Is the Billy Napier transfer strategy going to pan out? (Photo credit: University of Florida)
Recently, the Billy Napier transfer strategy has become a point of contention among those in Gator Nation. Is it going to help the Gators win in 2023? Is it set to lead Florida down a path for sustainable, long-term success?
The transfer portal has become a hot topic in college football, with teams using it to their advantage to fill in gaps in their roster. However, it’s important to note that it’s probably not best to be relied upon to fill an entire roster. It’s an effective band-aid, or a set of stitches, for a piece or two here or there at areas of major need. This offseason, Florida’s major needs were offensive line, linebacker, defensive back, and defensive line. The Billy Napier transfer strategy was a big reason why some needs were met and others not.
What most fans probably agree on is that Napier wasted no time in addressing at least some of these needs this offseason. Since December, he has added many players that will likely start or contribute next fall.
The Billy Napier transfer strategy has focused on adding players to bolster both the team’s depth and tremendous physical talent. On the top-flight talent end of things, his additions include a plethora of trench monsters, such as offensive linemen Baylor guard Micah Mazzccua, former Alabama offensive lineman Damieon George, former Top 40 offensive tackle Kiyaunta Goodwin from Kentucky, and recent USF transfer flip Lyndell Hudson. At least two of those are all but locked in as starters barring injury, and it wouldn’t be surprising if all four see themselves in the rotation this fall.
While perhaps not as intellectually honest to say that the guys on the other side of the trenches are top-flight athletes, Napier has overhauled the defensive line with a wave of clear upgrades. Additions such as Louisville transfer Caleb Banks and former SEC prospect CamRon Jackson– who, when his childhood dream of playing for LSU failed to materialize, rerouted to Memphis and then seized a redemptive second chance to play in the SEC at Florida- give this defensive line room an injection of energy. Both played major snaps this spring, and are expected to not only start this fall, but serve as mentors for the loaded defensive line class Florida just reeled in from the high school ranks.
Napier has also added depth to the RB room with Cameron Carroll. The running back position is probably the one Florida feels best about, with both Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson returning, but the part of the Billy Napier transfer strategy is to stockpile every position, even those of strength, with depth, in case of injury. And running backs, of course, take among the most punishment of any position.
The linebacker additions are expected to help greatly, too, both from a depth and talent perspective. Napier brought a pair of former bitter rivals to the same linebacker room as teammates, and though Ventrell Miller is going to be nearly impossible to replace- if for no reason other than his leadership skills- the ex-Michigan Wolverine Deuce Spurlock and ex-Ohio State Buckeye Teradja Mitchell are two more-than-capable bodies in the middle level of their defense.
Yet another area that Napier has notably boosted this offseason is the safety room, with the recent addition of RJ Moten– a likely starter this year. (Aside: Moten’s dad played for the Gators, so there’s a family connection there as well.) Moten comes with major experience in the Big Ten and helped lead Michigan to the playoffs this past season.
However, there were some areas of need that Napier failed to address, such as cornerback and the always-frustrating hybrid star position. He missed on Trey Amos- a former player of his at Louisiana- and Rhode Island transfer Antonio Carter who committed to Notre Dame this weekend after a visit was set up. The staff was also too slow to get offensive tackle Josh Simmons on campus from San Diego State, who ultimately went to Ohio State.
And then there’s the issue at quarterback, which has dominated the talking points this offseason.
As Anthony Richardson showed off his incredible athletic abilities throughout the 2022 season and his NFL Draft stock soared, Florida fans began eyeing different QB’s across the country as possible targets. Among them: Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall, Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman, NC State’s Devin Leary, and LSU’s Walker Howard. For one reason or another it didn’t happen with any of them.
Instead, Florida added Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz this offseason, who- barring an eleventh-hour jackpot through the portal this summer- is expected to be the starter. The upside with Mertz is that he does have some experience, and at the QB position, that’s valuable. The downside is that the tape shows he’s very limited as a pure passer, and even though his spring game stats weren’t terrible, some of his passes just weren’t explainable. Hopefully this summer will yield some more familiarity with the playbook, and his receivers, and thus some improvement there, but most Gator fans are simply hoping he doesn’t lose games- and that the other players around him will be the ones who win them.
Despite criticism from fans, Napier seems to be defending his staff’s approach. Most recently, Napier addressed this at the Gator Club gathering in Sarasota by saying that they take time in evaluating and getting visits… but that’s not fast enough to land the type of talent Florida needs. He also hinted that academic standards may have prevented the team from bringing in McCall.
Nobody worth paying any attention to is saying that Napier’s job is in danger. The reality is that he was hired at Florida not to orchestrate the quick microwave fix, but to slow-cook the program back to its peak. So he’s going to get at least two, maybe more, years to implement and possibly tweak his strategy based on early returns.
On the other hand, Napier has also shown an ability to adjust on the fly and make improvements when his initial plans didn’t work at his last stop at Louisiana. Now that he’s in the big leagues of the SEC and competing with every other major school for the top prospects, Napier is going to have to re-gauge his patience vs. urgency scale.
You don’t want to be impulsive or desperate and fail to do your due diligence, because that’s how you wind up with bad takes who either poison the locker room or publicly embarrass your program. And so far, Billy Napier hasn’t taken a player- either from high school or the portal- who’s done either of those. (No, Jaden Rashada does not count. The “adults” involved in his recruitment were the ones who brought the embarrassment.)
But if your double-and-triple-checking-everything vetting process takes too long for you to show serious interest in kids, and they commit to other schools because they feel as though those schools have always been showing them love, Florida is going to keep losing talented prospects with no character issues to schools who will beat them on the field. It’s a tricky proposition because you can’t afford to fail on either side of that spectrum, and the consensus is that the Gators failed on the “patience” side of it with the QB position this offseason.
And most of the frustration really boils down to that one thing. Many fans just do not expect Mertz to be the QB to win major games for Florida this fall. It’s unfortunate that a presumed failure at one position can override successes at others, but that’s just the reality of the game of football, where the QB is the most important position in the game.
Overall, the staff has done a great job of improving the roster by adding quality depth on both lines of scrimmage, bringing in a starting caliber safety, and a pair of veteran linebackers. And yes, we can even count a QB who can start for one year before DJ Lagway arrives here.
However, they seem to have missed out on more top-end talent that could have boosted the roster. In a year where improvement has to happen, each miss is more magnified than the wins. It remains to be seen how the Billy Napier transfer strategy will pan out as he attacks the portal in future years, but it’s clear that he’s working to address the team’s major needs and build a competitive roster.
Time will tell if his strategy will address them well enough. Here’s hoping it does.