Florida Gators: Jalen Tabor
We're getting you ready for the Gators' spring practice with a look at five key position battles to watch when practice gets started on March 19.
Returning starters: Vernon Hargreaves III arrived with tremendous fanfare last summer and immediately became an alpha in the fall. He was easily Florida's best cornerback in coverage and was recognized as a first-team All-SEC selection. Hargreaves continued a recent string of true freshmen success stories, following in the footsteps of Joe Haden, Janoris Jenkins and Marcus Roberson.
Departures: Roberson and another junior starter, Loucheiz Purifoy, left early to enter the NFL draft where they are expected to be picked somewhere in the first three rounds. Roberson was terrific in coverage, while Purifoy relied on his elite athleticism to make plays all over the field. The Gators also graduated Jaylen Watkins, a cornerback who played out of position at safety during his senior season. Watkins, one of UF's most polished defensive backs in coverage, was a four-year player who made 28 career starts and grew into a strong leadership role. Another important departure was fourth-year junior Cody Riggs, who played at safety in 2013 but, like Watkins, was originally a cornerback. Riggs decided to transfer to Notre Dame, where he expects to be eligible this fall after graduating from Florida in the spring.
Returning reserves: There's only one, but he's certain to play a significant role in 2014. Rising junior Brian Poole came to UF with the pedigree of a top-10 cornerback prospect and has missed just two games in his first two seasons. He made six starts last fall as Florida's nickel cornerback, which is an important position considering how often the Gators employ five DBs. Poole is versatile, having seen time at safety as well, so there are plenty of options. He's a strong contender for the starting cornerback job opposite Hargreaves, but Poole could also remain at nickel or shift to safety.
Newcomers: The spotlight will shine immediately on Jalen Tabor, the No. 5 cornerback prospect in the Class of 2014 who was also ranked No. 15 in the ESPN 300. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, Tabor is on campus and has already commanded the attention of Florida coaches who are enamored with his range and athleticism. Similarly gifted is redshirt freshman Nick Washington, who missed his first season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Washington was a key four-star ESPN 300 recruit in Florida's 2013 class, and expectations are that his athleticism will translate into playing time this fall. Duke Dawson is another freshman already enrolled. He's a bit overshadowed by Tabor, but Dawson might fit better as a safety anyhow with his 5-11, 197-pound frame. Still, Dawson could get a long look at cornerback this spring because of his quick feet, fluid hips and natural feel for coverage techniques.
What to watch: Losing four starters -- including three juniors -- all of whom could play cornerback would likely be a staggering blow to most college teams. But at Florida, cornerback has become a glamour position and there's plenty of talent for the Gators to move forward without skipping a beat. Like Hargreaves the year before, Tabor is an elite prospect who exemplifies the current pipeline of cornerback talent that Florida is able to attract. Now if the coaching staff can coax another star performance out of a true freshman, the Gators suddenly won't look so thin at cornerback. There's plenty of talent, but not all of these players are ideally suited to be corners. One big injury could change the outlook for this position profoundly, so it is important that the Gators have a productive spring session. The top goals are to develop Tabor, see if Poole is ready for a full-time role and get reserves like Washington and Dawson ready for action. When fall camp rolls around, this group will be bolstered by three more true freshmen. J.C. Jackson, the No. 79 overall prospect in the nation, has the talent to be a natural cornerback who can compete for playing time right away. Quincy Wilson can play some cornerback but could ultimately wind up at safety. And Deiondre Porter was a high school quarterback who will get a first look at either corner or safety but seems likely to redshirt. There will undoubtedly be pressure on this group to continue the success of their predecessors, but cornerbacks at Florida play more man coverage than most. Pressure comes with the territory.
We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.
This weeklong series continues with a look at an early enrollee expected to compete for a starting job at cornerback.
CB Jalen Tabor
6-foot-1, 188 pounds
How he fits: Florida desperately needed to sign an elite prospect at cornerback after two junior starters -- Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy -- decided to leave for the NFL. Two more veteran upperclassmen with experience at the position, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs, are also gone. The Gators got their man in Tabor, and early impressions have calmed UF coaches. "That's what they're supposed to look like," Muschamp said on signing day. "He's got really good movement skills, and ... watching him move around has been exciting."
Who he's competing with: With so many players departing, the competition at cornerback will be wide open and intense. Starter Vernon Hargreaves III became a star as a true freshman last season, so the bar has been set high (perhaps unrealistically so) for Tabor to follow suit. And while Hargreaves might prove to be a generational talent, the rest of the competition for Tabor could be a bit easier to surpass. Redshirt freshman Nick Washington returns from a shoulder injury and joins Tabor and fellow true freshman early enrollee Duke Dawson in the cornerback battle this spring. Rising junior Brian Poole took over as Florida's starting nickel back last season and could either stay there or contend for the open cornerback job. Washington, Dawson and Poole could also see time at safety. In fall practice the Gators will add three more signees, J.C. Jackson, Quincy Wilson and Deiondre Porter.
What needs to happen this spring: Tabor has already inspired confidence in offseason drills, but he'll need to show off his natural instincts at cornerback in spring practice in order to truly put those coaches at ease. With so many openings on UF's two-deep roster in the defensive backfield, it is essential that Tabor prove to be a quick study. It seems certain he'll play this fall, maybe even a lot if he nails down that starting job.
Lorenzo Carter, DE, Georgia: The Bulldogs needed help up front and got it in Carter, who can move to outside linebacker if needed. The Bulldogs aren't ditching the 3-4 defensive scheme, which could make Carter an ideal hybrid DE/OLB player for Georgia, especially when it comes to the rushing the passer. That's his bread and butter and will be where he makes his hay with the Dawgs. Carter still needs to add to his frame, but expect him to be a situational pass-rusher for the Dawgs early before he fills out into an every-down player.
C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss: Yes, the Rebels have starting safeties Cody Prewitt (first-team All-American) and Trae Elston returning, but Hampton is just too good of a player not to see the field in some capacity this fall. The early enrollee will go through spring drills and if he plays well enough, he could force Ole Miss' coaching staff to move some guys around in the secondary. Hampton was a ballhawk in high school, and with his range in the back end, he could get reps at free safety, which could move Prewitt down to linebacker, allowing the Rebels to get even more athletes on the field at once.
Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama: What Nick Saban really needed in this class was an elite pass-rusher, and Hand certainly fills that role. Hand has already gained some good weight, but he could stand to gain more when he gets on campus. The nation's No. 2 defensive end could play with his hand in the ground or at the "Jack" linebacker spot and be used as more of a pass-rusher for the Crimson Tide. It might not matter where Hand lines up for the Tide because he'll figure out a way to see valuable time this fall.
Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee: Coach Butch Jones has to be happy about having another top-flight receiver on his roster, in Malone. Even better news? Malone is on campus now and will go through spring practice. He already has good size at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and has the potential to be a real deep threat for a Tennessee team looking for more offensive playmakers. Malone, who caught 71 passes for 1,404 yards with 31 total touchdowns as a senior, should take some pressure off of Marquez North and Alton Howard.
Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida: With four starters gone in the secondary, the Gators were in desperate need of some secondary help and got plenty of it in this class. The 6-1, 188-pound Tabor is the star and figures to provide immediate help at the cornerback position, opposite freshman All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. A five-star prospect coming out of high school, Tabor enrolled early at Florida. He's a physical corner who intercepted five passes as a senior and was an Under Armour All-American. His speed, strength and size are exactly what Will Muschamp wants in a corner, and Tabor's natural ability should have him shoot up Florida's depth chart early.
It’s important to note that this is not purely a rank of who had the best class. You can go to ESPN’s class rankings for that information. Rather, this list took into account the state of each program and how it performed against expectations, hence Kentucky’s lofty standing.
No. 1: Alabama
Rundown: The class wasn’t just No. 1 overall, it was No. 1 by a mile. Alabama cleaned up with one-third of all the five-star prospects in the ESPN 300, the highest ranking of which was offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, who could challenge for immediate playing time as a freshman. Along those lines, coach Nick Saban and his staff didn’t just sign the best prospects, they signed those that fit the program’s needs. The offensive line class could be the best in Saban’s history, the cornerback class promises two future stars and quarterback David Cornwell helps expand the field of candidates to replace AJ McCarron.
Instant impact signee: Tony Brown won’t be the only five-star cornerback on campus, but he’ll be the first one there. The speedy track star enrolled in January and will compete in spring practice. With both starting cornerback spots open, he’ll have a chance to start right away.
No. 2: Kentucky
Rundown: This ain’t your grandfather’s Kentucky. It’s not your father’s or your older brother’s, either. Mark Stoops didn’t have the highest ranked recruiting class in the country or even the SEC, but the top-20 class far outpaced even the highest expectations . The signees speaks for themselves -- an infusion of young talent desperately needed for the road ahead -- but the overall statement Stoops and his staff made going out and landing the best of the best was huge. Nabbing four-star defensive lineman Matt Elam from Alabama sent shockwaves through college football. It not only said that Kentucky was here to play; it’s here to play and win.
Instant impact signee: There’s opportunity abound in Lexington. At one point, a walk-on was starting at receiver against Alabama. With that, four-star Thaddeus Snodgrass has the athleticism (4.5 second 40-yard dash) to provide a quick spark to the Wildcats’ offense.
No. 3: Tennessee
Rundown: No program brought in more young talent than the Vols. All told, Tennessee signed 35 prospects, far more than any BCS-level program. Coach Butch Jones joked that he’ll have an all-freshman team next year, and with 11 ESPN 300 players in the class it’s not that farfetched an idea. Not only did Jones lock down in-state stars like Josh Malone, Todd Kelly Jr. and Jalen Hurd, he reached across borders and landed LaVon Pearson and Dillon Bates. Where his first recruiting class in 2013 was more about creating buzz, 2014 was about fulfilling a promise.
Instant impact signee: Jones and his staff are high on junior college offensive tackle Dontavius Blair, who enrolled at Tennessee early. Considering the Vols are completely reloading on the offensive line, the 6-7, 307-pound Blair will have the chance to step in and play from Day 1.
No. 4: LSU
Rundown: Les Miles was on the hook after losing several in-state stars to programs like Alabama, Texas A&M and Florida. Seeing Cam Robinson, Speedy Noil and Laurence Jones commit elsewhere cast LSU’s recruiting efforts in a bad light. But that all changed when Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 overall prospect in the country, announced that he would be a Tiger. And on Wednesday, Malachi Dupre, the No. 1 wide receiver in the nation, followed suit. By the end of the day, 11 of the top 25 players in Louisiana ended up at LSU.
Instant impact signee: Fournette is the No. 1 overall prospect for a reason. He’s got all the physical tools and the mindset to play at the next level. Because of that he’s been compared favorably to former Sooner Adrian Peterson. With Jeremy Hill off to the NFL, Fournette can insert himself into the running back rotation right away.
No. 5: Texas A&M
Rundown: In 2012, Texas A&M signed the 15th best recruiting class in the country. In 2013, it joined the SEC and rose to eighth in the rankings. And on Wednesday, it completed that climb by finishing fourth. Kevin Sumlin and Co. signed an impressive 10 ESPN 300 recruits, including the No. 1 defensive end, the No. 1 athlete and the No. 1 pro-style quarterback. Signing a pair of junior college offensive linemen -- Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor -- solidifies depth on a line moving on without Jake Matthews.
Instant impact signee: There’s no doubt Texas A&M needs help on the defense. Defensive end Myles Garrett's body is college-ready (6-5, 255 pounds) and he’s ripped to shreds. If he can pick up the defense and show he's capable of holding up against the run, he could play soon.
No. 6: Florida
Rundown: It’s the win coach Will Muschamp so desperately needed. Keeping together this class after one of the most disastrous seasons in program history was a remarkable feat. In all, Florida signed 13 ESPN 300 commitments, including seven players who rank among the top 10 nationally at their position. Even more impressive was that Muschamp sold Florida against some other top programs, flipping four-star Florida State quarterback commitment Treon Harris to cross the state to Gainesville.
Instant impact signee: Jalen Tabor has as good a chance as anyone to start at cornerback opposite Vernon Hargreaves III, the former standout freshman whose footsteps he's trying to follow. Florida coaches are high on his talent and skill level, and of course, being an early enrollee helps.
No. 7: Georgia
Rundown: Mark Richt got his guy in Lorenzo Carter. Without him, the entire outlook of the class changes. While it wasn’t high on numbers -- 21 signees in all -- the quality of Georgia's class was impressive. Richt signed 11 ESPN 300 recruits, including the No. 2 and No. 7 running backs in the country. Four-star athlete Isaiah McKenzie was a big signee as well. He’s small in size (5-8), but his speed and quickness could translate to early playing time.
Instant impact signee: “That defense is going to be nasty,” Carter said. “And I plan on being a part of it.” With that, Georgia got a taste of the energy the No. 3-rated defensive end will bring to Athens. His ability as a pass-rusher will help the Bulldogs right away, and if he adds a few more pounds he could develop into an every-down lineman.
No. 8: Auburn
Rundown: It’s not always about who you sign, but who you miss. The loss of Rashaan Evans still stings a day later, but Auburn landed commitments from offensive lineman Braden Smith and defensive end Andrew Williams to close out what was already an impressive class. In all, the Tigers have 12 signees in the ESPN 300 and two ranked in the ESPN JC 50. Despite losing Evans to the Tide, Auburn signed four of the state’s top 10 players, including its top-ranked player in the class, running back Racean Thomas.
Instant impact signee: Nobody is more qualified to step in and contribute than wide receiver D'haquille Williams. He’s the No. 1 junior college player in the country, and he’s already on campus. Don’t be surprised if he becomes the team’s go-to wide receiver by the start of next season.
No. 9: Ole Miss
Rundown: The class wasn’t filled with stars like the year before, but coach Hugh Freeze and his staff didn’t let up in 2014. The Rebels went after more seasoned recruits, signing six players from either junior college, prep schools or delayed enrollment. Actually, this year’s class might end up having more depth than the previous year’s as 15 four-star recruits signed in 2014, compared to 12 four-star recruits and two five-star recruits in 2013. With players like Garrald McDowell and C.J. Hampton, there’s plenty to build around.
Instant impact signee: Ole Miss needed help on the offensive line and four-star Rod Taylor could be the man to give them a boost. The No. 2 offensive guard in the ESPN 300 and the Rebels’ highest ranked signee enrolled in school early and will compete in spring practice.
No. 10: South Carolina
Rundown: It wasn’t the most heralded class in Steve Spurrier’s tenure at South Carolina, but it didn’t lack talent, especially on defense where the Gamecocks signed four defensive linemen and four cornerbacks. Stealing defensive tackle Dexter Wideman from Florida State and nabbing cornerback Chris Lammons from Wisconsin’s sights was huge in moving South Carolina up from 27th in the class rankings to 19th.
Instant impact signee: He’ll no doubt add a few pounds to his 6-3, 250-pound frame, but no amount of weight will help Dante Sawyer's attempts to fill Jadeveon Clowney's sizable shoes at South Carolina. That’s not Sawyer’s job as a freshman, though. The four-star prospect should help the Gamecocks pass rush and is versatile enough to play either outside linebacker or defensive end.
No. 11: Arkansas
Rundown: When I spoke to Bret Bielema during the season, he told me that he wasn’t going after guys based on their rankings. He wanted “his guys,” guys who fit his blue-collar system. And he did exactly that with six of his top eight signees coming on the offensive and defensive lines. Throw in Rafe Peavey, the No. 10 dual-threat quarterback, and Arkansas’ got a good foundation to build upon.
Instant impact signee: With starting defensive tackle Byran Jones gone, the door is open for big Bijhon Jackson, who comes in at a hefty 6-2 and 330 pounds. The No. 6-ranked defensive tackle is one of three ESPN 300 member in Arkansas’ recruiting class.
No. 12: Mississippi State
Rundown: The Bulldogs’ 2014 signing class was on the small side with 23 signees, and it was planned that way. With so few seniors, coach Dan Mullen chose to be selective. Still, the class left something to be desired without a single player ranked in the top 10 nationally at their position. It was good to see the Bulldogs get so many in-state recruits, but the furthest their reach went was to Texas, Alabama and Georgia. That said, Mississippi State fans will be glad to see that both of its ESPN 300 signees -- Jamoral Graham and Jesse Jackson -- were skill players on offense, an area in need of development.
Instant impact signee: There’s plenty of opportunity in the Bulldogs’ backfield now that LaDarius Perkins is off to the NFL. Enter Aeris Williams, a four-star prospect from Mississippi. With Dak Prescott at quarterback, Williams could make hay on the read-option.
No. 13: Missouri
Rundown: Maybe the SEC East title and the trip to Atlanta didn’t amount to much on the recruiting trail. Maybe the thrilling Cotton Bowl win didn’t impress enough recruits either. Whatever it was, coach Gary Pinkel didn’t exactly make hay on signing day. Landing just two ESPN 300 commitments was underwhelming, as was the grand total of four four-star recruits. The signing of Andy Bauer, a four-star offensive tackle who was targeted by Alabama, does engender some hope. Still, as we watch Texas A&M take advantage of the bump it received in recruiting since joining the SEC, one has to wonder why Missouri hasn’t done the same.
Instant impact signee: Brandon Lee, the nation's No. 17 outside linebacker, comes in at a healthy 6-2 and 210 pounds. Given that two of the Tigers’ three starting linebackers were seniors last season, Lee will have a chance to come in and contribute right away.
No. 14: Vanderbilt
Rundown: With so little time to recruit, Derek Mason couldn’t put together the class he wanted. And with former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin poaching so many of his former recruits at Penn State, it only made matters worse. So don’t judge Mason’s first class and its two ESPN 300 signees too harshly. But do give him credit for convincing Nifae Lealao, the No. 20 defensive tackle, to come to Nashville. The four-star prospect is among the most highly rated recruits to ever sign with the Commodores.
Instant impact signee: It isn’t just Jordan Matthews who's leaving. So is Jonathan Krause, who started 11 of 13 games last season. Enter three-star Rashad Canty. He’s not the most highly ranked recruit, but the 6-3, 201-pound receiver has the tools to make a push for reps early.
And for a Florida program that suffered through seven straight losses to finish a miserable 2013 season, a win is somehow more than a win. It's validation. It's hope.
The Gators put a bow on their fine 2014 recruiting class on Wednesday, and the feeling on campus was like a return to happier times.
Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Gators' class with a grade for each.
Florida needed to replace two transfers after junior backup Tyler Murphy and freshman Max Staver left, and the Gators did so with aplomb. Will Grier, one of the centerpieces of the class, is a gifted passer with plenty of athleticism to run. Adding Treon Harris gives the Gators a talented athlete who is a proven winner with two state titles as evidence. Harris flipped on signing day from Florida State because he felt Kurt Roper's offense at UF would be a better fit. Now Roper has to get both QBs ready for action.
Losing one of the top tailbacks in the country, Dalvin Cook, was a big blow. Losing him to Florida State hurts even more. Cook would have been a perfect complement to UF's already-strong backfield. But Florida recovered quickly and flipped ESPN 300 athlete Brandon Powell from Miami. Like Cook, Powell is an early enrollee, which helps. He does a lot of the same things as Cook and likewise see early playing time.
Again, Florida lost one of the best prospects in the country, Ermon Lane, to FSU, which will sting when the schools square off in their annual grudge match. And again, the Gators recovered with a flip of their own. Ryan Sousa, a four-star prospect, switched from FSU to Florida. The Gators also got a signing-day boost from former FSU commit C.J. Worton. Both project as slot receivers and are good fits for an offense that will feature more spread elements.
It's been a rough ride at this position since Jordan Reed's departure. There's really nowhere to go but up. The Gators are excited about all three signees. DeAndre Goolsby is already on campus as an early enrollee. Moral Stephens is a playmaker who profiles more as an H-back. And despite being less well-known, C'yontai Lewis caught the coaches' eyes during summer camp as a big target (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) with good hands.
Florida desperately needed help here and got it in the form of six signees. The big prize is Jacksonville, Fla., offensive tackle David Sharpe, the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle prospect. But this group offers plenty more in the way of immediate impact and depth. Guards Drew Sarvary and Nolan Kelleher have the size to contribute this fall and are already on campus. Offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless will also benefit from being an early enrollee. Travaris Dorsey gives UF a rock-solid prospect on the interior line. Big, rangy offensive tackle Andrew Mike was a late addition, flipping from Vanderbilt to UF the night before signing day.
This might be the strength of the class, a group that Florida recruiters might someday pound their chests over. It started with three prospects on whom the coaching staff is extremely high -- DE Taven Bryan, who is on campus now, burly DT Khairi Clark and DE Justus Reed, a quick and explosive athlete. Then Florida added two huge pieces in pulling DL Gerald Willis III out of New Orleans and flipping DT Thomas Holley from Penn State. Both are among the finest D-line talents in this class.
Florida didn't have a serious need after signing a fine class of four linebackers last season. They went after some big names, like Christian Miller (a one-time commit), Raekwon McMillan, Jacob Pugh and Nyles Morgan but didn't settle for lesser talents just to fill space. We'll give this position and incomplete grade.
This could have been a home run had Florida signed Adoree' Jackson. Instead, it was a stand-up triple. The Gators have lost four starters in a backend that typically starts five in the oft-used nickel formation, but Florida has recruited well here for years. The 2014 class was no exception. UF desperately needed a signee who can compete right away as a starting cornerback and got its man in five-star Jalen Tabor. Keeping J.C. Jackson in the class and signing fellow ESPN 300 talents Duke Dawson and Quincy Wilson was huge. Deiondre Porter, a late flip from South Florida, is an intriguing project who played quarterback in high school.
The Gators met every one of their biggest needs -- a corner who can start, talented depth for the offensive line, a future starting quarterback (or two), fresh blood at tight end, and some explosive playmakers in the slot on offense. Not enough can be said of the job this coaching staff did to finish with the No. 6-ranked class in the nation after a 4-8 season. It speaks volumes about the resilience of the Florida brand name as well as the recruiting ability of Will Muschamp and his coaches.
Now that you've seen the national signing day hits and misses from the SEC West, it's time to take a look at how the East fared:
Needs filled: With four starters gone from the secondary, Florida got right to work on their replacements by signing three ESPN 300 cornerback prospects, including early enrollees Jalen Tabor (five-star) and Duke Dawson. The Gators also signed five defensive linemen, including No. 2 defensive tackle Gerald Willis III and No. 3 defensive tackle Thomas Holley. Along with six offensive line signees, Florida added much-needed quarterback depth with ESPN 300 members Will Grier (early enrollee) and former Florida State commit Treon Harris.
Holes remaining: Florida missed out on elite offensive playmakers in running back Dalvin Cook and Ermon Lane, who both flipped from Florida to Florida State. The Gators also lost out on five-star cornerback/receiver Adoree' Jackson to USC and ESPN 300 offensive tackle Damian Prince to Maryland.
Needs filled: The Bulldogs had some big gets on signing day by keeping five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter home and surprising everyone by signing explosive ESPN 300 athlete Isaiah McKenzie. The Bulldogs signed three other defensive linemen and the No. 2 and No. 7 running backs in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Georgia also secured the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in Jacob Park and second-ranked tight end Jeb Blazevich.
Holes remaining: Georgia didn't necessarily need a big linebacker haul, but the Bulldogs did watch top-notch linebackers on their board Raekwon McMillan, Rashaan Evans and Bryson Allen-Williams go elsewhere. They would have also liked to have secured an elite receiver and missed on ESPN 300 cornerback Wesley Green, who signed with South Carolina.
Needs filled: Coach Mark Stoops really made a splash with this recruiting class and hopes to have his quarterback of the future with ESPN 300 member -- and early enrollee -- Drew Barker. Barker will have help with the additions of ESPN 300 running back Stanley Williams and ESPN 300 receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass. He also hit the defensive line hard, snatching ESPN 300 defensive end Denzel Ware away from Florida State and four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam away from Alabama. Stoops also signed ESPN 300 corners Kendall Randolph and Darius West.
Holes remaining: With the loss of senior Avery Williamson and the other holes at linebacker on the roster, the Wildcats would have liked to add a couple more linebackers to this class.
Needs filled: The Tigers' staff needed to add to the offensive line and the secondary, and had to come away pretty satisfied with the prospects they secured. The gem of the class is ESPN 300 offensive tackle Andy Bauer, who should provide immediate depth up front. Mizzou also signed four other offensive linemen. The Tigers grabbed six defensive back signees and ESPN 300 linebacker Brandon Lee.
Holes remaining: While Mizzou was able to sign three players who could see time along the defensive line, the Tigers missed out on ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford, who signed with Texas, and weren't able to flip Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end signee Derek Barnett.
Needs filled: The Gamecocks needed to add some quality depth to their secondary and did just that with the signing of ESPN 300 members Chris Lammons, who flipped from Florida, D.J. Smith, and Wesley Green, along with two other defensive back prospects. Steve Spurrier also bolstered a defensive line that lost three starters by signing ESPN 300 members Dante Sawyer (DE) and Dexter Wideman (DT), along with junior college standout tackles Jhaustin Thomas and Abu Lamin.
Holes remaining: You can never have too many offensive linemen, and the Gamecocks only signed two. South Carolina would have probably liked to sign another elite receiver prospect with the loss of Bruce Ellington, and didn't sign a running back.
Needs filled: The Vols signed a hefty class, and met most of their needs in the process. ESPN 300 receiver Josh Malone and ESPN 300 running back Jalen Hurd, both of whom are early enrollees, should make an immediate impact. ESPN 300 running back Derrell Scott should help as well, along with juco transfer receiver LaVon Pearson. Tennessee secured four ESPN 300 defensive backs, grabbed two ESPN 300 linebackers in Dillon Bates and Gavin Bryant, and signed a handful of defensive line prospects, including ESPN 300 ends Dewayne Hendrix and Derek Barnett.
Holes remaining: After losing all five starters from last season's offensive line, signing a couple more linemen would have been a plus for the Vols. Tennessee signed only three offensive linemen and also lost defensive tackle Cory Thomas to Mississippi State on signing day.
Needs filled: After dipping down into single-digit verbal numbers, the Commodores closed with 22 signees. The biggest gets were ESPN 300 members Nifae Lealao (defensive tackle) and Dallas Rivers (running back), who could provide immediate help. After losing ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Carta-Samuels to Washington, the Commodores flipped Pittsburgh commit Wade Freebeck and former East Carolina commit Shawn Stankavage.
Holes remaining: Losing offensive lineman Andrew Mike to Florida just before signing day hurt and as signing day went on, you just weren't seeing the same caliber players that former coach James Franklin brought in, which was going to be tough for new coach Derek Mason, anyway. Vandy also missed out on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett.
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No one you see, is smarter than he,
And we know Flipper, lives in a world full of wonder,
Flying there under, under the sea!
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It may be a 1960s TV show, but try getting the theme song for "Flipper" out of your head once it's stuck there. It's about as easy as getting Florida coach Will Muschamp to stop recruiting a prospect he wants.
In three years as chief recruiter for the Gators, Muschamp has clearly displayed a penchant for getting committed recruits to change their minds.
The first big splash came in 2012 when defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., a prized recruit in Florida State's No. 2-ranked class, made a dramatic switch to Florida on signing day after being committed to the Noles for more than a year.
Muschamp's persistence over that time period and insistence that Fowler would get on the field earlier with UF paid off.
"It was real difficult,” Fowler said on signing day. "Being committed for a year and growing up a Florida State fan all my life -- I always hated Florida, and I always told myself I would never go to Florida, and now I’m about to be playing for them. It’s kind of crazy."
That was just the start of the craziness.
Last year Muschamp upped the ante with six more flips, four just before they signed as early enrollees in January 2013. In fact, three of Florida's four linebackers in that class -- Matt Rolin (from South Carolina), Alex Anzalone (Notre Dame) and Jarrad Davis (Auburn) -- flipped from other schools.
The key to flipping recruits, Muschamp said, is not a secret. It's a simple approach.
"You stay on guys," he said, "and try to make valid points you’ve made throughout the entire recruiting process all the way through."
He's done it again this year, getting three of his nine early enrollees to flip.
Each of the three -- cornerback Jalen Tabor (Arizona), athlete Brandon Powell (Miami) and offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless (Louisville) -- changed their minds as late as the first week of the spring semester.
None was more last minute than Harkless, who was on campus at Louisville the day before his first class when he changed his mind and flew back to Florida. Harkless was swayed by the departure of coach Charlie Strong, who left Louisville for Texas.
When the coaching change news broke that weekend, so did Harkless' commitment to Louisville.
One of Harkless' coaches at Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian, Gerard Ross, saw firsthand how UF coaches laid the foundation for Harkless' change of heart. Ross says it's a matter of the Gator coaches continuing to build relationships even after their targets have committed elsewhere.
"They do a good job of staying in contact with those guys that they really want who are committed to other places," he said. "That way if something ever changes that kid's mind, then that whole time they've been there with that kid. The [recruit] has something to fall back on."
It used to be taboo in recruiting to go after a committed prospect. Now, the taboo is a relic of a bygone era. It's open season on all commits until the ink has dried on the official letter of intent.
"These days in recruiting it's a little different than when I came out," said Ross, who played cornerback for FSU from 2002-05. "These days you almost can't blame the kids for trying to find a school pretty early and finding themselves a spot, because you can't oversign anymore. At the same time, the coaches almost have to stay on those kids who do commit early. There's a window when that kid might flip.
"Back in the day when a kid committed, that was pretty much it. That's where he was going. But nowadays, college football is becoming a business."
A business in which coaches move frequently for new jobs, often shaking up recruiting classes in the process.
It's something Florida has experienced on both sides -- from losing recruits when former coach Urban Meyer retired (twice) to cherry-picking players like Harkless, who found himself far from home and without a coach.
"That's recruiting, you know?" Harkless said from Louisville in early January, just before he left for Florida. "I still have respect for Coach Strong, because he has to go where it's best for his family. I'm just doing the same."
After announcing Harkless among his nine early enrollees in January, Muschamp talked about the increase in drama and decommitments on the recruiting trail. This rockier road, he said, is here to stay.
"The earlier and earlier recruiting goes, you’re going to continue to see this. That’s not stopping," Muschamp said. "I think the earlier it is, young men are making decisions before maybe they have the information or they’re sure of what they want to do or how they’re going to do it. I think you’re going to continue to probably see this."
Translation: Beware the Flipper.
Like a song stuck in your head, Muschamp isn't going to stop anytime soon.
Before the Gators could even start thinking about spring practice, they lost starters Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson to the NFL draft. Both had solid careers at Florida and have been viewed as a either first- or second-round draft picks in this year's NFL draft.
But coach Will Muschamp and his staff can breathe a collective sigh of relief when they take a look at their depth chart at the corner spot this spring and beyond. For starters, third-team All-American, freshman All-American and All-SEC stud Vernon Hargreaves III is back and could be viewed as the SEC's best returning cornerback in 2014.
Hargreaves is a special talent who has the potential to be one of the nation's best cover corners this fall. So one side of the field is secured, but the Gators' corner talent goes far deeper than just Hargreaves. This is certainly not an empty cupboard in Gainesville.
Youngsters such as Brian Poole and Nick Washington give the Gators a good place to start, but veteran Cody Riggs, who played safety last season, could slide back down to corner again if needed. But it really doesn't end there for the Gators, either. ESPN 300 corners Jalen Tabor (five-star and No. 4-rated corner) and Duke Dawson (No. 16 corner) are already on campus and the early impressions are that both are doing well during offseason workouts.
Dawson had been committed to the Gators for a while before enrolling early, but getting Tabor was a major recruiting surprise. He originally committed to Arizona over Alabama at the Under Armour All-America Game earlier this month before flipping to Florida shortly after. At 6-1, 188 pounds, Tabor already has good size and bulk for the position. Tabor has all the talent to play immediately for the Gators this fall. He'll likely add a little more weight, but he's already a very physical cornerback and will definitely benefit from spring practice. As will Dawson, who is a quick-twitch guy and pretty rangy at the corner position.
Florida also has a commitment from ESPN 300 athlete J.C. Jackson, who could play either corner or receiver for the Gators. The thing Florida has to do is make sure he stays committed, as Miami is making a major run at him late.
Then, there's uncommitted five-star Adoree' Jackson, who is rated as the No. 9 player nationally. Florida is one of his finalists and he's another player who could play either side of the ball. Florida's coaches would likely let him play wherever he wants with his skill set. The Gators are near the top of his list, but it doesn't look like he'll take an official visit to Gainesville, making things pretty wide open until national signing day.
Losing two of their top defensive players in 2014 isn't ideal for the Gators, but they'll be able to start rebuilding once spring practice starts. And it could only get better when summer workouts start and fall practice rolls around.
For all the trouble the Gators had in 2013 and all the questions surrounding this team in 2014, it looks like cornerback won't be something Florida frets over this fall.
"Having nine guys in mid-year says a lot about these kids academically, being ready to go," Muschamp said.
Here's a breakdown of each. Muschamp offered thoughts on all but one recruit, who will be listed here with an excerpt from his scouting report.
CB Jalen Tabor | Scouting report
Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy
Height/weight: 6-foot-1, 188 pounds Ranking: No. 15 overall, No. 5 cornerback
Muschamp's take: "Jalen Tabor was a corner we added late there. A 6-1 corner that’s got a lot of length and athleticism on the top, and he can finish some plays."
QB Will Grier | Scouting report
Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day
Height/weight: 6-3, 181 Ranking: No. 34 overall, No. 2 dual-threat quarterback
Muschamp's take: "[He has] the ability to learn, athleticism. Obviously you look at accuracy as a thrower, being able to throw the ball into tight spots. He’s shown the ability to do that. We had him in camp multiple times. ... The athleticism and accuracy, we feel like, is there."
DB Duke Dawson | Scouting report
Cross City, Fla./Dixie County
Height/weight: 5-11, 197 Ranking: No. 213 overall, No. 17 cornerback
Muschamp's take: "[He's] a guy that we feel like had a great senior season and a guy who continued to impress and improve."
ATH Brandon Powell | Scouting report
Deerfield Beach, Fla./Deerfield Beach
Height/weight: 5-9, 169 Ranking: No. 272 overall, No. 35 athlete
Muschamp's take: "[Powell] was a running back we’ve been on [despite his commitment to Miami] and had an opportunity there to get him."
DE Taven Bryan | Scouting report
Casper, Wyo./Natrona County
Height/weight: 6-5, 255 Ranking: No. 31 defensive end, No. 1 prospect in his state
Muschamp's take: "[He's] broad-shouldered, looks great. Excited to get him on campus. Did a fantastic job at our summer camps this past year. ... He is a guy that was very athletic in the workouts here he was very athletic in the workouts at his school. He showed great athleticism for a guy that's 6-5, 6-5Ĺ, 265 pounds to run like he runs. There’s a tremendous upside and there’s multiple positions he probably could play. He’s still young for his age. Who knows where his body is going to grow? But you always think size and speed when you have the athleticism. Great work ethic, great toughness, and a guy that I’m really pleased to have as a part of the program. I think he’s got tremendous upside as a player."
OG Nolan Kelleher | Scouting report
Mount Pleasant, S.C./Wando
Height/weight: 6-5, 310 Ranking: No. 18 offensive guard
Scout's take: "Kelleher is a dominant run blocker as an offensive guard, however his size, athleticism and toughness appear better suited for the tackle position at the BCS level."
OT Kavaris Harkless | Scouting report
Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian
Height/weight: 6-5, 285 Ranking: No. 22 offensive tackle
Muschamp's take: "[He] had a little change of heart there at the end about where he was going to go to school [after being committed to Louisville]. We’re fortunate to have been recruiting him throughout the fall of his senior year. Had a great senior year. Had a great state championship for Trinity Christian."
TE DeAndre Goolsby | Scouting report
Height/weight: 6-4, 225 Ranking: No. 9 tight end/H-back
Muschamp's take: "We need some help at the tight end position. He’s a guy that’s going to come in here and be here and certainly get his opportunities."
OT Drew Sarvary | Scouting report
Tallahassee, Fla./Tyler Junior College
Height/weight: 6-6, 310 Ranking: No. 16 juco offensive tackle
Muschamp's take: "He finished his senior year at North Florida Christian. A guy that had been on our radar at the time. We were not going to take a junior college lineman and then we had some attrition there at the end of the season and felt like we needed a more mature guy to step up up front and go through the spring with us."
This time it’s ESPN 300 wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) who announced on Twitter that he was backing off of his pledge to Florida.
No Hard Feelings But I Just Decommitted From The University Of Florida . Not Because Dalvin Cook. No lie I love gator nation. #OneLove— Support #„5„Jwalk (@_MoneyLane) January 10, 2014
I love the gators fans but I have to do what's best for me— Support #„5„Jwalk (@_MoneyLane) January 10, 2014
Lane’s decision didn’t come as a surprise to many Florida fans. Lane is close friends with running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central), who flipped his commitment from Florida to Florida State less than two weeks ago. Lane, the No. 28-ranked player in the country, has set up only one official visit and that is to FSU on Jan. 31, the weekend before national signing day.
In the last two week the Gators have lost three ESPN 300 recruits, Lane, Cook and Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation), while adding, Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Academy), Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach, Fla/Deerfield Beach), Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr) and Kavaris Harkless (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) during that same time period.
It appears the Florida coaching staff suspected this could potentially happen. The Gators recently offered wide receivers De’Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro), a Penn State commit and Florida State commit C.J. Worton (Homestead, Fla/South Dade). Worton is planning to visit Florida this month.
The Gators now have 20 verbal commitments including 11 ranked in the ESPN 300.
Florida received good news Thursday morning when the No. 15-ranked player in the country, cornerback Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Academy) flipped his commitment from Arizona to Florida. The news wasn't as good on Thursday evening, however, as ESPN 300 cornerback Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) backed off his pledge to Florida.
Lammons announced his decision in a simple text that read: “I decommitted from Florida.”
No I Did Not Decommit Because Of Jalen Tabor Commitment I Decommited To Put Myself In A Better Position .— Chris Lammons (@Lammons_1) January 10, 2014
Wisconsin and South Carolina appear to be in the driver’s seat for the four-star defensive back. Lammons has already visited Wisconsin on Nov. 9 and has a visit planned to South Carolina on Jan. 24.
Florida has 20 verbal commitments including 11 ranked in the ESPN 300.
Even with the loss of Lammons, Florida still has four ESPN 300 defensive backs committed. Tabor joins Quincy Wilson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School), J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee) and Duke Dawson (Cross City, Fla./Dixie Co.) as other Florida defensive back commits.
The Gators are still targeting five-star cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra).
Florida has a new headliner for its 2014 class in Under Armour All-American cornerback Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate), the nation's No. 15 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and No. 5 at his position. Here's how we think Will Muschamp will utilize his newest recruit:
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Holding a laundry list of offers and having considered many of the top programs in the country, the 6-foot-1, 188-pound prospect said only two remain. He will announce his commitment during the 2014 Under Armour All-American Game (Jan. 2, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN).
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Recruit Comparison: Manziel to Harris
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35