-by Braden Gall (@BradenGall on twitter)
No. 3: Florida Gators (23 total signees)
SEC Rank: 2nd
Athlon Consensus 100 Signees: 6
National Signees: 13
Where They Got 'Em:
The primary reason that Florida is the best job in the SEC is because of the talent in the Sunshine State. If any head coach is going to be successful in Gainesville, they will have to milk high schools from Dade County to the Panhandle for prospects. And those prep programs are some of, if not the, most talent-rich teams in the entire nation. Will Muschamp knew this going in and signed the bulk of his 23-man class from in-state. With 12 Florida prospects, the Gators didn't have to travel far to build the foundation of this class. Nor should they.
That being said, Muschamp was incredibly productive in the state of North Carolina this season as well. The state is no stranger to Gator staffers, but the job Muschamp's guys did in the Tar Heel state was incredible. Florida signed four total players from North Carolina, including the best two recruits in the state. Offensive lineman D.J. Humphries is the No. 1 offensive lineman in the nation, and it marks the second time in four years that Florida pulled the top blocker in the nation from the Tar Heel State (Xavier Nixon). Defensive end Jonathan Bullard is the No. 2 end prospect in the nation, and he, too, headed south to Gainesville. Humphries is already in class and ready to compete this spring.
Georgia and Pennyslvania provided a pair of talented athletes each while Muschamp signed one player from both Illinois and Mississippi. Urban Meyer had built plenty of inroads to the northeast, and it appears Muschamp wants to the do the same with Keystoners Colin Thompson (TE) and Skyler Mornhinweg (QB).
Areas of Focus:
The most woriesome and startling issue with this Gators' roster is the lack of explosive play-makers on the outside of the offense. For a team built around speedy, ball-in-hand guys for the better part of two decades, it's shocking that Muschamp has this issue on his hands. Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond and Andre Debose are just few of the elite-level receiver prospects to flop in Gainesville.
So February 10 can't get here fast enough for Muschamp. He and new coordinator Brent Pease are holding out hope that Olney (Md.) Good Counsel athlete Stefon Diggs picks the Gators this Friday. The No. 1 athlete in the nation and the No. 5 overall prospect in America is considered a Gator lean, but he would drop this class to No. 4 in the rankings if he signed with Ohio State. More importantly, Pease would still be without an elite playmaker on his new offense.
Otherwise, this collection of talent is worthy of the Gator Chomp. And the best cure for a team that lacks proven outside options is to build from the inside out. Florida did just that with Humphries and fellow top-100 blocker Jessamen Dunker already enrolled. Pease added a pair of complementary tight ends in pass-catcher Kent Taylor and in-line blocker Colin Thompson. They are two of the top three tight end prospects in the nation, and Taylor is the country's highest-rated player at his position. With the developing youth already along the line, these four new faces could make this an area of strength for the first time since 2008.
However, the only nationally rated skill talents in this class are tailback Matt Jones and wideout Latroy Pittman. For most programs, these two could be considered marquee recruits so they are clearly very talented athletes, but can they develop into game-changers? Jones is a big, powerful back, which Gators fans aren't used to seeing in the backfield. He missed four games due to a knee injury but still helped Armwood to a 15-0 season and Class 6A state title. Pittman, an early enrollee, excelled on both sides of the ball in high school as a wideout (481 yards, 8 TD) and defensive back (37 tackles, 5 INT). There is a lot of pressure on these two — and fellow wideout Raphael Andrades — if Diggs signs with the Buckeyes, as they're the only three offensive skill players signed in this class.
The defense, which should be a major area of strength in 2012 already, added some seriously talented athletes to the two-deep. Bullard, who posted 16 sacks in 2011, has a chance to be special off the edge and could make the biggest immediate impact of anyone in this class. He is joined by five other stellar defensive line prospects, most notably Dante Phillips and Quinteze Williams. The nationally rated tackle duo will add quality depth to an already loaded position. They are tall (6-6 and 6-5 respectively), athletic and used to winning — Williams led Sandy Creek to the GHSA 3A State title two years ago, and Phillips helped Venice to the regional semifinals this fall.
The heart of the Gators defense got some help as well as four new faces will slide in at linebacker. Long-time Florida State Seminole commitment Dante Fowler Jr., at 6-3, 261, has a good chance of playing with his hand in the dirt. He is currently listed by Florida as an outside linebacker but would be perfect rushing the passer — something the Gators could use. Either way, he has a chance to be a star. Early enrollee Antonio Morrison and Jeremi Powell are much more traditional outside backers and will be joined by another potential hybrid in 6-6, 223-pound Alex McCalister. On the surface, it looks like the defensive line class could end up being eight-deep instead of six, but either way, the front seven for Florida should be well taken care of for years to come.
Muschamp, a former safety, didn't forget about his area of the field. Three of the four defensive back signees were nationally touted, and 202-pound cornerback Brian Poole leads the way. Poole is fiercely strong for a cornerback and is rated as the No. 9 overall defensive back in the nation. Marcus Maye and Rhaheim Ledbetter, who both weigh in at around 200 pounds as well, give the Gators a new pair of safeties.
Atlanta's Austin Hardin is ranked by some as the nation's top kicker.
Offense: QB: 1, RB: 1, WR: 2, TE: 2, OL: 2, ATH: 0
Defense: DL: 6, LB: 4, DB: 4, K: 1
3. D.J. Humphries, OL (6-6, 271), Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek
11. Jonathan Bullard, DE (6-3, 263), Shelby (N.C.) Crest
28. Dante Fowler Jr., LB (6-3, 261), St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood
64. Jessamen Dunker, OL (6-4, 320), Boynton Beach (Fla.) High
65. Kent Taylor, TE (6-5, 225), Land O'Lakes (Fla.) High
71. Brian Poole, CB (5-10, 202), Bradenton (Fla.) Southeast
Other National Signees:
118. Marcus Maye, DB (5-11, 200), Melbourne (Fla.) Holy Trinity
129. Dante Phillips, DL (6-6, 270), Venice (Fla.) High
136. Colin Thompson, TE (6-4, 252), Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood
165. Matt Jones, RB (6-2, 213), Seffner (Fla.) Armwood
203. Latroy Pittman, WR (6, 195), Citra (Fla.) North Marion
247. Quinteze Williams, DL (6-5, 255), Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek
268. Rhaheim Ledbetter, DB (5-11, 195), Shelby (N.C.) Crest
Willie Bailey, DB (6-1, 167), Hallandale (Fla.) High
Jessamen Dunker, OL (6-4, 320), Boynton Beach (Fla.) High
D.J. Humphries, OL (6-6, 271), Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek
Damien Jacobs, DL (6-3, 310), Scooba (Miss.) East Miss. C.C.
Antonio Morrison, LB (6-1, 209), Bollingbrook (Ill.) High
Athlon Sports' Top 25 Classes of 2012:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Texas Longhorns
3. Florida Gators
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