National Signing Day ended on a lukewarm note for Florida.
UF missed out on four of its six targeted four-star players: cornerback Kristian Fulton, defensive end Brian Burns, guard John Simpson and defensive tackle Shavar Manuel.
Even so, Jim McElwain and his staff managed to address some of the team’s pressing needs earlier in the recruiting cycle. Here’s two players in the 2016 class who could make an instant impact next season.
Mark Thompson, Running Back
Florida’s main threat out of the backfield last season was 1,000-yard rusher Kelvin Taylor, who has since declared for the NFL Draft.
With the transfer of Adam Lane before last season and no running backs in last year’s sophomore class, Florida was left with a pair of inexperienced underclassmen to anchor the ground game until Thompson came into the picture.
Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett showed some potential in their limited action as freshmen in 2015 and will still contribute in 2016, but Mark Thompson could see considerable action and has the chance to start in 2016. At 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, Thompson is a much bigger back than both Scarlett and Cronkrite, who are both around 200 pounds and listed as 5-foot-10 and 5-foot-11, respectively.
"I think the first thing that comes to mind is size, and when you watch the film his ability to finish," McElwain said of Thompson.
Thompson is a back in the mold of former Gator and current Washington Redskins’ running back Matt Jones — a player who can barrel over defenders for first downs but also elude them with his deceptive speed. That lethal combination plus his status as a junior could allow him to be a featured running back from day one.
Eddy Pineiro, Kicker
There was no position of need more urgent than kicker for the Gators, and Jim McElwain got his man in Eddy Pineiro.
Ranked as the consensus No. 1 junior college kicker in the country despite never having played in a junior college football game, Pineiro had been committed to Alabama before he flipped to Florida. McElwain said he had never been more invested in recruiting a kicker, in part because kickers Jorge Powell and Austin Hardin suffered injuries during the 2015 season.
"No. Absolutely not. Never have," he said. "I never have until I saw two go down with ACLs."
Because he never played JUCO football, Pineiro will have four years of eligibility at UF. However, it’s unlikely that he uses all of them since he can declare for the NFL Draft as early as after the upcoming season.
Pineiro brings one of the strongest legs in recent memory along with his viral video fame — there’s videos of him kicking long field goals on the internet, with the longest being good from 77 yards.
That’s 13 yards longer than the current NFL record.
That kind of power coupled with the injuries and struggles of Florida’s kickers last season should allow Pineiro to start immediately. And McElwain, however understated, is confident that Pineiro will come in and get the job done.
"I think we got a chance to maybe put one through the uprights," McElwain said.