These are the top 10 Florida football players you need to know for 2016. Get acquainted with the Gators’ key stars to watch out for.
1. CB Jalen Tabor, Jr.
All throughout the 2016 NFL Draft process, when everyone was gushing over Vernon Hargreaves III and the Keanu Neal – and rightly so – that the common wisdom was that the best pro defensive back out of Florida was yet to come. Hargreaves and Neal were taken in the first round, and they’re going to be fantastic, but the 6-0, 199-pound Tabor really is that good.
The Washington D.C. native is almost everything the next-level types want in a corner, with excellent length, the toughness to press, and the hitting ability be sound in the open field. The one concern? He’s not a blazer, but for now, he’s a technician coming off a big year making 31 tackles with a pick and eight broken up passes.
2. S Marcus Maye, Sr.
He chose to come back to school for one more year – he would’ve been a top 50 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft – and now he’ll be a big popper for the Gator defense again. The 6-0, 210-pound All-American is a whale of a hitting force against the run from his safety spot, coming up with 82 stops while forcing five fumbles. He might tackle like another linebacker, but he runs like one, too, even though he made two picks and broke up six passes. Versatile, he can move around where needed, but he’s at his best when he plays in the box.
3. LB Jarrad Davis, Sr.
A 6-2 and 240 pounds, Davis has the right size for the inside, but he’s an outside defender with the range and ability to become a dangerous pass rusher if he’s turned loose. A potential first round draft pick, he can play any linebacker position making 98 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, and now the spotlight is on. He apparently wavered a bit over his decision to return to school, but now his stock should only rise as the star of the front seven. Smart, fast and experienced, it’ll be a shock if he’s not an All-SEC star.
4. WR Antonio Callaway, Soph.
So what’s his status? Suspended after allegedly violating the school’s code of conduct policy, but he’s reportedly not in any legal trouble. Assuming he gets back on the field and all is well, he’s the dynamic force the offense needs to keep working around averaging over 19 yards per catch with 35 grabs for 678 yards and four scores.
Electric, the 5-11, 198-pounder did a little of everything, throwing a touchdown pass for the lone bright spot in the bowl loss to Michigan, and he threw a scare into Alabama in the SEC Championship with a punt return for a score. He’ll be the centerpiece of the passing attack – if and when everything is back to normal.
5. P Johnny Townsend, Jr.
For a team that couldn’t move offensively over the second half of the season and relied on the defense to get by, getting help from the punting game was a massive help. Townsend did everything the team needed earning All-SEC honors averaging over 45 yards per kick putting a whopping 30 of his 83 kicks inside the 20 and blasting away time and again to get the team out of jams. At 6-1 and 210 pounds he’s got good size and a great leg, and now he should be front and center in the hunt for the Ray Guy Award.
6. DT Caleb Brantley, Jr.
The 6-2, 300-pounder has the toughness and the power to hold up just fine inside either on the nose or as a 3-technique. Extremely quick, he can get into the backfield from time to time with three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss – and 29 tackles – but his job is to hold the line from the inside and work as an anchor. Okay, so he might be a little short, but he’s also impossible to move off his base and gets tremendous leverage with his body type.
7. RB Mark Thompson, Jr.
Is it going to be the JUCO transfer, or will it be Jordan Cronkrite who’s ready to take over the ground game? Thompson is the exact sort of thumper the offense needs, with 6-2, 242-pound size and the workhorse ability to help make up for the lack of a running game. The former JUCO All-American had a great spring and showed off a little bit of what he could be in the spring game. The coaching staff will be more than happy to get him the ball and keep feeding him – as long as he can hang on to it. Fumbling was a bit of an issue this spring.
8. OG/OT Martez Ivey, Soph.
Trying to get past a shoulder problem that cost him the offseason, one of the first giant recruits in the Jim McElwain era needs to blossom into a bigger part of the solid line. The 6-5, 312-pounder worked most of last year at guard, but he’s a tackle – he’s too good to keep inside. He’ll work at both spots in practices as the coaching staff tries to put the puzzle together, but with his frame, his feet, and his NFL tools, he’ll develop into a franchise left tackle.
9. LB/DE Bryan Cox, Sr.
The son of former the former NFL star by the same name, the 6-3, 260-pound Cox is growing into a solid all-around hybrid defensive factor on the outside. While he’s not a big-time pass rusher, with his size he’s a thumper against the run and he’s able to work his way behind the line, coming up with 3.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 45 tackles last year seeing most of his time on the other side. This year, it’ll be his job to attack the quarterback, and then do it again.
10. OT David Sharpe, Jr.
A massive 6-6, 347-pound blaster, he carries his weight without a problem and can move just well enough to handle himself at left tackle. He’s got the athleticism for his size, but he might end moving from his left tackle spot of last year if Martez Ivey turns out to be too good to keep out of the position. He could move over to right guard if needed, but he’s good enough to handle the work as the key pass protector and be an all-star no matter where he plays.