By now, the best teams in the country have identified the recruits most important to their 2011 class.
Florida is one of a few schools that needn't worry about its "chances" at landing the top recruits on the board. Coming off one of the greatest classes in modern recruiting, a Gators offer can still make a player's decision easy, and fast.
Which are the 10 players Florida should be targeting most? Where are the greatest needs and the least bodies on the depth chart?
Taking the 2011 signees into account, I've circled 10 players (some with video!) I think UF will want most on Signing Day. Check them out.
The Gators showed they could develop elite corner backs in molding Joe Haden into a top 15 NFL draft pick.
Though Groveland, FL corner back Nick Waisome is an inch shorter than Haden, he's arguably the more refined corner out of high school, one of the few in the class that recruitniks have termed a "true cover corner."
Along with jamming technique and a good backpedal, I also like Waisome's talent in run support and on special teams. He tackles well, squares his shoulders to the ball carrier, and rarely lets running backs or returners get by.
Waisome named a top seven including Florida, and many recruitniks believe he'll stay in-state at either Florida, Miami, or Florida State.
What gives Florida an edge was that Waisome was one of many elite prospects who showed up to the Gators' spring game over FSU's and Miami's?
I'd be concerned about Waisome's relationship with Charlie Strong. Seeing Louisville in that top group—Strong just convinced former Florida commit Demar Dorsey to join the Cardinals. But Strong is probably a year or two away from being able to win one against the Gators head-to-head. Florida should be on Waisome's radar—and vice versa—until Signing Day.
I originally had safety Wayne Lyons at this spot, but the Gators signed two elite safeties in 2010 in early enrollee Matt Elam and Johnathon Dowling.
Plus, the Gators have shown a serious interest in four-star outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, surviving his cut to a final five.
The Plantation, FL native wowed scouts at a Nike camp in Gainesville. He plays as a defensive end, posting 87 tackles and a whopping 19 sacks as a junior, and projects as a great LB in space. He is considered one of the most athletic players in the class.
Those of us who equate athleticism to Florida are inclined to chalk him to the Gators, but he also wants to play early. I'm not sure Florida can make that promise like his other final four schools — UNC, Ohio State, South Florida, and UCLA — can.
If they get a verbal from him early, I'd be interested to see if their pursuit of other elite OLBs is forced to tail off.
Update: Shazier has committed to the Gators.
As good as Florida's 2010 recruiting class was, the linebacker commits lacked the eliteness we've come to expect.
Only Michael Taylor — a decorated four-star inside linebacker out of Atlanta, Georgia who was briefly committed to Tennessee — was a blue-chip.
Not surprising then that Florida has been gunning for linebackers — specifically, outside linebackers — to open this class.
They've taken the wind out of Clemson's sails for Stephone Anthony, a four-star linebacker out of Wadesboro, North Carolina and Rivals' 20th best prospect.
After opening his season as a Clemson lean, Anthony took a visit to Gainesville and came back with Florida as his leader.
At 6'3", 220 lbs, with offers from every elite BCS school, Anthony is Florida's best chance at getting elite depth behind soon-to-be starters Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins.
With Brendon Beal's transfer and the anything goes nature of Florida's depth chart, that will remain a top priority even with Shazier in the fold.
The low number of offers out to interior linemen surprised me, but the Gators are definitely after Kelly, who visited Florida this week and is the highest OG/C recruit on the Gators list.
Kelly is the No. 3 center and a four-star recruit out of Lakota West, the same school as five-star OLB Jordan Hicks, whom the Gators were in on last year before he chose Texas.
Florida will be better than OK with a senior Mike Pouncey manning the interior, but after him on the depth chart is converted defensive end Sam Robey, a three-star redshirt sophomore. A player of Kelly's caliber could be the anchor of many great lines.
Having signed two elite tackles in the 2010 class (Ian Silberman and Chaz Green), I think the Gators will focus their attention on just one tackle signee for this class.
I like Hart to get the lion's share of that attention. He's a good, local run-blocker and on the shorter side (6'4", 283 lbs), so he could be destined for a move to the interior line, arguably the greater need for the Gators.
In 2010, the Gators signed Hart's teammate, defensive back Cody Riggs, out of St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale. But Florida State and Miami have also done damage at Aquinas in 2011 — the Noles grabbed WR Rashad Greene, while the Canes just recently nabbed wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.
By this point, Florida is used to dividing high school talent up amongst the Big Three. Florida made Hart's cut to seven, along with the Noles and Canes, so they should be a factor until the decision is made.
Do you think I consider outside linebacker a priority in this class?
I promise Curtis Grant is the last of them. The five-star and Rivals' No. 8 prospect out of Hermitage, VA whose speed resembles Anthony's and Shazier's. Still, he is arguably a better run defense linebacker with a build (6'2", 225 lbs) truer to what you'd expect out of a blue-chip.
Grant is actually listed as an inside linebacker, but a look at Florida's depth chart shows they like to move inside linebackers outside (Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins are the best examples). And with speed Grant's calling card, I think a move to the outside is fated to occur.
In the pecking order, I'd put Shazier first, Anthony second and Grant third, with the Gators aiming to grab at least two of them. Shazier's forthcoming decision should shape the linebacker recruiting from here on out. Grant's highlight video can be found here.
Even with their epic defensive line haul last year — which featured the Trio of Terror, end Ronald Powell, and tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley — recruitniks have pegged defensive tackle Tim Jernigan out of Lake City, FL a must-get for the Gators.
Perhaps not for depth chart reasons, but Jernigan is indeed a blue-chipper. He recorded a stunning 131 tackles as a junior to go with 12 sacks and three forced fumbles.
At 6'2", 275 lbs, he might be a touch light for a SEC defensive line, but Florida's temporary depth affords him the opportunity to redshirt, and its high turnover rate assures him playing time as a sophomore. He's down to Florida, Michigan, Alabama, Florida State, Southern Cal, and LSU, and said they're all even at this point.
To keep up with the Joneses of the SEC, Florida ought to land Jernigan, and hold on to DE Jeoffrey Pagan as well.
This might be a case of a player needing a school more than a school needs a player, but nonetheless, Florida's interest in receiver Sammy Watkins seems mutual.
Watkins (Fort Myers, FL) is a receiver ideally suited for the spread scheme, a dangerous pass catcher on underneath routes, options, and slants.
He has both lateral and straight-line speed and very good size (6'1", 185 lbs) for a slot athlete. He resembles former Gators wide receiver Louis Murphy in build and on film.
Watkins named a top seven with Florida squarely at the forefront, but Michigan and Miami are also recruiting him hard.
The Wolverines have their limitations with distance, and Watkins didn't enjoy the cold on his visit to the spring game. Meanwhile, Miami has picked up a few commits at receiver and is in line for a few more, so I like Florida's chances here.
James Wilder is creating a ton of buzz as 2011's best athlete and an elite performer at either outside linebacker or running back.
Wilder (Tampa, FL) has destroyed the competition at every camp he's shown up to. He is a dominant rusher with a mean streak in the mold of Georgia Tech's Jonathon Dwyer.
Florida was the first to offer the 6'3", 210 lb prospect as an outside linebacker, and because of proximity gained an early edge per his interviews.
But Wilder's decision to play running back instead of OLB in college created a temporary hiccup with the Gators coaching staff that other programs like Alabama, Georgia, and Georgia Tech were able to capitalize on.
Wilder eventually convinced Urban Meyer to offer him as a running back, and I think Florida is still in good shape: Wilder announced he intends to have a decision finalized before his senior season, and he visited Gainesville this past weekend with very good returns. In addition, he hasn't looked seriously enough at any other program to be able to decide for them.
Wilder's physical running style would give the dive play a new, more serious edge. He has the potential to add another dimension to Florida's running game, one it hasn't featured in the era of speedsters and shifty backs.
Should things with Wilder fall through, Florida will be looking to land five-star running back Savon Huggins out of Jersey City, NJ.
The 6'0", 201 lb recruit is drawing rave reviews for his combination of size and balance. Recruitniks are comparing him to everyone from 2010 five-stars Marcus Lattimore and Penn State's Silas Redd to LeSean McCoy, starting for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Huggins' offer sheet reads like a BCS ranking in 2014. Alabama, Florida, USC, and Oregon all chipped in with offers.
Florida is battling Rutgers and Miami, both of whom are throwing everything they have at him, but he's promised Florida a visit, and has a former teammate, Will Hill, in Gainesville.
If Wilder gets away, expect an unholy war for Huggins from the Florida coaches as Urban Meyer steps back into the lead role. In fact, Florida will likely pursue him regardless of Wilder's decision. Grabbing more than one running back isn't exactly a foreign concept in Gainesville.