With the Cece Jefferson saga finally coming to a close, and the Gators’ Class of 2015 finally becoming official, it’s finally time to sit back and assess the class Jim McElwain put together. Of course, he was handcuffed by the disaster area Will Muschamp left him to deal with, but he just rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
So let’s break down the class by going back to my pre-NSD checklist and handing out grades for each category. How did the Gators do?
Need at running back: A-
Um, check. Florida snagged a pair of consensus four star backs in Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite. With the departure of Matt Jones to the NFL, Florida needed to get at least one top back. They got two, neither of whom were committed to or even seriously considering Florida under Will Muschamp. Golf clap for McElwain.
Need at offensive linemen: A
Why don’t we go ahead and check that one too. The OL group was headlined by unanimous five star Martez Ivey, but he’s far from the only serviceable lineman McElwain grabbed: Tyler Jordan, Brandon Sandifer, Nick Buchanan and Frederick Johnson all held offers from multiple other BCS conference schools, and Florida grabbed them all. They may need to step in immediately; the Gators graduate five offensive linemen who contributed last year, including three starters. Credit McElwain for acknowledging that need and doing something about it.
Need at quarterback: F
This is about the only failure McElwain faced in his first recruiting class. The general rule of thumb is to sign a QB in every class, and McElwain did try to. But efforts to land Lamar Jackson (Louisville) and Deondre Francois (FSU) turned out to be in vain. Florida has two solid QB’s in Will Grier and Treon Harris, but after that… boy, it gets murky. If both go down, the Gators are in serious trouble. And you only have to go back two years in time to see what happens when you have to rely on your third string QB. It’s not pretty.
Keeping Florida kids in state: C+
Florida (McElwain) did a great job closing in the state of Florida, scooping up Ivey (top tackle), Cronkrite, Scarlett, Cece Jefferson (one of the top two defensive ends, depending on who you listen to, he or Byron Cowart is the best in the class) and D’Anfernee McGriff. McElwain was able to flip Scarlett and McGriff away from two huge recruiting rivals in Miami and Auburn, respectively. And wrestling Cece Jefferson away from Auburn, Ole Miss and Alabama was definitely a big win for him.
But the Gators were fighting a losing battle in the state of Florida this year thanks to the horrendous position Will Muschamp left this program in. While it’s certainly not McElwain’s fault, the Gators didn’t do nearly as good a job in state as they usually do. In fact, they did downright horrible overall, landing just three of the state’s top 30 recruits according to both Rivals and ESPN. The only reason they even got that many was because of the fantastic way McElwain finished. So while the blame for this lies squarely on Muschamp, Florida missed on dozens of four/five star prospects from the Sunshine State, including: Byron Cowart (Auburn), Jeffrey Holland (Auburn), Jacques Patrick (FSU), Deon Cain (Clemson), Ray-Ray McCloud (Clemson), Torrance Gibson (Ohio State), Kevin Tolliver (LSU), Ryan Davis (Auburn), George Campbell (FSU), Calvin Ridley (Alabama) and Derwin James (FSU). Each and every one of those guys were considering Florida at one point in their recruitment process with the possible exception of Tolliver, a cousin of former LSU receiver Terrance Tolliver, who was probably going to LSU from the get go. But go look at all that talent the Gators missed on. And it’s all thanks to Muschamp.
Note: The next two points are from our official National Signing Day preview, in which we listed the ten top priorities for Florida to land.
Biggest priority (1): RB Jordan Scarlett: check
Yes sir, McElwain got him. Scarlett was probably the most important recruit McElwain signed. This was a must get: Florida’s running back depth chart goes: Kelvin Taylor, Adam Lane… and that’s it. The Gators desperately needed a big time running back, even if he’s a different kind of running back than the Gators’ offense is currently built to employ. They got that big time running back in Scarlett. And no matter what anybody says about the current state of the Miami Hurricanes’ program, flipping a four star from the Miami’s backyard who’s been committed to the Canes for several months while simultaneously holding off an FSU coaching staff that had the same idea was an impressive feat.
Biggest priority (2): OL Martez Ivey: check
Ivey was a huge get because of all the slots the Gators will have to fill on the OL. Only two of five starting linemen will return next year. Ouch. But Ivey provides the Gators with a phenomenally talented lineman who explodes out of his stance and combines power with speed to flatten defenders silly enough to try to tackle the runner. His high school team didn’t throw the ball much, so he’ll have to get lots of reps in pass protection, but that’s coachable. The athleticism he brings is not. Wrestling him away from Auburn was gigantic.
Given the tough circumstances, the class was a success by any way of measuring it. But the real test for McElwain is next year’s class.