Florida Football: Ranking Gators' Top 10 Players Heading into 2014 Season
The Gators were better than their 4-8 record last season—that much is inarguable. The defense finished in
the top 10 nationally, and the offense was filled with highly recruited players.
The question is: Who are the Gators’ 10 best players headed into the season?
With a top-10 defense, it makes sense that players on that side of the ball would dominate this list, but don’t overlook the offense.
With that said, here are the top 10 Gators heading into the season, based on past accomplishments, value to the team and the upside they possess this year. If a player hasn't fulfilled expectations but is poised to play a big part of this season's success, there's a good chance he made this list.
10. Max Garcia, C
Max Garcia played both left guard and tackle last season, depending on the team's need because of injuries. He’ll play center this season, making him the most versatile and valuable offensive lineman on the Gators.
It’s tough enough to find a reliable O-lineman, but finding one who can play multiple positions at a high level is nearly impossible.
Garcia looked solid in the spring game at his new position and should continue to ease in nicely throughout fall camp.
Garcia might be the most underrated player on the team.
9. Jabari Gorman, S
Although Jabari Gorman started only five games last season, he finished sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also intercepted a pass, picked up 2.5 tackles for loss, deflected seven passes and forced a fumble. Every time he was on the field he made something happen.
If that’s not being productive and proving your value to the team, I’m not sure what else he is.
Gorman will be a starting safety this season, which means even more chances for him to make game-changing plays. It’s almost scary to think what he can accomplish in an every-down role, considering how productive he was last season in a limited one.
Don’t be surprised if Gorman becomes a household name.
8. Darious Cummings, DT
Darious Cummings isn’t the biggest name along Florida’s stacked defensive line, but he may just be the most important.
Cummings is one of the few interior defensive linemen who can create pressure as a pass-rusher. Most defensive tackles are just there to draw double-teams, eat up running lanes and make the job easier for others. Cummings does that as well, but he’s also a big guy who can feast in the backfield by picking up sacks and tackles for loss.
Florida’s defensive tackle was overshadowed a bit by Dominique Easley last season, but that won’t be the case this year with Easley gone to the NFL. Cummings is the guy who will make everybody better along the defensive line.
7. Jeff Driskel, QB
Some may say Jeff Driskel doesn’t even deserve to be on this list. He’s coming off an injury and has never really played well.
While all that may be true, Driskel is in the best position to succeed in an offense that will utilize his legs more and allow him to be effective. In the past, Driskel was often forced into a box and wasn’t able to create plays. He often panicked and made mistakes. Now, under offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, Driskel will work at a much faster pace, get the ball out quicker and have more chances to use his athleticism.
Believe it or not, Driskel is a talented quarterback who is capable of much more than what he’s shown in past seasons.
6. Kelvin Taylor, RB
Kelvin Taylor had more than 15 carries in only three games last season and still managed to rush for 508 yards and four touchdowns. His two touchdowns against South Carolina were almost good enough to singlehandedly upset the Gamecocks.
Taylor will receive a much larger workload in his second season, and he deserves it. He has the ability to be an explosive back who can break off the big play, and he’s a valuable weapon in the passing game. He should have no problem thriving in this new offense and will likely crack the 1,000-yard mark.
While there are still questions at quarterback and wide receiver, Taylor will lead an extremely talented group of running backs.
5. Jake McGee, TE
Jake McGee spent his first two seasons with Virginia, and his transfer will help Florida a great deal. The tight end racked up 71 receptions for 769 yards and seven touchdowns for the Cavaliers.
McGee instantly becomes the best receiving option for Florida. He’s a massive target at 6’6”, gets down the field in a hurry and can adjust to the football like a wide receiver. You can also spread him out on the field and create mismatch problems.
Taylor approved the team's new offensive weapon in fall camp, according to Thomas Goldkamp of GatorBait.net.
"He’s gonna be good," Taylor said. "He’s got hands out this world, he’s strong and I feel like he’s just gonna add a different weapon to our offense that probably we haven’t had in the last two years."
4. Jonathan Bullard, DE
Jonathan Bullard hasn’t exactly fulfilled expectations in his first two seasons, but in terms of talent, he’s one of Florida’s top players. Bullard has the potential to be one of the best defensive linemen in the country.
With his massive, 6'3", 271-pound frame, quickness off the ball and sheer strength, Bullard is the complete package to play either defensive end or on the inside. He struggled with adjusting to changes last season but is now committed to spending some time at defensive tackle if needed. Now that Bullard has bought into the defense, there’s no telling what he can accomplish this season.
You can expect Bullard to have a breakout campaign and earn this ranking by the end of the year.
3. D.J. Humphries, OT
When healthy, D.J. Humphries is one of the better offensive linemen in the SEC. He's trusted so much by the Florida coaching staff that he'll line up at left tackle for the second straight season despite suffering an injury last year.
Humphries missed half of last season to knee injury but has bulked up and is ready to pick up where he left off. Coach Will Muschamp announced during SEC media days that Humphries is carrying 295 pounds, which is a 10-pound improvement from last season, according to Goldkamp.
He’s been terrific in practice and has been solid throughout his career when he’s been on the field. Humphries has great footwork and should be better in run blocking with the added weight he put on during the offseason.
A healthy Humphries gives Florida a better offense before it even takes the field.
2. Dante Fowler, DL
Dante Fowler is Florida’s best pure pass-rusher since Carlos Dunlap. He can line up just about anywhere on the field and can also be effective against the pass. Of course, Fowler’s specialty is getting after the quarterback, and that’s something he should do a lot of this season.
Besides Fowler’s skill set, he’s also decided to become more of a leader this season, according to Richard Johnson of Jacksonville.com. Fowler said:
I didn’t know that Joey [Ivie] likes to fish and things like that, ... Darious [Cummings] is a cook. His dad makes really good barbecue sauce. Just being able to hang out with guys and eat and just being able to talk — hear what brought them here and stuff like that — it’s always good.
Fowler is a special talent and key piece to Florida's great defense.
Really the only difference separating Fowler and the No. 1 Gator is that the top Florida player has proven he's one of the best at his position and can still improve heading into his second season. While we know Fowler is great, he may have hit his peak.
1. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB
Vernon Hargreaves III intercepted a pass in each of his first two collegiate games and quickly became one of the better defenders in the country. In fact, B/R's Adam Kramer considers him the best defensive player in college football.
Hargreaves is a shutdown corner, one who makes life difficult for any receiver he’s matched up against. He’s not only athletic enough to stick with anybody he’s covering, but he makes great plays on the ball, which would explain his 11 pass deflections and three interceptions.
This second-year corner is a big reason why Florida enters the year with one of the top defenses in the land. Hargreaves is by far Florida’s best player.