Left Tackle Prospect
When Stone Forsythe graduates following the 2020 season, who is going to step into his place at left tackle for the Florida Gators?
As things stand, at least according to Florida's depth chart, the job is projected to go to rising redshirt senior T.J. Moore - who has 38 career snaps at right guard and seven at right tackle in his offensive playing career.
When sophomore interior offensive lineman Ethan White returns from injury, the lineup could shuffle around. Redshirt sophomore Richard Gouraige spent 109 snaps at left tackle, with Forsythe on the right, in 2019 to go with 452 snaps at left guard, making that a possible combination to get White into the mix.
Even at that point, though, Gouraige would be on track to start at left tackle full-time as a fourth-year player. Moore would be in his final year of eligibility. Other than Issiah Walker - who transferred to Miami less than five months after signing in the class of 2020, and wasn't a lock to play left tackle in the first place - the Gators haven't landed a left tackle prospect via recruiting since Dan Mullen and his coaching staff took over.
That isn't a recipe for success in the SEC. Even in a year where passing offenses have taken off within the conference, a dominant left tackle to protect the quarterback and establish the run can elevate the play of an entire line, if they're good enough. Andrew Thomas was that guy for Georgia over the last few years before becoming a top five NFL Draft pick. Alex Leatherwood is that guy for Alabama right now, following NFL Draft picks Jonah Williams, Cam Robinson, and others before him for the Crimson Tide.
The Gators have been in play for a bookend tackle over the course of offensive line coach John Hevesy's second stint at UF. The Gators were at one point in the mix for left tackles Amarius Mims (Georgia commit), Micah Morris (Georgia), Caleb Johnson (Auburn), Diego Pounds (North Carolina), and others, but couldn't close in what wasn't the strongest year at the position coming out of high school.
Florida's 2021 haul bears several intriguing offensive line commits, with Adrein Strickland and Javonte Gardner both owning experience at left tackle. It wouldn't be surprising to see either end up on the interior considering their skill-set, however Gardner does have a lot of potential on the outside.
The class of 2020 offered Walker, Joshua Braun, and Gerald Mincey as options at tackle, but it may only be Mincey who sticks on the outside for UF. Along with Walker's departure, Braun, 6-foot-6, 340-pounds, has already ascended into the No. 2 right guard spot on Florida's depth chart as a true freshman. Mincey is a solid developmental talent for the tackle position, like Gardner, but its unclear what his ceiling is and if he's better suited on the left or right at this point.
Michael Tarquin, who currently serves as Jean Delance's backup on the right side, enrolled alongside William Harrod in the class of 2019. Harrod played left tackle in high school but has yet to play an offensive snap for Florida or crack the two-deep in 2020. Wardrick Wilson signed in the same class and had left tackle potential, but never enrolled due to a visa issue and was raw as a prospect with minimal football experience.
Gouraige was a top-rated tackle in the class of 2018, signing shortly after Mullen and Hevesy came to Florida, which provides some short term optimism.
However, Florida has yet to acquire a left tackle who could own the spot shortly after arriving on campus as SEC powerhouses tend to find, much less a true left tackle since Gouraige signed several classes ago.
There aren't many, if any, options left in the class of 2021. Yousef Mugharbil (Murphy, N.C.) is a top target for the Gators, but he, like Strickland and Gardner, profiles well as an interior lineman. Pair those three with Jake Slaughter and Deyavie Hammond (JUCO) and you've built plenty of depth this cycle, but it's still missing that dominant blind-side protector.
It's worth noting, the next four quarterbacks in line for Florida after redshirt senior starter Kyle Trask - Emory Jones, Anthony Richardson, and commit Carlos Del Rio and Jalen Kitna - are right-handed. That emphasizes the need for long-term help and depth at left tackle.
As the class of 2022 kicks off following signing day, one of Florida's biggest needs will be left tackle. Perhaps the Gators could even take two within the cycle to shore the position up for years to come. But going another year without help at the position could spell trouble.