Will Muschamp and his staff have put together an excellent class.
After a season during which Florida surprised the entire college football world by threatening for a spot in the BCS title game, the plan of coach Will Muschamp and the rest of his staff shifted to luring some of the country's best high school players for the 2013 season. Muschamp had not necessarily proven himself to be a superior recruiter, so he faced his fair share of critics leading into this past recruiting season.
After putting together a class ranked second by ESPN, however, he does not have to face those critics any longer.
With 30 commits, including 22 ranked as 4-star or better, this latest Gator class is absolutely loaded. Scattered throughout the list of commitments are freshmen that have the talent to become starters as early as their first year on campus. With many stars from the 2012 Gator team now gone, an opportunity to start seems all the more likely for these skilled athletes.
Here are the five Gator recruits who should have a starting role by the end of next season.
I did not include Ahmad Fulwood or Kelvin Taylor on this list. However, I want to be very clear that it has nothing to do with their talents. Rather, it has to do with depth at their respective positions.
Ranked as a 5-star recruit by ESPN, Taylor will get his fair share of carries this season. However, Matt Jones should be the starting back once camp ends based on his performance at the end of last season. Still, Taylor will be a valuable asset to the Gator offense. His power and vision are among the best of any running back recruit in this class. There is no reason why he cannot find the end zone on a couple occasions or break off a huge gain in relief of Jones.
Likewise, Fulwood is a gifted wide receiver. At 6'4", the Jacksonville native has a huge size advantage over many defenders. In addition, he has good hands and can get open in traffic. However, with Quinton Dunbar having one of the starting receiver spots locked up, I don't see Fulwood becoming a starter this season.
The Gator depth chart at the position is somewhat crowded now thanks to other talented freshmen and returning players such as Andre Debose and Latroy Pittman. I think Demarcus Robinson has a slight edge over Fulwood, and thus he is the more likely starter.
These two will be starters eventually, and the wait will be worth it for Gator fans. Right now, however, they need a little help if they want to be on the field for the first play from scrimmage in any game next season.
Vernon Hargreaves III is the centerpiece of Florida's extremely talented 2013 class. The Wharton High School standout has the skills and playmaking ability needed to immediately earn a starting role.
The ESPN 5-star recruit and Under Armour All-American is the consensus top corner in this year's class. He is highly effective in both zone and man coverage because he has superior ball skills. His football instincts are dynamic, and his 4.45 40-yard dash time is an indicator of his quickness. Should he take the wrong first step in coverage, he can easily recover and make a play on the ball downfield.
As Andy Hutchins points out in this post from SB Nation's Alligator Army blog, Hargreaves is already drawing rave reviews from experts. He notes that ESPN's Jeff Barlis has said that Hargreaves is arguably more skilled than former Gators Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins. That's extremely high praise for a freshman who has yet to even play one game in college. However, Hargreaves deserves all of it based on his skill set.
Hargreaves may already be the most dangerous athlete on Florida's stout defense. He has an excellent chance of winning the starting cornerback job over the summer, and he will definitely be a starter by midseason. Gator fans should get ready to hear his name a lot because he is an absolute game-changer.
One of the biggest problem areas for Florida over the past couple seasons has been the wide receiver position. That should change with the talented pass-catchers in this 2013 class. At the head of this group is Peach County High School's Demarcus Robinson.
Robinson is just what the Gators are looking for in a wide receiver. The 6'2" ESPN Top 150 recruit has good hands and better route-running ability. He is the kind of receiver who can utilize a good route in traffic to find an opening where Jeff Driskel can feed him the ball. He does not have blazing speed, but he is quick and should be able to hold his own against SEC defenders.
Ahmad Fulwood is as talented as Robinson, but Robinson is more reliable as an "every-down" receiver. His skill set fits well with Florida's passing attack, and this will allow him to work his way into the starting lineup.
Matt Elam emerged last season as an integral part of Florida's secondary. His departure leaves someone else the chance to emerge as a new defensive star for the Gators. Safety Keanu Neal could very well be that star in waiting.
The Under Armour All-American has good size and quickness for a safety. His instincts in zone coverage are also off the charts. This combination of quick feet and reaction time allows him to swiftly close in on opposing receivers and break up passes. He is also capable of chasing down runners out of the backfield with relative ease.
Marcell Harris is very similar to Neal in playing style. However, Neal's instincts and recognition are slightly better, which gives him the edge. I expect him to be a productive member of the Gator secondary and compete for a starting job by the end of the season.
Alex Anzalone was supposed to play for Notre Dame next season. Once he had a change of heart and decided to enroll early at Florida, however, he put himself in position to be a starter for the Gator defense this season.
Rivals.com rates Anzalone as a 5-star linebacker and one of the best recruits in the country. He is one of the most athletically versatile commits in the Gators' current class. During his final season at Wyomissing Area, Anzalone made more than 100 tackles and rushed for over 30 touchdowns. This is a testament to his superior skill set.
At 6'3" and about 230 pounds, Anzalone is an imposing presence at linebacker. Although he is good in pass coverage, he is also an excellent defender against the run. He is seemingly able to identify holes in the offensive line before they open up and fill the gaps with quick pursuit.
The departures of Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic left the door open for new faces to put themselves in position to start at some point during the season. With Matt Rolin still recovering from knee surgery, Anzalone has the upper hand alongside Daniel McMillian to crack the Gator lineup.
Daniel McMillian is just one member of the Gators' talented quartet of new linebackers. Along with Alex Anzalone, he is ready to be a contributor week in and week out for this vaunted Gator squad.
Ranked 31st overall by ESPN scouts, McMillian has a ton of upside. Like Anzalone, he is an excellent run-stopper. He has good vision and can quickly fill in gaps. Should the opposing back pass the line of scrimmage, McMillian can also use his large 6'2" frame to wrap him up and make a strong tackle to prevent a big gain.
McMillian has another advantage in the fact that he has enrolled early. Because he will get an early jump on the playbook and defensive system as a whole, he should already have a good grasp of what the coaching staff is looking for by opening day.
Ultimately, McMillian can potentially emerge as the best linebacker from this 2013 Florida class. I also think he will have a starting role next season.