At nearly every level of sport, team-building is the most interesting part of being a fan. There’s a reason the term “armchair GM” was invented – it’s a lot of fun to look at the players who could soon don the uniform of a fan’s favorite team.
At the collegiate level, it can be particularly tough to ascertain which players to hone in on since there isn’t much information out there on most high school players and much of recruiting happens behind closed doors.
However, just as the 2020 season was unique, it was a uniquely challenging year for recruiting. Doors weren’t just closed to fans; they were closed to insiders as well. The NCAA imposed a recruiting dead period on all teams. That meant no home visits, no campus visits and no private camps or workouts.
Now, the dead period restrictions are about to be lifted, and teams can resume normal activity on June 1. With that date looming, it is useful to take a look at the players Florida is prioritizing in the 2022 recruiting class to get a taste of what the Gators’ future may hold.
For the purposes of this article, we’re defining priority target as a player who is within the 247Sports’ top 100 and has expressed mutual interest in Florida’s scholarship offer. Obviously, plenty of offers exist to players who will not be included here. But as football demands a tremendous amount of recruiting, we’ve whittled the list to the best players head coach Dan Mullen has a real chance at reeling into the Swamp.
RB George Pettaway
Pettaway is a well-rounded, do-it-all back. With explosiveness off the line and lightning-fast cuts, he can reliably get to and through the second level. He's not a hammer, but he can run through contact when the defense gets a hand on him. While his burst allows him to get in on the action on screen passes, his ball skills could stand to get better. He's the kind of playmaker that has thrived in Gainesville in recent years. https://twitter.com/BrianDohn247/status/1325502068275163136 Florida has reportedly stepped it up recently in its efforts to land a commitment. The Mullen offense has frequently incorporated strong attacks on the ground, and Pettaway could make an instant impact in that regard. He listed the Gators in his top 10 schools, and they could rise on the list if the team re-emphasizes running the ball post-Kyle Trask.
WR Evan Stewart
Stewart was originally committed to the Texas Longhorns, but he came available again after decommiting in early March. Naturally, the Gators were in the mix for him; he's one of the nation's top receiving threats and he squarely fits the school's preferred type of receiver. Florida will have to battle some of the most marketable brands in college football to land a commitment, though, as Alabama and LSU are also interested. https://twitter.com/NickHarris247/status/1368332014307393542 The foundation of Stewart's game is his vertical speed. He has a background in track, thus he gets on top of defensive backs and downfield with haste. Track players are often obvious on tape because of their lack of football instincts, but Stewart also has a promising knack for routes that can be fleshed out with reps. He's also a handful at the catch point, with a surprisingly high catch radius for a player with a 6-foot frame. Mullen adores vertical threats who make life hard at the catch point, so Stewart is a clear choice for a heavy push on Florida's part.
TE Oscar Delp
If there's any school whose fans can get excited about a tight end, it's Florida. It can be easy to zero in on Mullen's faults, but he's a clever schemer and knows how to create mismatch opportunities for his pass catchers. That includes tight ends with ball skills (Kyle Pitts, anyone? Oh come on, I know you're thinking it) and Delp has the traits to be the Gators' next guy in that vein. https://twitter.com/MattDeBary/status/1368718312235036672 Delp's abilities in the passing game will land him a job at one of the nation's premier football schools. He's a 6-foot-5-inch former wide receiver who is fast for a guy his size and has fantastic routes for a tight end. Being new to the position, he needs to improve on his blocking, but his fantastic feet, hands and body control are much more important in today's football. 247Sports complimented his ability to get open, writing he can "shake defenders with simple jabs and head fakes." Simply put, Delp is not an ordinary tight end and will make his future team's fans very happy.
TE Jaleel Skinner
Skinner is a similar tight end to Delp, in that he's enough of a threat in the passing game that his high school team often lines him up as a receiver regardless of the fact that he's huge and a little slower than most wideouts. There really aren't many defensive backs cut out to cover Skinner. He's a long strider with a 6-foot-5-inch frame, ultra-long arms and a competitor's mindset. https://twitter.com/Rivals/status/1364628909652762626 What sets him apart from Delp is his lack of refinement. There's lots of room for muscle on his frame, but he's not really a tank yet and needs to put on a good bit of healthy weight to reach his physical potential. As a result, he's not particularly good at moving bodies around yet, and he gets beaten on blocking assignments. There's also no guarantee he'll remain a good passing threat after he adds bulk, which would greatly reduce his value. If things click for Skinner, he'll be a jaw-dropping tight end, but he is a project and it all has to go right.
OT Tyler Booker
Booker would be a huge get for the Gators, whose offensive line hasn't been the strong suit in recent years. Booker is a former defensive lineman and plays the O-line like a defensive convert. That's to say he's strong and punchy at the point of attack but isn't consistent in his pass sets despite having the requisite agility. He's often able to get the jump on the defensive lineman and is tough to shake once he latches on. Outmuscling his high school competition, he has his way with opposing lineman and seldom is pushed back into the quarterback's lap. https://twitter.com/CoachBA1010/status/1339039767720304641 Booker's powerful attack gives him tackle/guard versatility if he can't refine his footwork in the passing game, but his ability to open up the run game would make him a big asset in Gainesville. Given he's only recently committed to playing offensive tackle full time, he could feasibly improve a great deal once he masters the nuances of the position. Even if his sets don't get a heck of a whole lot better, his versatility allows the team to play their best five along the offensive trench.
DE Enai White
At one point considered a top-10 player in the 2022 recruiting class, White's stock has fallen off a bit but he's still one of the best out there. The draw here is his explosion at the line of scrimmage. He's tough for tackles to outmaneuver, and with 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5-inch frame, he packs a punch as well. The physical attributes are clearly in place for White to become a dangerous player in both run defense and while rushing the passer. https://youtu.be/wY_X4v2sl20?t=16 Where White gets into trouble is when he can't just burn the tackle he's lined up against and has to use hand-fighting technique to shoot a gap or bend the corner. "Must improve technique. Has to be consistent with a rip, spin or swim move to accentuate athleticism," wrote 247Sports. "Continued development with hands and being more active in keeping offensive linemen off him is needed." If White can sharpen a consistent technique, he's going to be a walking nightmare.
DE/LB Cyrus Moss
The biggest wild card among the Gators' top recruits is Moss, who is a total project without a clear defensive home. He started as a strong safety, but has progressively been deployed closer and closer to the line of scrimmage as an outside linebacker and eventually a defensive end. He's pretty lean, and his target body composition will depend on the usage his eventual collegiate team has in mind. https://twitter.com/GregBiggins/status/1385987924211027975 Moss' career trajectory will be especially interesting to follow. To call the range of outcomes for his college production broad would be a colossal understatement. It's fair to question whether the Gators would be the right landing spot for him. A versatile, positionless player requires a clever coordinator and a solid cast of running mates to succeed, and Florida cannot confidently claim to have either one of those things. He listed Florida in his top five schools, though, and it's hard not to dream on a guy who shows flashes in both coverage and when rushing the passer.
DT Walter Nolen
Walter Nolen is the best defensive line prospect in the 2022 recruiting class, and the idea that Florida has a shot at him should be thrilling. Forget that linemen aren't the sexiest players on the field, you will not care about positional value when you watch Nolen's highlights. He's a tank who has plenty of bend and a disruptive skill set to match his athletic traits. His size and length could support more weight if a team views him as a nose tackle, but he could theoretically flex out to the 3-tech spot as well. https://twitter.com/TheUCReport/status/1234237717002772480 Even the 247Sports' normally cold tone couldn't hide the enthusiasm for Nolen in their scouting report. He's described as a "punchy and physical" tackle whose "violent hands will become even more dangerous as pass-rush move set expands." He will not seriously lack in any category and the only negative to say about him is that he doesn't have the elite size and strength to put gaps on lockdown and kill the run game. If the worst thing about a player is that he isn't elite at something, you've got a special kid on your hands.
DT Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy
Another tank with legitimate upside against passing offenses, the Gators landed in the top 11 schools for Browlow-Dindy. Many of the schools who are in on Nolen have also put out feelers to Browlow-Dindy's camp, and he's one heck of a consolation prize. Explosive off the snap, his best attribute is his quick and powerful hands. He can easily redirect interior offensive lineman, pierce through gaps, or stop a running back in his tracks, creating problems for the offense at every phase along the trenches. https://twitter.com/BigCountyPreps1/status/1240349756787957761 Browlow-Dindy isn't quite as disruptive in pass defense as Nolen, but he isn't tied to his explosiveness. He makes up for it with more power and can simply bull rush a guard if needed. In the rare instances where his opposing offensive lineman gets the jump on him, he is controlled and steady, forcing his opponent to earn every inch and rarely surrendering round for a running lane. He is a well-rounded and talented lineman who can rush the passer and collapse the pocket and would be a fantastic addition to any defensive front.
LB Shawn Murphy
The Gators have a tough road ahead if they're serious about bringing Murphy into the fold. He's receiving a consequential amount of attention from all of the recruiting powerhouses. Florida's offer will be contested by offers from Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State. All that fanfare is well-earned, though. MIKE linebackers don't have high positional value, but Murphy is outstanding in his role. https://twitter.com/CraigHaubert/status/1389021661639454724 Off-ball linebackers are expected to be able to work in traffic and diagnose plays in order to beeline downhill to the ball carrier, and Murphy offers both of those skills. He's an intelligent player who has fantastic body control, which is the perfect combination for a developmental MIKE. He needs to add strength, but that shouldn't be a problem in a collegiate conditioning program given his frame construction. The pieces are there for Murphy to be a very good college player, he just needs to make it happen.
CB Terrance Brooks
The Gators offered Brooks a scholarship days before replacing their cornerbacks coach, but the new staff immediately re-upped his offer, and the program appears to be making him their top target at corner in the 2022 class. Florida commit Nick Evers, who plays for a nearby school, has also been turning up the heat on Brooks (as well as other attractive Texas recruiting targets). https://twitter.com/Rivals_Singer/status/1371179261609009155 Brooks comes from a football family and he has good ball skills, something of a trend among high-end Florida recruiting targets. At the NCAA level, he seems destined for a nickel back assignment, as his physical style of play will make him useful in run defense as well as in coverage. The Gators don't have a long-term solution at slot corner, and Brooks would be a godsend if he can contribute early in his college career thanks to his high effort and feel for the sport.
S Kamari Wilson
Able to play both downhill and in coverage, Wilson plays angry and is looking to do damage when he contacts a ball carrier. His vicious tackling is made all the more effective by his excellent spatial awareness. 247Sports notes he is able to "stay within striking distance as he runs with tight ends and running backs." Wilson is at his best when he's facing a power-based offensive attack, but he does the dirty work at the catch point as well and has strong hands to fight for pass breakups. https://twitter.com/Rivals/status/1311827738995699715 Firing safeties Ron English after the season ended could hurt the Gators case considering Wilson referred to him as a "friend/father figure." However, Florida badly needs to add talented players to their defensive backfield and could make a pitch based around early playing time. He'd fill a gaping void on the team's roster, as there really aren't many quality help defenders to be found in Gainesville. Rivals reported that Florida's interest in Wilson has been "hot and cold" but after replacing their positional coaches, they "seem all-in" on making him a Gator.
ATH Gentry Williams
Williams primarily plays quarterback for his high school team and the national consensus seems to be that his highest ceiling is as a cornerback, but the Gators are recruiting him as a wide receiver. At any of those positions, speed and fluidity will be what earns him a roster spot. He's pretty slim at the moment and will more than likely add good weight as he fills into his man body, but he'll have to weigh his added bulk against the potential of losing some of his quickness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5HNRxilomg&feature=youtu.be Williams is a spectacular straight-line runner, but he can also give some wiggle when he's squaring off against defensive backs. The "impressive turn and run agility" that 247Sports attributes him with as a cornerback will also be an asset as a route runner, as it will allow him to erase quarterback timing issues if he's left stranded at the top of his route for a moment. It'll be a tough sell for the Gators to get him to the Swamp as a pass catcher when the loudest voices are saying he should be a corner.
ATH Azareyeh Thomas
Thomas could have a future as an outside corner, free safety, or wide receiver, depending on how the collegiate program he joins decides to utilize him. He's a keystone offensively for his high school team, and with the speed and wingspan of a guy who destroys man coverage, it's no wonder Mullen's interest was piqued by the in-state recruit. On the other hand, some prefer him as a ball-hawking defensive back that covers Z receivers. https://twitter.com/SethSnwfdn/status/1335033129220907008 It's not clear on which side of the ball the Gators would plan to deploy Thomas, and it may come down to need within the program. The team's defensive secondary has been painfully incompetent for the last couple of years, so they may see him as the answer at free safety as the primary help defender or an option to succeed Kaiir Elam as a running mate for Jason Marshall Jr. It's hard to ignore how well he fits the mold of Mullen receivers, though, so anything is a possibility at this point.
K Alex McPherson
OK, I'm cheating a bit here, McPherson isn't ranked as a top 100 recruit. Thanks to the limited value of specialists, it's virtually impossible to place him above players who could see regular snaps and be productive. However, he is the top-ranked kicker and one of only four players at his position from the 2022 class to earn a star rating from 247Sports. He has ties to the program already – his brother Evan was a fifth-round draft pick out of Florida – and scheduled a June 18th visit. https://twitter.com/KohlsKicking/status/1377334753972658190 It would be fun to get another set of sibling specialists through the program to pair with punters Tommy and Johnny Townsend, but adding McPherson makes good football sense too. The Gators' current kicker, Jace Christmann, is a transfer for the 2021 season who has been playing in the NCAA since 2016. Thus, there will be an open spot for the taking when 2022 rolls around, which McPherson could snag as a freshman. [listicle id=34902] [listicle id=34865] [listicle id=33425]