(I resent being called a dictator. And benevolent. Edited and fronted. — Andy)
(AP/Pat J. Carter)
Our benevolent dictator and I have had a bit of a twitter debate over who UFs' best athlete is. I limited the scope over there by only picking Urban Meyer players, but I have far more than 140 characters to work with over here, so I'll open this up into history. I'm limiting myself to only Meyer recruits because I think that four of the top athletes to ever play at UF came during Meyer's six years. If you want to pick someone else, pick other and let me know in the comments. After the jump, my four potential candidates (note that these are not in any sort of order).
Stats: 9285 passing yards, 66.4% completion rate, 88 passing TDs, 16 INTs, 170.79 Pass Efficiency, 2947 rushing yards, 57 TDs, 3x Heisman ceremony attendee, Heisman winner
Best year: 2007— 3,286 passing yards, 65.7% completion rate, 32 TDs, 6 INT, 172.46 Pass Efficiency (second nationally), 895 rushing yards, 23 TDs, Heisman winner
Writing those Stats brings me back to when I used to try and bring a little bit of fact to Bleacher Report. I don't really need to say too much to justify Tebow's inclusion here. His body of work was unprecedented. He wasn't anywhere near as fast as any of the other three on the list, but he was deceptively quick, freakishly strong (think Trent Richardson), and could leap for days (JUMP PASS!).
Tebow has seriously underrated athleticism, somehow. People routinely like to point out how NFL Quarterback X is more athletic than Tim, when really, that list should be comprised solely of Mike Vick (and perhaps a guy later down this list). I guess the catchall term "athleticism" doesn't include things like monstrous strength in a lot of people's minds. For any normal program, Tebow would probably walk away with this, but Florida's 2006 and 2007 recruiting classes were not normal.
Stats: 1,780 rushing yards, 9.6 YPC, 18 TDs, 1,880 receiving yards, 14.7 YPR, 13 TDs.
Best year: 2007— 764 rushing yards, 9.2 YPC, 6 TDs, 858 receiving yards, 14.5 YPR, 4 TDs.
First, Percy's best year included lower-than-his-average yards per carry and yards per reception, even though they're still ridiculous numbers — any WR or RB would kill for either per attempt number Percy had in 2007). That says two things to me. First, WHY PERCY? WHY COULDN'T YOU BE HEALTHY FOREVER? Second, I chose his best year based on an arbitrary "most numbers" decision.
2008 was probably a "better" year. He had four, FOUR!??!!??!, rushes for loss in the whole season, for a total of -5 yards. His only problem was he didn't play as much thanks to migranes/ankles/general-not-being-built-like-a-tank limitations. But unlike Tebow, Percy's numbers don't exactly tell his athleticism. The YPC/YPR is eye-popping, but the total numbers are a bit low for such a high profile player. Percy was more of a F1 car. He could go for a reasonable amount of time, and while he was doing it he was the best thing out there, but over a long period of time, he didn't hold up. Note: this is different from a drag racer which can only go once, really really quickly then it explodes, or a NASCAR, which can only go left all day (HI TEBOW!)
Stats: 157 solo tackles (nine for loss), eight INT, 34 pass breakups, three forced fumbles
Best year: 2009— 53 solo tackles (five for loss), four INT, 10 pass breakups, two forced fumbles
Disclaimer in case you think "WHY THE HELL IS JOE HADEN ON THIS LIST": Haden is the reason that this entire debate came about. I think he's the best thing ever, and you're not going to change my mind on that. Haden put on a two year master class on being a perfect cornerback. 2007 was a little sketchy for him, but he was still the best DB, and the entire year is understandable since he had never played defense prior to that season. In 2008, he was a monster. In 2009, he was the best defender in the country not named "Suh".
Haden was the best cover corner in the country in 2009. He wasn't far off in 2008. He was also the SEC's best perimeter tackler in either year. Additionally, his corner blitz was perfect. I didn't include sacks, because I'm kind of like Nick Saban in that regard and I think tackles for loss are important enough, but Haden could get to the quarterback. Really, if you can find a highlight package that shows Joe Haden rushing the quarterback, go watch it now. (Actually, don't, because he's infinitely better at getting to the quarterback than any current UF player, and you might cry.)
Haden's unique blend of true lockdown coverage (something that a lot of recent UF DBs have had), with amazing solo tackling (something that a lot of recent UF DBs have lacked) made him just as rare of a player as Percy or Tebow, and for my money the best athlete to play football at the University of Florida.
NOTE TO THE SQUEAMISH: NOTHING BUT FIRE AND DEATH BELOW
Stats: NOTHING OF NOTE OH WHAT'S THIS AT AUBURN? 2,854 PASSING YARDS, 66% COMPLETION RATE, 30 TDS, SEVEN INT, 182.05 PASS EFFICIENCY, 1,473 RUSHING YARDS, 20 TDS, 41 RECIVING YARDS, ONE TD, HEISMAN
WHY? WHY WHY WHY WHY? IT WAS ONE STUPID LAPTOP, WHY DID YOU DO IT? YOU CRUSHED THE SEC AND MY HEART.