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- American-football player (1979-)
The Florida Gators, like every other team in college football, are adapting to a new era of roster building that allows for players to transfer schools with far greater ease than ever before. In the case of the Gators’ roster, it means losing a number of key players from the 2021 roster to the transfer portal, including Jacob Copeland, Emory Jones, and Khris Bogle.
On the flip side, it also affords the team an exciting opportunity to build in the image of Billy Napier from the get-go. The portal is packed full of players even this early in the college football offseason due to the sheer number of teams undergoing coaching changes during the bowl season. There are plenty of guys out there to sift through and identify a handful who will fit what Napier is looking for during his first year in The Swamp.
Earlier this month, we looked at a quartet of players who could make the Gators better in 2022. Now, let’s examine another four guys in the portal who may pique the interest of Napier and his staff.
EDGE Lonnie Phelps Jr., Miami (OH)
© Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press
Before he became a star in the MAC, Phelps Jr. was a low-end three-star recruit in the 2019 class who held an offer from only Miami (OH). With three years of experience under his belt and two years of eligibility remaining, Phelps Jr. decided it was time to test the waters and entered the portal. His true freshman season was a productive one, but he’s added over 30 pounds of good weight since then and had a true breakout campaign in 2021.
Phelps Jr. just wrapped up an impressive 9.5 sack season, and alongside 30 total tackles, he was an obvious selection for All-Conference honors. The jump from the MAC to the SEC is a big one, and if he came to the Gators, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect similar production. He has nothing left to prove with the RedHawks, though, and it makes sense for him to pursue a greater challenge.
Miami (OH) game film is readily available on YouTube, so I took the opportunity to see what Phelps Jr has to offer on the gridiron. He is clearly too much of an athlete for MAC offensive lineman. He largely lines up across from left tackles, but blows by them easily; he can also cut across the face of the line of scrimmage to get to a ballcarrier or stunt into the pocket.
The odds would be against him walking immediately into a starring role on the defensive line in Florida. After losing Bogle, though, the Gators are in need of useful depth in the trenches and Phelps Jr. could be exactly that.
RB Zach Evans, TCU
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Evans was rated as the 16th best prospect in the nation when he came out of high school in 2020 and committed to TCU only after bouncing from school to school during his recruitment process. At points along the way, he was considered an LSU lean, an Alabama lean, a Texas A&M lean, and even signed with Georgia before being granted a release from his Letter of Intent.
In light of how wild his recruitment was, it’s not a huge surprise to see Evans in the portal after two seasons with a team he wasn’t attached to for long before enrolling. He’s going to be a popular asset in the portal. Considered a deadly fast runner in high school with a “devastating start-stop-start,” he has a rare combination of physical assets that could make him a potent weapon.
Florida attempted to make a play for him as his recruitment drew to a close, scheduling a mid-March visit to Gainesville that precipitated three Crystal Ball predictions of a Florida commitment despite it being canceled due to the coronavirus. The staff is different now, but Napier likes to run the ball and Evans is a talented back who clearly had an interest in playing for the Gators at one point. Maybe there’s a match to be had here.
WR Jacob Cowing, UTEP
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Cowing was the centerpiece of the UTEP offense in 2021, and he proved himself worthy of that mantle. His counting stats are a sight to behold — 1,354 yards tallied over 69 receptions, averaging nearly 20 yards per catch, all while playing in the slot. With two years of eligibility remaining for the 2019 two-star, he’s ready to take on a challenge in the high majors.
The SEC is a far sight tougher than anything he faced with consistency at UTEP, but he’s proven to be worthy of a role far outstripping his former two-star ranking. The Gators seem like an excellent landing spot for two main reasons.
First, the Gators will be entrusting their offense to quarterback Anthony Richardson. The young quarterback is an unbelievable athlete with arm talent and wiggle to make life hard for defenses. However, in his brief exposure during the 2021 season, he proved out of his depth at times. Cowing could be a reliable dump-off target for Richardson in the slot while the quarterback channels his natural abilities into true talent.
Secondly, now that the Gators have Keary Colbert on staff to coach the wide receivers, we have an idea of how Napier wants to develop his offense. Colbert is a master at turning long-limbed athletes into productive outside receivers. With Ja’Quavion Fraziers, Xzavier Henderson, and Marcus Burke, he’ll have a treasure trove to work with at Florida.
However, the team lacks a solidified slot guy. Mullen preferred to recruit receivers with a build for the outside job and let then adjust to SEC play on in the slot. Cowing, belong an experienced and productive player, could relieve the pressure on Colbert to develop an underneath receiver and let him work his magic with the Gators’ outside guys.
OG McKade Mettauer, Cal
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Most head coaches prefer to bring along their offensive linemen slowly, but Mettauer claimed a starting role as a freshman after underperformance and injury racked the Cal offensive line in 2019. He’s hung onto that role in the two years since, playing left guard for the Golden Bears throughout 2021 and earning All-Conference honors in the process.
As a staple on an offensive line that was described as “truly stellar at blocking up the run,” Mettauer was a major contributor to that identity. He plays with furious intensity and Rivals scouted him as being “tough to move, incredibly strong, and [craving] contact.” Thus, he’s a natural fit with the kind of offense that Napier is looking to run with the Gators.
With offensive lineman, it’s tough to find much information on individual contributors because teamwork is intrinsic in line play. Despite that, it’s reasonable to expect that Napier will want to being in someone to bolster the Gators’ unit. His stated intent to hire two offensive line coaches and the troublingly inconsistent play of the current group makes it clear that they need help.
As an experienced guard who can step in right away and play a run-centric scheme, Mettauer makes all the sense in the world as a Gators target. His multiple years of remaining eligibility are a cherry on top as the current staff tries to right the ship in recruiting and repair the lack of decent depth along the line of scrimmage.