A good number of key players from this past season's resurgent Florida Gators are headed to the NFL draft.
Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd, Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic, and Lerentee McCray are a few of the major defensive contributors who fit into this category. With so many people leaving Gainesville, it may seem like the Gators are going to be extremely thin at a few positions, including linebacker.
Fear not, Gator fans. Help is now on the way, and its name is Alex Anzalone.
According to rivals.com, Anzalone is the 50th-ranked recruit in the entire country. He starred as a linebacker and running back for Wyomissing Area in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. He was named Pennsylvania Class AA Player of the Year as he led the Spartans to an undefeated season and a victory over Aliquippa in the state title game.
Until this past week, he had committed to Brian Kelly's Notre Dame squad. However, he has decided to decommit, opting to enroll early in Gainesville instead.
That's enough personal history, however. We're here to talk about his future with Florida.
The combination of Anzalone's raw skills and the aforementioned departures will give him the chance to make an immediate impact for Will Muschamp's defense.
Florida will have depth at linebacker, especially with the arrivals of Daniel McMillian, Matt Rolin and, of course, Anzalone. The problem is the lack of experience at the position. Because the Gators do not have a surplus of upperclassman linebackers, these youngsters should see plenty of action.
Because Anzalone is enrolling early, he is at an immediate advantage. He has some extra time to learn the playbook and get acquainted with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's system.
Anzalone's skills and build should allow him to become an absolute force for the Gators.
At 6'3" and about 230 pounds, he's slightly taller than Rolin and bulkier than McMillan. According to his high school coach, Bob Wolfrum, he has "power, speed and explosion...probably the best thing is he has a head for the game."
He also has good lateral movement and a knack for locating the ball-carrier, which is evidenced by the fact that he recorded over 100 tackles his senior season. All of these traits add up to Anzalone becoming a stud for Florida's defense.
Although he may not immediately win the starting job, Anzalone should see playing time during the Gators' non-conference schedule next season. That schedule contains two easily winnable games against Toledo and Georgia Southern, games in which we will definitely get a great look at Anzalone.
That's not to say he won't be seen quite a bit during conference play. I truly believe Anzalone could easily climb to the top of Florida's depth chart early on. He has the most upside and the best skill set of any of Florida's new linebacker recruits.
He could easily make a name for himself as one of the best freshmen in the SEC, especially on defense.
With Jeff Driskel still trying to grasp Florida's offense and improve his decision-making, the Gator defense will once again need to be the difference-maker in their games next season.
While I don't expect it to be as good as last year's unit, this year's defense will be young and hungry. One of the safest bets to become a star from this inexperienced crop of linebackers is Anzalone. With an early start in Gainesville and his ability to be a potential game-changer, he should quickly establish himself as a player to watch in the SEC.