The Florida Gators figure to have one of the strongest receiving corps in the nation, despite losing their all-time leading receiver, Andre Caldwell, to the NFL. The Gators return the most dynamic play-maker in the game and a sure Heisman contender in junior Percy Harvin.
Harvin can do it all with his blinding speed and dazzling cuts and the Gators will lean on him heavily during the 2008 season. However, Harvin has all the help he could ask for in the receiving corps, with talented senior Louis Murphy returning to lead the group in 2008.
Junior Riley Cooper should contribute more this year after a solid 2007 campaign and red-shirt freshman Deonte Thompson is being counted on to make a huge impact from his first college start. Thompson has the same kind of speed and agility as Harvin and routinely dominated the Gator secondary during spring ball.
Coach Urban Meyer is also excited to see what junior college transfer Carl Moore can contribute. Moore has great size and athleticism and could be a Dallas Baker type player for the 2008 Gators.
In any case, the wide receivers should get a ton of passes from quarterback Tim Tebow during the 2008 season, although you can expect Coach Urban Meyer to spread them around to each receiver as much as possible.
This position group is a definite strength for the Gators and will provide them with a seemingly endless arsenal of players who can take it the distance.
Many preseason publications have Percy Harvin as a leading Heisman candidate entering the 2008 season. Harvin has been absolutely brilliant as an electrifying play-maker since his true freshman season and, with two full seasons under his belt, he should be a great leader for the receiving corps.
Harvin had heel surgery during spring practice but is expected to return to fall practice at full strength. His health will be a key for the Gators in their quest for a second National Championship in three years. Harvin now weighs around 205 pounds and has ideal size for an SEC wide receiver that relies on his speed.
Harvin will likely be the Gators most reliable down-field threat and will also see an abundance of screen passes and short slants where he can use his speed and quickness to gain yards down-field.
Harvin could also see some touches out of the backfield, and the more he does, the more dangerous the Gator offense will become. Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen will rely heavily upon Harvin during the 2008 season, but must be careful not to exclusively use Harvin.
The Gator offense is at its best when Harvin is just one more electrifying contributor to the offense, rather than the only one. Expect greatness from Harvin in 2008. He will not disappoint.
Murphy is one of the SEC's most underrated receivers heading into the 2008 season. Murphy is very tall and has fairly good strength to go along with his great speed. During spring practice in 2007, Murphy recorded a 40-yard dash time of 4.25 seconds.
Murphy showed why he is such a great receiver multiple times last year, blowing past Kentucky's secondary for a long strike and catching a short pass and turning it into a touchdown against Ole Miss. Murphy can do it all and is a very good route runner to top things off.
Murphy should see his receiving numbers skyrocket in 2008, with the graduation of Andre Caldwell and opposing defenses very likely to double team Percy Harvin. Murphy will have to live up to his billing to help relieve some of the pressure on Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow.
He missed portions of spring practice and the spring game with an injury, but should be full speed during fall practice. Murphy will be a key contributor for the Gators in 2008.
After considering transferring during a frustrating red-shirt season, Deonte Thompson looked like the next great wide receiver for Florida during spring practice.
Thompson routinely burned defenders on deep routes and caught tough passes over the middle. He had the most impressive spring of any Gator receiver (Harvin missed most of spring practice).
Thompson will battle it out with junior Riley Cooper for the third receiver spot on the depth chart and, at this point, may actually be ahead of Cooper. Thompson provides essentially the same skill set as Percy Harvin and has just as reliable hands.
The Gators will use him early and often during the 2008 campaign and he could quickly become a favorite target for Tim Tebow. Thompson is one of those guys who has the potential to break any catch for a long gain with his elusiveness.
The thought here is that he will quickly become a fan favorite in Gainesville with his flashy play-making ability.
Cooper has struggled with injuries throughout his Gator career, but has been a very solid option at wide receiver when healthy. Cooper has great down-field speed and good hands and seems to have great chemistry with Tim Tebow.
He will have his work cut out for him when he gets to fall practice, as he missed parts of spring practice due to baseball. He looked great in the spring game and it is clear that he will be competing directly with Deonte Thompson for playing time next year.
Cooper should see a good number of touches every game, regardless of whether or not he or Thompson fill the third spot on the depth chart. The bottom line is that the coaches would like to spread the ball out as much as possible.
Players are not necessarily competing for playing time as much as they are for touches. The top five receivers will all see some time in 2008, but the amount of touches they see will vary depending on how well they play. This is especially true in Cooper's case since he does not have quite the breakaway potential on the short routes that Thompson and Harvin do.
Moore, a junior college transfer, was one of the most highly anticipated arrivals in Gainesville during spring practice. With great size and speed, most Gator fans expected Moore to be an immediate starter and to fill the void left by Andre Caldwell's graduation.
Moore struggled mightily during the beginning of spring practice and was frequently on the end of some harsh words by the coaching staff. He dropped balls over the middle, got hung up at the line and ran poor routes.
However, the switch seemed to go on at some point during the spring and he started making some great plays toward the end of spring practice. Unfortunately, an injury kept Gator Nation from seeing him play in the spring game.
At this point, it seems that Moore is buried under the depth the Gators have at receiver and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Moore should see a few touches per game but the fact that he will not come in and start on opening day should encourage Gator fans more than it should discourage them. When a player like Moore arrives and finds himself fifth on the depth chart, you know you have a strong receiving corps.
David Nelson, Justin Williams, Paul Wilson
All three of these players should compete with Moore for a few catches throughout the 2008 season. Nelson has improved tremendously since he arrived in Gainesville and made some very nice plays during the spring. He should definitely field some catches in 2008.
Justin Williams had a very impressive start to spring practice, displaying some of the best hands on the team. He cooled off a little bit during the latter half of spring ball, but certainly made a great case to receive some action next year.
Wilson is on the outside looking in at the receiver position and he will need to have an outstanding fall to earn much playing time at all during the 2008 season.
He is an above average receiver, but is hurt by not having any one dominant aspect to his game. He is, however, one of the more physical wide receivers on the Gator roster.
T.J. Lawrence, Omarius Hines, Frankie Hammond Jr.
It is highly improbable that any of these three true freshmen will avoid a red-shirt season in 2008, given the depth on the Gator roster at wide receiver. The most likely of the three is T.J. Lawrence.
Lawrence has good speed and tremendous hands. He is not the biggest wide receiver but he is the strongest of the three true freshmen. If anyone will avoid the red-shirt in 2008, he will.
Omarius Hines would likely be next in line. He is a similarly talented receiver with above average hands and good route running ability. The third true freshman, Frankie Hammond Jr. will need to put on a lot of weight during the season and next summer before he is ready to hit the field in the grueling SEC.
However, with these three the future looks bright and depth should certainly be of no concern to Gator fans at the wide receiver position in 2008.