Florida Gators: Riley Cooper

Class of 2006 made biggest impact at UF

February, 21, 2014
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's 2006 recruiting class stands alone at the top.

It started off as ESPN's No. 1-ranked class. But two SEC championships and two national championships in three seasons tell the whole story.

Even the Gators' loaded Class of 2007, which can make an argument as UF's most talented recruiting class of all time, cannot argue with all those rings and trophies.

What can't be argued, however, is that Urban Meyer's incredible success at Florida can be traced back to his ability to recruit three transcendent talents and a truckload of starters in this 2006 group.

This week we have counted down Florida's five most impactful recruiting classes of the past decade. The one that made the biggest mark of them all was the Class of 2006.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsIt's safe to say that Tim Tebow's four years at Florida were successful.
The stars: Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes on their own were the kind of recruits who could make a program, the kind who come along once every 10 years or so. Florida signed all three in 2006. Tebow was every bit a college football legend, one of the greatest players and leaders of all time. He sent UF's program into a stratosphere of national attention, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and leading the way to SEC and national titles in 2008. Harvin might be the most talented player ever to wear the orange and blue. And Spikes was the heart-and-soul middle linebacker of three ferocious defenses.

The contributors: Brandon James made an instant impact as an explosive kick returner and finished his career with four SEC and 11 school records for various career kick return and yardage marks. DE Jermaine Cunningham started 38 of 45 games at UF and recorded 19.5 sacks. Riley Cooper started 27 of 51 games and became Tebow's go-to receiver in 2009. Linebacker A.J. Jones started 40 of his 50 games, and Dustin Doe made 18 starts at linebacker. Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders started nearly every game at defensive tackle during Florida's 2008 championship run. Offensive linemen Marcus Gilbert, Carl Johnson and Maurice Hurt redshirted in 2006, but Gilbert and Johnson were starters on Florida's 2008 championship team, and Hurt was a key reserve.

The letdowns: A class known for its highs also had some lows. Jamar Hornsby, an incredible athlete and the No. 6-ranked safety in the Class of 2006, was kicked off the team after pleading no contest to charges of credit card fraud. Cornerback Jacques Rickerson was a top-150 recruit who was kicked off the team in 2008 following his arrest on a felony battery charge. There were some disappointments on the field as well. Offensive tackle Jim Barrie was the No. 28 overall prospect in the country in 2006, but played just one game in his first two seasons before his career ended with a torn ACL. Brandon Antwine was the nation's No. 7-ranked defensive tackle in the class but struggled with injuries throughout his Florida career. RB Mon Williams was the No. 83 overall prospect in 2006 but tore his ACL, moved to linebacker and then transferred. Chevon Walker, another highly rated running back, transferred after one year. Out of 27 signees, there were seven transfers, one player who chose professional baseball (CB Derrick Robinson) and another (lineman Corey Hobbs) who quit football after three seasons to go to law school.

The results: With so many trophies and titles, this class put the Florida program at the epicenter of college football. Much of that success translated to the NFL, as Tebow and Harvin were first-round draft picks and Spikes was picked in the second round. Tebow became a lightning rod for debate about his quarterback skills while leading the Denver Broncos to a playoff victory in January 2012. He is still looking for a chance to extend his playing career. Harvin and Spikes are NFL stars. Florida also had four other players from its Class of 2006 drafted into the NFL -- Cooper, Cunningham, Gilbert and Hurt -- and all four are still active.
Demarcus RobinsonKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDemarcus Robinson, who got a jump on the competition by participating in spring practice, has a steep hill to climb to make an impact as a freshman receiver at Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One of the main reasons Florida's passing offense has struggled since 2009 is the lack of production -- or a playmaker -- at receiver.

If the Gators' 2013 passing offense is going to be better than the unit that ranked 114th nationally last season, the receivers must be significantly better. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar, redshirt senior Andre Debose, and senior Trey Burton are the most experienced receivers and should be UF's go-to playmakers, but each have limitations.

Dunbar has 50 career catches, but he hasn't developed into the downfield threat the Gators have needed. Debose (29 career catches) has been that at times, but his career has been marred by inconsistency and work-ethic issues. Burton (69 career catches) has so many roles that it's hard for him to excel at one, and he's more of a short-yardage, possession receiver.

Sophomores Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades each caught two passes last season and were used more as blockers than receivers.

That means UF will be depending on two or more of the five signees to make a substantial impact. Demarcus Robinson is the most likely, as he enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. But either Ahmad Fulwood, Alvin Bailey, Marqui Hawkins or Chris Thompson will have to produce, too.

But even having only one of those freshmen become a reliable and productive part of the offense might be asking too much. It's hard for true freshman receivers to make an impact -- as the past 23 years have shown.

Florida hasn't had much luck with freshman receivers, especially when it comes to being anything more than someone who gets mop-up work.

The Gators have signed 61 receivers from 1990-2012, but only 20 played as true freshmen -- and only 19 caught passes. Of those 19, only four caught more than seven passes: Reidel Anthony, Ike Hilliard, Andre Caldwell and Percy Harvin. Anthony, Hilliard and Harvin all became first-round NFL draft picks and Caldwell was a third-round pick.

Here's more proof that it takes an especially gifted player to make an impact as a freshman: Twelve the 16 receivers who played as true freshmen from 1990-2009 went on to become draft picks.

Is there an incoming receiver who can make an impact in 2013? There's no way to know right now until September, but based on the last two-plus decades, it's unlikely.

Signing five WRs speaks volumes at UF 

February, 6, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp left little doubt about what he believes is his team’s biggest problem heading into the 2013 season.

Signing five receivers was a pretty clear message.

Changing the game: UF's 2006 class 

January, 21, 2013
Urban MeyerKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesStar QB Tim Tebow helped Urban Meyer win two national championships at Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The headliner of Florida’s 2006 signing class was QB Tim Tebow.

He was arguably one of the most hyped recruits in prep football history -- he was the subject of an ESPN documentary entitled “The Chosen One” -- and getting Tebow’s signature on a letter of intent was Urban Meyer’s biggest victory in his 18 first months as UF’s coach.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's definitely not a good sign about Florida's NFL Draft prospects when there's significantly more talent watching the pro scout day workouts than participating in them.

Quarterback John Brantley, running back Chris Rainey, defensive tackle Jaye Howard, and receiver Deonte Thompson worked out in front of NFL scouts from 24 teams and one head coach -- Jacksonville's Mike Mularkey -- on Tuesday morning at Florida Field. None of those players are projected any higher than mid- to late-round selections, which would snap the school's five-year streak of having at least one player taken in the first round.

Contrast that with the talented group of former UF players who watched the workouts. There were four first-round picks -- Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, Travis Taylor, and Percy Harvin -- and four others who were taken in the seventh round or higher: Terry Jackson (fifth), Riley Cooper (fifth) and Kerwin Bell (seventh). Mularkey was a ninth-round pick.

"We need more guys out there in position to be drafted," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "That's pretty evident as you go through our last two pro days.

"We need to do a better job recruiting. We need to do a better job evaluating. We need to do a better job of developing our players and coaching. Bottom line."

Rainey ran a 4.38 in the 40 0n Tuesday. His biggest goal was to prove to the scouts that he can catch the ball out of the backfield. As to where the 5-foot-9, 180-pound athlete fits on the next level, he said he's basically a smaller Harvin clone. He can play receiver or running back, return kicks and punts, and play on kick or punt block units.

"My goal is to confuse the scouts and they do the rest [in figuring out where he should play]," said Rainey, who finished his career with 3,948 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns. "If you’re going to be a playmaker on the field, that’s all that matters."

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