The Florida Gators right now are a team in transition, and it’s not a coincidence that this team has struggled since Tim Tebow–one of the best players in the history of college football–left for the NFL. When John Brantley took over as the UF quarterback, people expected the hiccups that come with a young quarterback, but after his performance in spot duty, I don’t think anyone quite expected how bad he would actually be in 2010. Now, Gators fans are not sure what is going to happen with the quarterback position, and Brantley again struggled at the Florida Spring game.
If Brantley can come through for the Gators this year, it could be a big season for them. They are a team right now really being overlooked, but they are as talented top to bottom as most teams in the country, and they are starting up a new style of football this season with Will Muschamp as the new head coach, and Charlie Weis as the offensive coordinator. The success of this team in a year of transition really hinges on how well Brantley responds at the quarterback position…
12 John Brantley (Senior), QB, 6’3″ 220
Brantley has the requisite size and athletic ability to be an NFL quarterback, and he has the arm strength to do it as well. Against lesser competition (Florida International) it seems he is very accurate under pressure and on the run, and throws a very catchable ball. Obviously, he had some real problems translating that to the field this past year, where he threw for merely 2,061 yards, nine touchdowns, and 10 interceptions while completing just under 61 percent of his passes. This all coming after a sophomore campaign where Brantley threw for 410 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions completing 75 percent of his limited number of passes the year before. There’s no doubt the skills are there for Brantley to be a successful quarterback, and hopefully with one year in Charlie Weis’ system, he can grow into a potential starting NFL quarterback as well. He had shown glimpses of what he can bring to the table, but can he put it all together this year? Questions remain for Brantley, but he remains a viable NFL prospect.
2 Jeffery Demps (Senior), RB, 5’8″ 190
Jeff Demps is flat out one of the fastest men in sports right now, regardless of what level. Demps has Olympic track star speed, and translates that on to the field. Last year, he led the Gators with 551 rushing yards, and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Demps has 17 career rushing touchdowns, and has averaged 7.5, 7.0, and 6.0 yards per carry throughout his Gators career. He has had some injuries, which has prevented him from being a top tier runner in college football, but he definitely has game-breaking speed and could be a great change of pace back at the next level, and also has potential possibly as a slot wide receiver and return specialist.Demps is the fastest track athlete in college right now (9.85 second 100 meter dash) and could challenge for the fastest recorded 40 yard dash time in the history of the league at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.
3 Chris Rainey (RS Senior), RB/WR, 5’9: 178
Very versatile player for the Gators who comes with a long list of red flags. Rainey has been arrested and charged with stalking in his time at Florida, allegedly sending a text to his former girlfriend of three years that said, “Time to die,” and then after she called the police, he allegedly told her to “Wait and see what happens when they [the police] leave.” Coaches declared that Rainey was no longer part of the Florida football team in September last season, but he was given a second chance and enters the season on top of the team’s depth chart at both running back and as a wide receiver. Rainey is a smaller player who can contribute in a multitude of ways thanks to his gift of blazing speed. Rainey is getting all of the reps right now as the starting RB in Charlie Weis’ system with other players nursing injury and the aforementioned Jeff Demps running track, and he says it feels like he’s back in high school again now running out of the I-formation. Watch out for Rainey to have a huge year if he can stay healthy. With Brantley’s struggles at quarterback, the Gators should use their speedy running game to get the offense going, and with two guys in Rainey and Demps who have speed to burn, they could be dangerous.
6 Deonte Thompson (RS Senior), WR, 6’0″ 200
The common theme so far in the Florida skill position players has been speed, and Thompson is another guy who has a ton of it. Thompson enters the season as the most experienced receiver on the Gators’ depth chart, and he led the team in receiving last year with 38 catches for 570 yards and a touchdown. You would love to see Thompson able to get into the end zone more often, and he was on pace to seemingly do so before with seven touchdowns in his first two seasons as a Gator. Shows very solid effort as a blocker downfield. Able to get downfield in a hurry, and has big play ability. Thompson is probably most famous for his comments about transitioning from Tim Tebow to John Brantley, where he said that Brantley was a “real quarterback” as opposed to the way he described Tebow. He’s got great size and speed, and should be able to contribute to an NFL offense and special teams unit.
6 Jaye Howard (RS Senior), DT, 6’3″ 305
Howard is Florida’s most productive returning defensive tackle defensively, though following ankle surgery this offseason, he is not listed on the Spring two-deeps. He has NFL potential with his size, strength, and athletic ability, and if he can build off of a junior season where he had 12 tackles for loss, he could be a day two pick in the coming draft. Howard also has seven career sacks, and could be a big impact player and leader for the Gator defense in 2011.
The Gators are a very young team with a ton of upside. This is a team that might not have a ton of blue-chip NFL prospects for 2012, but in future years, this is a team to really keep an eye on as a pipeline for NFL players.