The Florida football team capped off a successful season with a dominating win over Michigan in the Peach Bowl. It was a feel-good moment for a team that returned a lot of talent from 2017’s 4-7 campaign.
The Gators are taking a hit in some of their most important positions in 2019. Defensive lineman Jachai Polite, who had the second-most sacks (11) in the SEC, is gone. Star safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who was tied for second in the SEC in interceptions (4), is gone. Four starters on the offensive line — Tyler Jordan, Martez Ivey, Fred Johnson and Jawaan Taylor — are gone.
Losing players to graduation or the NFL Draft isn’t anything new. But is it possible to predict how good Florida will be in 2019?
In the next alligatorSports’ “By the Numbers,” we look into how the UF football team will pan out next year and if it will be just as successful as this season.
Question: How good will the Gators be next season?
This will be hard to answer, but let’s give it a shot. First, let’s look at who is leaving on offense.
The biggest losses are coming on the offensive line. Jordan, Ivey, Johnson and Taylor played all 13 games this season. While they weren’t always perfect, they did a good job at giving quarterback Feleipe Franks enough time in the pocket and opening up holes for the runners. They will be tough to replace.
Running back Jordan Scarlett declared for the draft. He was UF’s second-leading rusher with 776 yards on 131 carries. Tight end C’yontai Lewis is also leaving due to graduation.
On defense, linebacker Vosean Joseph, Florida’s leading tackler (93), declared along with Gardner-Johnson and Polite. While the Gators didn’t take a big hit on defense in terms of numbers, they did lose a handful of playmakers.
Prediction: The Gators will not do as well next season.
This one was tough to predict, but purely based on the stats of those returning, Florida will still do well. Just not as well as this season.
Before we start, it’s important to point out that any first-year player or returning player can break out to fill the gaps. We don’t know who that will be yet, so we can’t count that in this article.
We’ll break down each position and give a quick analysis of each.
Quarterback: Franks had his best season at Florida so far. He threw for 2457 yards and 24 touchdowns, had a 58.4 completion percentage and threw just six interceptions all year. On top of that, Franks turned into a dual-threat quarterback, running for 350 yards and seven touchdowns. Florida will be fine at this position. The only question is if he can still do well without an experienced offensive line.
Running back: Scarlett was UF’s second-best rusher this season, but its best is sticking around. Lamical Perine emerged as a future first-option running back under Mullen’s running-back-by-committee scheme. He ran for 826 yards and seven touchdowns.
He will thrive as the main running back. Mix in sophomore Dameon Pierce and redshirt sophomore Malik Davis (returning from injury), the Gators could have one of the best running back corps in the SEC. Again, the biggest question is if they can still perform as well without a strong O-line.
Receiver: This will be quick. Florida isn’t losing a single receiver. Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, Josh Hammond, Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain and Kadarius Toney are all coming back. Together, they had 1,973 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Offensive Line: This will be why the Gators struggle early next season. The only returner is center Nick Buchanan, who played in 12 games last year. Brett Heggie and Stone Forsythe will help fill the role, as they combined for 22 games, but it still leaves a lot of open positions. Florida will need a freshman to play right away, and that will hamper the team’s success.
DBU: The cornerbacks and safeties will anchor Florida’s defense in 2019. CJ Henderson and Trey Dean, the starting corners, are back. Henderson recorded 38 tackles, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and three sacks, while Dean had 26 tackles, one interception and six pass breakups.
It only gets better, as Marco Wilson is returning from an ACL tear. This will put Henderson and Wilson as starters at corner, while Dean takes over Gardner-Johnson’s position at star safety. As for safety, Brad Stewart, Donovan Stiner, Jeawon Taylor and Shawn Davis are all back and bring a combined 176 tackles and 10 pass breakups with them.
Defensive Line: The good news is Florida returns a lot of talent at this position. Jabari Zuniga, Kyree Campbell, Elijah Conliffe, Khairi Clark, Tedarrell Slaton and Jeremiah Moon all have experience in the position. The bad news is none of them are established playmakers.
Polite was the anchor of that line. The returning line’s total sacks (10.5) is less than Polite’s (11). Losing Polite was a huge blow to the line, as he was a threat to any quarterback he faced. No returner has shown the ability to replicate that.
Follow Jake Dreilinger on Twitter @DreilingerJake and contact him at email@example.com.
Running back Lamical Perine ran for 826 yards and seven touchdowns.