Before National Signing Day on Feb. 1, many considered Florida’s 2017 recruiting class disappointing. The Gators were ranked in the 30s by several recruiting services and had a few of their targets such as Elijah Blades and Kai-Leon Herbert commit to other schools.
But after signing 10 recruits on National Signing Day, the Gators finished with a top-10 class per 247 Sports’ and ESPN’s rankings. Florida is set to lose several key players, such as Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Caleb Brantley, to the NFL, so who are some of the newcomers that could help fill the void as the Gators look to make it three straight SEC East titles in 2017?
Feleipe Franks, Quarterback, Redshirt Freshman
It’s no secret that the Gators haven’t had a consistent quarterback under center since the Tim Tebow days. Last season, starter Luke Del Rio battled both injuries and inconsistency as he finished with the same number of touchdowns and interceptions (eight apiece) in just six games. Shoulder surgery will sideline Del Rio during spring camp, presenting Franks with the opportunity to potentially win the starting job.
Many Florida fans wanted the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Franks to play in the Outback Bowl, but head coach Jim McElwain never put his young signal-caller on the field, as the Gators coasted to a 30-3 win over Iowa. Whoever is at quarterback when the 2017 season does start, he needs to show immediate improvement with Michigan on tap for the opener.
Christopher Henderson, Cornerback, Freshman
After decommitting from Miami in October, Henderson decided to stay in the state of Florida by signing with the rival Gators. Based on what he has said, Henderson was looking for the opportunity to play right away as a true freshman, and Florida can do just that.
With Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson off to the NFL, cornerback is the biggest hole on the Gators’ defense. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Henderson will get plenty of chances this spring to earn playing time in the fall.
Zachary Carter, Defensive End, Freshman
Carter (6-4, 260) already has the look of a SEC defensive end even though this is his first season. The coaching staff was looking to restock the defensive line with this recruiting class and Carter is one of several new faces that could see a lot of playing time early since Florida likes to rotate its bodies up front.
Brad Stewart, Defensive Back, Freshman
With the secondary seeing plenty of turnover, Stewart could very well see playing time as either a nickel back or safety as a freshman. The 6-foot, 194-pound four-star signee is the first player from Louisiana the Gators have brought in since Gerald Willis in 2014.
T.J. Moore, Offensive Lineman, Freshman
With David Sharpe entering the 2017 NFL Draft, offensive tackle was a priority and Florida added one of the nation’s highest rated in Moore. A four-star lineman out of Charlotte, N.C., Moore could work his way into the rotation early in part thanks to his ability to play both tackle and guard.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.