Power Ranking the Florida Gators Positional Units for 2014

Randy ChambersAnalyst IJune 25, 2014

Power Ranking the Florida Gators Positional Units for 2014

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    Michael Chang/Getty Images

    This is going to be an interesting season for the Florida Gators. Not only is it Will Muschamp’s fourth season, but it’s also going to tell us a lot about where the program is heading after arguably its worst season in program history.

    As we inch closer to fall camp and the regular season, now would be a good time to rank how each particular unit stacks up. We’ve heard all about how lousy Florida’s offense is, but what about the rest of the team? There is a chance that a certain position on offense could top a position on defense. Maybe that would prove that the sky isn’t falling after all.

    There’s no question that Florida will go as far as its defense carries it. But let’s break this team down position-by-position and see where the Gators are the strongest.

9. Special Teams

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Top Players: Austin Hardin  

    Question Marks: Johnny Townsend and Kyle Christy

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    It goes without saying that Hardin was absolutely terrible last season, making just four of his 12 field-goal attempts. He lacked confidence, which is everything for a kicker, and ended the season with five straight misses. The good news is that he still has one of the stronger legs in the SEC, and he made all four of his field-goal attempts in the spring game.

    Maybe a turning point?

    At punter, there remains a battle between Townsend and Christy. Christy had a poor season last year and lost his job midway through the year to Townsend before he injured his wrist. Although Townsend was the better punter last year, it’s hard to ignore Christy’s performance in 2012, when he averaged more than 45 yards per attempt.

    Special teams still has work to do, and even if it does improve, it’s hard to see this unit trumping any of those remaining on the Florida roster.

8. Quarterback

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    Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

    Top Players: None

    Question Marks: Jeff Driskel and Skyler Mornhinweg 

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    While Driskel is unquestionably the starter heading into the season, nobody knows what to expect. Florida fans are so used to boneheaded decisions, poor accuracy and costly turnovers that it’s hard to think positive despite what the spring game showed.

    Kurt Roper’s offense is the perfect system for an athletic Driskel, and he should have his best season yet in a Florida uniform. However, that’s really not saying much, and being put in a position to succeed doesn’t necessarily mean that the light switch is going to be flipped. Driskel still has a lot to improve from now and when the season begins.

    Quarterback has been a revolving door ever since some guy named Tim Tebow left the program. Florida fans can only hope that comes to an end this season. Until then, quarterback remains the biggest question mark for the Gators' 2014 season.

7. Tight End

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    Top Players: Jake McGee 

    Question Marks: Tevin Westbrook

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    It’s slim pickings at the tight end position for Florida, especially with the transfer of Colin Thompson. Westbrook has just three career catches, and it looked like the staff would have to get creative by turning fullbacks Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe into full-time pass-catchers.

    Not so fast.

    While this position isn’t as deep as anybody would like, it was blessed with a gift in McGee, who transferred from Virginia. McGee is the versatile, athletic and sure-handed target that this offense needed. He had a wonderful career for the Cavaliers and could add a different dimension to this offense if he can grasp the playbook quickly and hit the field running.

    Yes, this position is more of a one-man show rather than an actual unit. However, McGee has the ability to be dominant enough to where any of the other possibilities aren’t needed.

6. Wide Receiver

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Top Players: Quinton Dunbar and Demarcus Robinson

    Question Marks: Everybody else 

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    Dunbar is the most accomplished receiver on Florida’s roster, with 90 receptions, 1,147 yards and six touchdowns in his career. He’s just about the only guy you can trust heading into the first week of the season. Robinson has the most upside and could be due for a breakout season, but that’s what many fans thought last year as well.

    Overall, wide receiver for Florida is a melting pot of potential. And most coaches would tell you that potential means you haven’t done anything yet. Latroy Pittman, Ahmad Fullwood, Chris Thompson and Valdez Showers are all capable of making a splash this season. However, it’s tough to assume anything after the type of season this offense had last season.

    We could see a few guys from this group emerge and have a big year, but we could also see dropped passes, poorly run routes and tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

    Until guys step up and actually make plays, it’s impossible to move this unit up any higher than it is. In fact, this spot may be a little generous.

5. Offensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Top Players: D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green and Max Garcia

    Question Marks: Every backup 

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    With Green returning from injury and Humphries holding down the fort at left tackle, the Gators have themselves two reliable starters they can feel confident in protecting the quarterback. Judging by the spring game and spring practice, Garcia has also made a painless transition to center. On paper, Florida looks like it will have a much better offensive line than a season ago.

    The problem is when the coaching staff needs to tap into the backups. Drew Sarvary is the only backup who has ever started a game at the collegiate level, and that was for a junior college in Texas. The rest are lucky if they have even seen the field in game action.

    This has to be really scary for Florida’s coaching staff, especially considering how physical the trenches tend to get in the SEC. The starting unit can go toe-to-toe with just about anybody, but the backups and the lack of depth prevent this ranking from being any higher.

4. Linebacker

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Top Players: Neiron Ball, Michael Taylor and Jarrad Davis 

    Question Marks: Antonio Morrison and Alex Anzalone

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    When your leading tackler from last year (Taylor) is coming off the bench, you know you have a solid group. Florida rotates its linebackers often due to the amount of experience and versatility each player brings to the table.

    This unit has the potential to rise up the rankings depending on the type of season Morrison has his junior season. While he was a terrific player his freshman season, he was inconsistent last year and then ended up in some off-field trouble.

    Davis came on late last season and was good enough to earn a starting role. He brings elite playmaking ability to the second line of defense. Ball continues to improve, and his senior leadership only helps this side of the ball.

    This is an experienced bunch and one that could catch up to the rest of the defense, but a lot of that depends on Morrison and the health of Anzalone and Matt Rolin.

    In a perfect world, this group stays healthy and helps take Florida’s defense to the next level, which would probably be the best in the country.  

3. Running Back

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    Top Players: Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown 

    Question Marks: Adam Lane and Matt Jones 

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    Taylor was one of the few bright spots for the Gators offensively last season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and single-handedly giving them a chance to beat South Carolina. He’ll double his carries from a year ago and should have no problem topping 1,000 rushing yards.

    Brown showed flashes last season of what he can contribute, he just has to be a little more consistent with the carries he’s getting.

    Adam Lane is one of my favorite players. He should see plenty of touches near the goal line with his bowling-ball running style. Plenty of touchdowns are in his future as early as this year.

    Jones is the X-factor, as he just can’t stay healthy for whatever reason. If he can pick up where he left off before last year’s injury, Florida has itself arguably the deepest backfield in the SEC.

    Where it sits right now, this unit gives you hope that Florida’s offense is going to be OK heading into this season. Just give these guys the ball and get out of the way.

2. Secondary

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Top Players: Vernon Hargreaves III, Brian Poole and Jalen Tabor

    Question Marks: Duke Dawson and Marcus Maye 

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    Hargreaves was good enough to put this unit into the top three by himself. He’s the best cornerback in college football and is more than capable of shutting down the best receiver on any team he’s facing. He had 11 pass breakups and three interceptions as a true freshman last year. Those numbers may improve depending on how many times quarterbacks dare to throw his way.

    While Tabor has yet to play a down of collegiate football, his physicality and instincts make him a great fit on the other side of the field, and it shouldn’t take long before he becomes a household name. Brian Poole is also an experienced nickelback and probably could be starting full time in most other teams' secondary.

    The concern with this unit is the lack of depth. Sure, Tabor and Dawson are extremely talented, but they’re still first-year players at the end of the day. Maye, who projects to be a starting safety, lost his starting job last season due to inconsistent play. Regardless, Florida should once again be ranked in the top 10 in pass defense.

1. Defensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Top Players: Jonathan Bullard, Leon Orr and Dante Fowler Jr.

    Question Marks: Bryan Cox Jr. and Jay-nard Bostwick

    Why They’re Ranked Here

    Even with Dominique Easley gone to the NFL, Florida has one of the deepest defensive lines in the country. It starts with Fowler, who is likely going to be a first-round draft pick next year, as he is poised to have a monster season at the hybrid position. Bullard can play outside or inside and will have plenty of chances to eat quarterbacks for lunch with Fowler demanding double teams. Orr is an experienced lineman in the middle who is tough to move.

    Overall, the Gators have playmakers all over the front line of this defense, and that’s without Cox, Bostwick or Alex McCalister having a breakout season many expect. The defensive line is going to set the tone for Florida this season and has more than enough quality pieces in place to lead the way. The overall depth separates this unit from the rest.