Florida Football: Power Ranking Every Unit for the Gators
After winning two national championships in three seasons and finishing with 13 wins three times in four years, the Gators have struggled to the tune of a 15-11 record in the past two seasons.
The fall is always harder from the top, and Gator fans certainly felt every bit of it.
But the 2012 season brings new hope to GatorNation. With two recruiting classes under his belt, Will Muschamp is starting to bring in the kind of players he needs to run his style of offense and defense. The Gators have a wealth of young, talented players that fans can get excited about.
Speaking of players that the fans can get excited about, let's take a look at each unit, offense and defense, and power rank them heading into 2012.
In attempting to put the different units into place, I took into account the depth at the position, the talent at the position, past performance and the projected depth chart for each unit.
Without further ado, here are your 2012 Florida Gators power ranked by unit.
10. Wide Receiver
There is little explanation necessary for this unit. The unit as a whole had just 76 receptions last year, 10 fewer than the leading receiver at Boise State. The unit also loses their leading receiver, Deonte Thompson (21), and are still searching for consistent playmakers at the position.
While the team was dealt a blow when they lost Nelson Agholor and Stefon Diggs late in the recruiting process, they seem to have found a diamond in the rough in Latroy Pittman.
The unit will most likely receive a boost under new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, but was clearly the worst in 2011 and has done little to change that notion so far in the offseason.
9. Running Back
Running back finds itself this low on the list due to the players that left and the lack of depth at the position.
There was so little depth this spring that Omarius Hines and Chris Johnson were brought in to help carry the load.
Mike Gillislee is poised for a breakout season after waiting patiently for three seasons. Gillislee will not have to do all of the work on his own as freshman Matt Jones will soon be on campus and will contend for serious playing time right away.
John Brantley going down for a month last season was a blessing in disguise for the Gators.
Brantley's injury forced both Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett into action against some top notch opponents. Although neither had very much success, they have both taken snaps against SEC opponents and will be better in 2012 for it.
The Gators added some depth by adding Skyler Mornhinweg late in the recruiting cycle, but the quarterback battle remains a two-man race.
7. Tight End
Losing A.C. Leonard for an undisclosed amount of time after being arrested on battery charges hurts the Gators at tight end, but relief is on the way.
Both Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson are on the way, and they will pair nicely with Jordan Reed.
Reed and Taylor are both built in the Aaron Hernandez mold and will be targeted often in the passing game. Thompson still have some developing to do before he becomes a receiving threat, but will be able to get on the field due to his blocking ability.
The Gators will soon have three quality tight ends and a fourth when Leonard gets his act together.
Fullback comes in at six on the list mainly due to the versatility that the position will bring to the offense.
Hunter Joyer gives the Gators a big, physical, bruising, prototypical fullback who can not only block, but can carry the ball in short yardage situations.
In stark contrast to Joyer, Trey Burton gives the Gators a receiving threat out of the backfield. In his time at Florida, Burton has played all over the field, but will make his biggest impact in 2012 at fullback.
5. Special Teams
Florida returned four kickoffs and punts for touchdowns and had another called back due to a holding call on the opposite side of the field. The Gators have a return team that should be feared, as well as a punt blocking unit who will miss Chris Rainey, but still have players who can get to the punter. Florida finished tied for sixth in the nation with six punt blocks a season ago.
Along with dangerous return men, the Gators will have a Lou Groza-nominated kicker in Caleb Sturgis. Sturgis has battled injuries the past two seasons, but the Gators added a quality kicker in Austin Hardin who will eventually replace Sturgis as the place kicker.
4. Offensive Line
The offensive line was one of the biggest reasons the Gators struggled last season, but were one of the most impressive units this offseason.
Xavier Nixon is finally healthy and will look to return to his freshman form as a senior, while the line will enjoy the consistency that Jon Halapio and Jonathan Harrison bring at right guard and center. Along with those three players who have been around the program for a couple years, the Gators had two early enrollees who impressed coaches this spring in Jessamen Dunker and D.J. Humphries.
Dunker is closer to starting than Humphries currently, but both could see a lot of playing time this year. The biggest area of improvement to the line has been depth. The Gators offensive line was thin last year, partly because of injury, but also lacked numbers overall.
2012 will be a bounce-back statement year for the offensive line.
3. Defensive Line
Losing Ronald Powell is a big blow to this unit, but with a four to six-month rehab prognosis, it appears he will not be lost for the entire season.
The unit will also be getting back Dominique Easley after he tore his ACL at the end of last season. Along with the return of Easley, the Gators added seven defensive linemen in the 2012 recruiting cycle and finally will have the kind of depth that Muschamp desperately wanted a season ago.
Among the seven freshmen, Jonathan Bullard, Dante Fowler, Jr. and Damien Jacobs will all contend for early playing time and could potentially become starters.
The Gators have one of the most talented and potentially great lines in the SEC and should be one of the best units on the team in 2012.
2. Defensive Backs
Led by safety Matt Elam, the defensive back was easily the youngest unit on the team in 2011. The Gators started two freshmen for most of the year, along with several sophomores.
The unit struggled somewhat in creating turnovers, but have been stressing the importance of creating them all offseason.
Joining the already strong core group are All-Americans Marcus Maye and Brian Poole. Both Poole and Maye will see playing time as freshmen and give the Gators unbelievable depth at DB.
The Gators have one of the most, if not the most talented group of linebackers in the country. Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins are both NFL talents, and the addition of Antonio Morrison and Jeremi Powell bring solid depth to the position.
Jelani Jenkins dropped seven interceptions in 2011 and has been working relentlessly to improve his hands. If Jenkins can improve his hands in 2012, he will break out and become one of the best coverage outside linebackers in the nation.
The loss of Powell might cause Lerentee McCray to slide from his SAM linebacker spot to BUCK, but Morrison and Michael Taylor seem ready to step up and fill the void at SAM.
Other than Latroy Pittman, Morrison was easily the most impressive early enrollee and has the potential to become the next great Florida linebacker.