One of the biggest disappointments for me this season was the unwillingness of Florida to play their standout freshmen more. Aside from Trey Burton and Matt Elam, Florida chose their season of transition to instead play older guys who never got a shot, rather than the foundation of future teams.
That said, our nominees for Rookie of The Year all showed flashes of brilliance. While some of these nominees are here based on the stats they accumulated, other are listed because of those flashes. Also, note that we are including players who never played before this season. That is why Jordan Reed is included (dressed in 2009 but did not play) but Jelani Jenkins is not (recorded two tackles in 2009).
Trey Burton: With 12 touchdowns, Burton led the Gators in scoring and was second in rushing yards (347). Burton was asked to play three positions this season; quarterback, running back and tight end. The most impressive thing was that when he was in the backfield with Jordan Reed, Burton was the one calling the signals despite Reed being the quarterback.
Andre Debose: Face it; when Debose brought the opening kick to the house against South Carolina, you thought Florida was going to win the game and we would finally snap out of our funk. Well, we found out later that the team was never really ready to play and Urban Meyer had one foot out the door, but that wasn't Debose's fault. The speedster from Sanford had 20 returns (19 kick, 1 punt) and averaged 28 yards per return. His two touchdowns off those returns should have been proof that he was ready for primetime or at least the punt returner spot. But it was not to be. Debose only got 11 more touches, for an average of 9.5 yards per play.
Matt Elam: With the exit of Ahmad Black and the possible exit of Janoris Jenkins, Elam has an opportunity in 2011 to be the ultimate Gator badass; a head hunting DB wearing No. 1. As for 2010, there is nothing that demonstrated that Elam is not ready for that role. In limited play, usually as a nickelback, Elam had 22 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Sharrif Floyd: Watching the big tackle move was like watching a tank roll through an unsuspecting village. Floyd was at the back end of Florida's line rotation, but dominated when he was on the field. Floyd had 21 tackles, seven of which were for a loss. Among the linemen, only starters Jaye Howard and Justin Trattou had more tackles for loss. Floyd should start Saturday against Penn State, due to line injuries. He should have started earlier because he can eat people.
Ronald Powell: If you have read Alligator Army since the start, you know that we have a special affection for freak athletes, no matter their stats; Omarius Hines, Cornelius Ingram, The Major Wright and now Ronald Powell. The freshman from California had 24 tackles, three for loss and one sack. Like Floyd, he had to be in the back end of the rotation, but he played well when he got his chances. Powell, like Floyd and my favorite headcase Dominique Easley, also look fantastic in uniform. But Powell wears No. 7, which makes him even cooler. (We totally endorse defensive players wearing low numbers, especially if they are ones worn by former UF quarterbacks. Seeing Ben Hanks wear Spurrier's No. 11 in the early-1990s is one of my earliest Florida memories.)
Jordan Reed: If Florida wants a black Tebow, Reed is the guy. Unlike Brantley, Reed can run (260 yards, five touchdowns). Unlike Burton, Reed can throw (18-33, 192 yards, three touchdowns, one interception). Late in the season, the Gators were at their best with Reed as the quarterback. Reed still has a long way to come in understanding what defenses give him, but that is supposed to happen to a player in his first game experiences. Against Penn State, Reed could be trying out for starting quarterback in 2011.