Scouting Report: Florida DB Commit Mordecai McDaniel
While the Florida Gators have found success at the cornerback position as of late, with four true freshmen earning starting roles dating back to the 2017 season, the Gators haven't had the same luck at the safety position.
The emergence of Shawn Davis gives Florida a solid starter who won't let you down in coverage and can make some plays in the box and flats against the run. However, Davis' athletic potential limits him from being a rangy, playmaking safety against the deep ball.
The same can be said of the less consistent Donovan Stiner and Brad Stewart, and without much potential at the position on the roster otherwise, safety was a huge need for Florida in the 2020 recruiting cycle.
So, when Florida received word of Mordecai McDaniel's commitment, joined with the previous commitment of Rashad Torrence II and Trevez Johnson, you can bet there was a sigh of relief in the building.
The 6-1, 195 lb. safety is a talented, lengthy, and physical prospect out of the Washington, DC area, with a track background. He has all the molding of an elite safety, and with further development in coverage at Florida, he could become just that.
Run defense, tackling, and athleticism
The two most polished aspects of McDaniel's game are his speed and his willingness to tackle. McDaniel is on record running a 55 meter in 6.54 seconds, and that track speed can be seen all over his tape.
Splitting deep zones at safety, about 13 yards off the line of scrimmage and dropping back about 20 yards, McDaniel keeps the route concepts ahead of him in order to prevent a deep ball, reacting timely to a post route thrown to the middle of the field.
While the weakside linebacker makes the first contact after the pass is completed, the receiver slips by and McDaniel closes on the ball carrier to wrap up and finish the play before he can advance any further. McDaniel shows off his read and reaction skills to underneath routes, and finishes with a big tackle.
McDaniel's physicality is going to win him snaps early on in his career at Florida, especially on special teams (more on that later). McDaniel bluffs an A-gap blitz on the clip above, but certainly has the size and skill-set to pulls those off in the future.
He backs off, and works his way to seal off the second level of the opposite A-gap, where McDaniel sheds a block off of the left tackle, who is combo blocking. McDaniel rips the offensive lineman off to hold onto inside leverage, and stuffs the second effort on the run.
Given McDaniel's size, athleticism, and physicality, it's no wonder that the St. John's defense often lined him up in the box to set the edge against the run. McDaniel plants his inside foot and turns the corner sharply to make an impact in the backfield.
Florida doesn't play a ton of Cover 3, which places a safety in the box, so expect McDaniel to take some snaps at STAR nickel cornerback from time to time in his UF career.
Florida's safeties and STAR have struggled with defending screen passes in the flats, especially making tackles to prevent long gains. McDaniel has the awareness to pick up on screens quickly and shoot down the field to make a stop, or angle himself to slow the runner down. He'll provide the Gators with an upgrade in that respect.
After scanning through McDaniel's available HUDL film, there weren't many examples of the prospect in man coverage or directly being targeted by the quarterback other than the play above. However, this play displays several positive aspects of his coverage game.
This is a man coverage rep, which you can tell as McDaniel turns upfield while keeping his body pointed towards the receiver to the outside. That technique prevents the receiver from breaking inside as McDaniel has created a boundary that he controls.
With disciplined vision and solid footwork, McDaniel mirrors the receiver through the route break and remains toe-to-toe on the outside comeback route, a route that is generally impossible to cover when working on the inside of the receiver.
In a Cover 4 look, McDaniel plays strong safety to the trips side, which leaves the free safety responsible for deep crossing patterns to the backside of the play given there is only one receiver to his side.
However, the free safety gets a bit deep and outside, opening up the deep post as the linebacker gets beat underneath. However, McDaniel covers ground after the ball is released and knocks the ball out of possession before as the receiver attempts to bring it in. While McDaniel isn't getting targeted in this play, he prevents a big gain with a quick reaction and covering ground with speed.
McDaniel has previous experience at cornerback, and on offense as a receiver as well. That experience will be a huge bonus as he develops at safety in Gainesville, especially knowledge feeling of how receivers run certain routes so he can better defend them.
As you most likely assumed, McDaniel's speed makes him a valuable asset for the future of Florida's special teams unit. McDaniel returned kicks, and served on both the kickoff and punt block unit - blocking several punts along the way. His pure speed will enable Florida to play him on special teams early and often while they replace senior talent in all phases.
The Florida Gators have landed a fantastic strong safety prospect in Mordecai McDaniel, who plays instinctually and brings excellent size, strength, and speed to the table. Expect him to make a drastic impact on Florida's run defense and be a key member of third down defenses for the Gators in the future, perhaps even playing the STAR position.
McDaniel is the type of player to skip a redshirt year, simply because his game will translate to special teams stardom. Expect to see him play across the unit throughout his career, given his speed and physique.
This is a huge get for Florida, especially considering the Gators flipped McDaniel from an SEC foe in the Tennessee Volunteers. He should start for the Gators defensively early in his career.