Pair of Florida football players named to ESPN’s top 100 list

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The Gators’ offense may have been what got all the attention last year, but with many of the key contributors from that team gone, it’s the defensive side of the ball that retains the most experience. The unit struggled last season but it returns players like Zach Carter, Kaiir Elam, Ventrell Miller and Brenton Cox Jr., and the hope is that it will be improved in 2021.

Not everyone is convinced, but it seems ESPN is buying into the hype, at least a bit. On its list of the top 100 players in college football for the 2021 season, two Gators were named. Here’s a rundown of both of them.

No. 40 - CB Kaiir Elam

UAA Communications/Courtney Culbreath

There were some struggles last season by Florida's defense, but Elam was terrific. The 6-2, 190-pound junior is versatile in different coverages and has superb instincts. He has made 17 career starts and intercepted two passes last season after picking off three passes as a freshman, becoming just the fifth Gator since 2010 to intercept three passes in his first season.

It was a stellar sophomore season for Kaiir Elam in 2020. After starting several games as a true freshman due to injury, he became a full-time starter last year and was dominant on a defense that was a sieve otherwise. In addition to his two picks, his 11 passes deflected led the team. Elam is considered a first-round prospect heading into the 2021 season, with some mock drafts showing him as a top-10 pick and the No. 2 cornerback off the board.

No. 59 - BUCK Brenton Cox Jr.

UAA Communications/Chris Kim

The only question mark with Cox is a foot injury that required surgery this summer, but coach Dan Mullen has expressed optimism that the Gators' best pass-rusher will be ready for the opener. The 6-4, 250-pound Cox had a team-leading 18 quarterback hurries and 9.5 tackles for loss in his only season with Florida after beginning his career at Georgia.

On the injury front, Cox seems to be healthy as the team progresses through fall camp. That's good news for the Gators, who are expecting a huge year from Cox. His numbers on the stat sheet in 2020 weren't particularly impressive, as he finished with only 3.5 sacks, but that doesn't tell the full story on how disruptive he was. After totaling a team-high 18 quarterback hurries, and Florida will rely on that pressure once again in 2021.

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