Four Florida football signees likely to make an impact in 2018

Florida’s football team returns 10 starters on offense and nine on defense in 2018. That doesn’t leave much room for freshmen to see valuable playing time, but with a new coaching staff, new evaluations and new goals, those starters are vulnerable to replacement.

And even if not, some members of Florida’s 2018 class are sure to see the field this season. After the class was largely assembled on National Signing Day, here are four of the most likely standout candidates.

 

4. Evan McPherson, Kicker

McPherson, as the saying goes, has big shoes to fill at Florida. Big, powerful, popular shoes.

With fan favorite Eddy Pineiro’s departure for the NFL Draft, it’s unclear if McPherson will face competition for the starting job.

Jorge Powell, a rising redshirt senior, is still listed on the roster, but so is Pineiro, and it's unclear if Powell will return to the team for his fifth season.

If he doesn’t, McPherson should claim the starting spot easily and make an immediate impact. And if he does, McPherson, the nation’s top-ranked kicker recruit, should be able to challenge.

Florida’s last high school kicking prodigy, class of 2012’s Austin Hardin, didn’t pan out well for the Gators and led to widespread fan frustration. McPherson will look to reverse that trend and keep fans chanting, this time for Evan instead of Eddy.

 

3. Justin Watkins, Wide receiver

Dan Mullen called Watkins electric and said he’s capable of not only playing wideout and slot receiver, but also running back and even corner.

That’s the kind of athlete Mullen wants. Someone who can step in and make plays in the mold of Kadarius Toney a season ago. Watkins, rated the nation’s 16th-best receiver and 89th overall, according to 247Sports, should at least get a chance to show his athleticism early.

Florida’s receiving corps was largely a disappointment last year. The team’s best wideout — rising junior Tyrie Cleveland — managed a team-best 410 receiving yards, while then-senior Brandon Powell led the group in touchdown grabs with three.

Cleveland should have a lock on his starting spot, but with Powell and former leading receiver Antonio Callaway gone, there’s room for new faces to make an impact when returning faces have rarely been able to do so.

 

2. Jacob Copeland, Wide receiver

The same ideas that apply to Watkins apply to Copeland, only Copeland has more of an SEC-ready body.

At 6 feet, 192-pounds, his frame is larger than the 5-foot-11, 172-pound Watkins. Copeland also holds the higher rating of the duo at 69th overall, although when ratings are that close, it’s hard to tell if one is much better than the other.

Nevertheless Copeland, like Watkins, should be offered the opportunity to contribute early. Especially if Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson and Ohio State transfer Trevon Grimes aren’t granted immediate eligibility.

 

1. Emory Jones, Quarterback

Could Emory Jones be the best quarterback to play at Florida since Tim Tebow?

It shouldn’t be too hard considering the mediocrity that has accumulated at the position for the Gators in recent years. However, that hasn’t stopped other top quarterback prospects like Jeff Driskel, John Brantley and Feleipe Franks from tanking in Gainesville.

Maybe Jones will buck that trend, maybe he won’t, but he’ll certainly get the opportunity to do so early. Facing competition from Jake Allen, Kyle Trask and incumbent starter Franks, Jones should be near or at the top of the depth chart from day one.

It’s hard to predict whether he’ll win out. Who knows? Quarterback guru Dan Mullen could resurrect Franks and turn him into a respectable starter.

But after what Franks put on film last season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones get the nod as a true freshman. Especially with the recent success of true-freshman quarterbacks in the SEC, like Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.

Ethan Bauer is a sports writer. Follow him on Twitter @ebaueri and contact him at ebauer@alligator.org.

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