D.J. Humphries will make Gators fans forget about Xavier Nixon.
Every year a few surprise stars emerge, and after a massive talent exodus, the Florida Gators will need to find some breakout stars in 2013.
Luckily for Will Muschamp, that shouldn't be a problem.
Florida's head coach has done a tremendous job recruiting and developing talent during his two-year tenure in Gainesville. Under his watch, the program produced All-Americans Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam, Caleb Sturgis and Kyle Christy and countless other NFL-bound studs like Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Mike Gillislee.
And while many of those players were recruited by Urban Meyer, let's not forget how Muschamp coaxed the best out of Josh Evans, Omar Hunter and Xavier Nixon in 2012.
If Florida hopes to build on a fantastic 2012 season, Muschamp and his staff will have to find this year's Loucheiz Purifoy—a breakout star who made countless game-changing plays.
Let's take a look at which Gators will rise to the challenge in 2013.
Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Sophomore
From Jarvis Moss to Derrick Harvey to Carlos Dunlap, the Gators have consistently relied on a stud pass-rusher. After a very solid freshman campaign, expect Dante Fowler Jr. to become a household name in the SEC in 2013.
The former 5-star recruit spurned rival Florida State for the greener pastures in Gainesville and turned out to be a key cog in Florida's defensive line rotation. The 6'3", 277-pound edge defender recorded 30 tackles (eight for loss) and 2.5 sacks filling in at Buck linebacker and defensive end.
Blessed with tremendous speed, a quick get-off and an array of pass-rush moves, Fowler should have no problem replacing Lerentee McCray.
In fact, he should be a significant upgrade.
Earning so many quality snaps should prove invaluable for the talented pass-rusher, who has the strength and body frame to be a complete edge defender. He could start at defensive end or Buck linebacker, but will probably stick at the former since Ronald Powell will be returning from an ACL injury.
Wherever he lines up, Fowler should prove to be a devastating force and a nightmare for SEC offensive lines.
Antonio Morrison, LB, Sophomore
Another freshman who made an instant impact, linebacker Antonio Morrison proved to be more than capable of filling in for a banged-up Jelani Jenkins.
Despite his small frame (6'1", 218 pounds), the Illinois native played much bigger than his size and punished ball-carriers. Drawing three starts and playing in all 13 games, Morrison posted 34 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.
However, those numbers could triple in 2013 as he takes over at weakside linebacker.
Because of his tremendous speed, hitting ability and instincts, the former 4-star recruit should emerge as the Gators' best linebacker. Typically, the weakside 'backer is free to roam from sideline to sideline and make a ton of tackles—a responsibility that Morrison will have no trouble living up to.
While Jenkins was a very productive player for the Gators, Morrison will be a star, beginning in 2013.
D.J. Humphries, LT, Sophomore
The fact that three rising sophomores make the cut speaks to just how tremendous Florida's 2012 recruiting class was.
While Fowler and Jonathan Bullard were the Gators' top defensive recruits, left tackle D.J. Humphries was the shining jewel of the class. And after earning three starts and proving to be a valuable backup as a freshman, there's no doubt the top tackle recruit will become a Swamp stud in 2013.
Blessed with tremendous athleticism to complement a svelte 6'6", 275-pound frame, Humphries has all the gifts in the world to develop into an All-American left tackle.
The first few steps of that journey began in 2012, but expect Xavier Nixon's replacement to take a huge leap forward next season. Humphries' only discernible weakness was his lack of strength, but with a full offseason in the weight room he should hopefully be around the 300-pound mark.
With added bulk and a year of experience under his belt, Jeff Driskel's blindside protector will quickly become the second-best offensive tackle in the SEC behind Texas A&M's Jake Matthews.
Unfortunately for SEC defensive linemen, it won't be long before Humphries surpasses him.