Though the Letters of Intent have been signed and faxed in, Inside the Gators isn't quite ready to move on from the class of 2014 just yet. Today, in order give a more complete look at the Florida signees, Matt Hamilton shares his expert opinion on Florida's signing class.
All evaluations were based off each player's Rivals.com highlight film. Scouts usually need at least three full game tapes of a player to get a full evaluation of his skill set, strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. More so, scouts prefer the tapes not to be from consecutive games. Highlight tapes only show off a few physical traits and some tendencies as far as technique is concerned.
It is important to keep in mind things like practice habits and character go a long way in determining recruits' success.
Having said that, here is what I observed from watching their highlight tapes
PART III: DEFENSIVE ENDS & SECONDARY
To this point in his career as a head coach, defensive skill players (ends, linebackers and secondary) are far and away Muschamp's strength as a recruiter. You don't have to look further than the gems of his last two classes, Vernon Hargreaves III, Jonathan Bullard, and Dante Fowler Jr., to see that. I include defensive ends in this group, as I consider pass rushers another skill position. Even with all of their struggles as a team last year, the Gators' defense was still 5th in the nation and total defense and 4th in yards per play allowed at a mere 4.36. As the young talent on the defense continues to develop, they should only get better, and if any of these freshmen can make an instant impact, it's scary to think what this group is capable of next season.
Porter is an athlete an every sense of the word. A high school quarterback, Porter projects best to me as a cornerback, but I could also see him playing wide receiver. At just 163-pounds, he definitely has the frame to bulk up as well. Obviously, there is no tape on his hands, but he is a smooth and fluid athlete with more length than his 6'0 frame suggests. He has good hips and balance. Above average speed, faster than he appears due to his long strides, but doesn't have that top end burst. It will take time and refinement at whatever position he ends up at, but there is always room on the field for an athlete of Porter's caliber.
Dawson is a talented cornerback with good hips and change of direction. Could also see him playing safety at the college level. He is physical off the line and a willing tackler. He is not going to lay any big hits, but he is not afraid to step up and make a tackle. Good instincts, he plays the ball well and is aggressive. Impressive in man coverage. Dropped a few INTs. His biggest concerns are his technique and his top end speed. His footwork in his zone drops is sloppy, but he is a good enough athlete that it should be fixable. While his change of direction is superb, I question what his true top end speed is off of the tape. He's not slow by any means, but is he fast enough to keep up with top-flight SEC playmakers? I'm not sure and I really need to see more 1-on-1s or true all-22 to know for certain as he is out of frame for much of his highlight tapes. If he isn't, his aggression at the line and instincts will help him compensate for this.
Without question Jackson can fly. Was a talented wide receiver and return man in high school as well as a cornerback on his tape. He has good hips and quick feet and should be able to run with anyone. Good instincts and aggressive in pursuit. Good change of direction. Good hands and ball skills. The biggest concern with Jackson is the lack of any film of him playing man. I have no doubt with his skill set that he can, but not seeing him do it means he may have a slightly longer developmental period as he likely will have to work on his technique. Also, interested to see how he would match up against longer and tougher wide outs on the outside. Overall, there is no denying his speed, athleticism, and raw talent, but there may be some work to do before he can take the field.
Tabor is a long, fast, athletic cornerback thought to be the jewel of this 2014 class. I was impressed with Tabor's speed, hips, and change of direction. He is especially good in man coverage. Talented blitzer. He has good ball skills and really competes for the ball. He has an attitude and a mean streak, which I love to see out of a corner who will likely have to match up against some big receivers in the SEC. His long arms will be a major asset in jamming opponents off the line and playing the ball. In zone, he peers into the backfield a little too often and gets caught flat-footed. He needs to improve his zone drops and technique, but he can man up against pretty much anyone. If he continues to hone his skills, there is no reason why he shouldn't live up to the billing with his sensational athleticism.
Wilson is a versatile defensive back that can play either corner or safety. I think he projects better at safety. Wilson has above average straight-line speed and is at his best in zone coverage. He has average hips. At 6'2, 195, has the ideal frame to add some bulk and play safety. Good instincts and footwork and zone. Good change of direction. Will come up and lay some hits. Above average ball skills and hands. Struggled in man at times. Can get run past. Didn't use his length as much as I would like at the line. Seemed much more comfortable in deep zones or at the safety spot. Good blitzer. Overall, Wilson as an excellent skill set and can be successful at either cornerback or safety, but I think he more naturally fits into the safety spot and it allows him to best play to his strengths.
Bryan is a hard-nosed, edge setting DE with good strength and the frame to become a monster. More of a run stuffer than a pass rusher, Bryan has a good initial get-off and is violent with his hands. Plays with a nasty streak and takes pride in putting opposing linemen on the ground. Only average athleticism. Technique is an issue as he frequently plays too high and relies on sheer upper body strength. When he does get good leverage and drives with his feet he flattens opponents. Good motor and decent speed in pursuit. I don't anticipate Bryan putting up huge sack numbers, but after a year in the weight room and refining his technique, offensive coordinators may be calling their run plays away from his side.
Reed is a lightning quick speed rusher. He can stand to add some bulk to his frame, although he appears closer to 230 than the 215 listed. Reed is at his best when slanting or stunting and can shoot gaps with incredible speed and quickness. Good motor and pursuit speed. He will struggle getting off blocks once o-linemen get their hands on him, but he can avoid blocks with his quickness and above-average athleticism in pass rushing situations. Makes plays in the run game shooting gaps, but not sure he will be able to hold up on the edge when he is asked to. If he bulks up, he may be able to, but he will need some time. Needs to use his hands better to shed blockers as well. While his quickness is such a huge asset, Reed needs to refine the rest of his skill set if he wants to be an every down DE. If he does, he has the physical tools to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Willis is a playmaking defensive end with good size (and the frame to get bigger) and very good athleticism and quickness. He is surprisingly quick for his size and in the 2 highlight tapes and 1-on-1 session only one offensive lineman even got their hands on him. That speaks to his quickness and athleticism, but also makes you wonder how much refinement he'll need, as that's not going to be the case in the SEC. I will say though, the one snap where someone got their hands on him, he bull rushed his opponent back about 7 yards, shed him, and then tracked down the quarterback as he scrambled. Made a ton of plays off the edge and has the makings of a dynamic pass rusher. Above average bend, but will over run some plays. Willis may need a little more time, but he will be a dangerous weapon once he's ready.
OVERALL: This is once again Muschamp's strongest group, headlined by the secondary. Between this class and last year's, opponents are going to struggle to throw on this team for years to come. Muschamp also added significant DE depth, which is especially important considering Bullard and/or Fowler could be gone if they take the steps I anticipate them to in 2014. This defense is going to be insanely good in a few years.
Overall Thoughts on the 2014 Class: In my opinion, though last year's may have been rated higher, from top to bottom this was Muschamp's finest class in the three years I have been evaluating them. While it lacked some of the bigger names and featured a lot of linemen (which may not excite people), the staff just made this team a whole lot better from top to bottom for years to come. They added the explosive offensive players they desperately needed, two excellent quarterback prospects, re-stocked the offensive line, and loaded up in the secondary. I also feel like some of these kids were underrated to be honest. While David Sharpe still needs some work, I feel he is a better prospect than D.J. Humphries was and Ryan Sousa may only be a slot receiver, but he has a chance to be one of the best in college football at an increasingly important position. At the end of the day, this class will likely be defined by the success of its quarterbacks. If Will Grier can develop mentally and cut down on some of his carelessness with the football, I think it is in good hands. Grier, Sharpe, Sousa, and Tabor all have the tools to be very special players in my eyes. Not that they're the only ones in this class, as I think some of these players are just very raw and need some time but have phenomenal physical abilities, but those four jumped off the tape the most.
Matt Hamilton was a former student assistant for the quarterbacks at Missouri, coach at the high school level in Connecticut, intern scout for the Detroit Lions and currently works at NFL Films breaking down film for use on the show Playbook on NFL Network.