When Saturday dawned, Miami had two commitments in the class of 2016. By sunset, the 'Canes had none — and Florida had engineered one of the defections, a flip by Cocoa defensive back Chauncey Gardner to the Gators.
Gardner, who lists himself at 6'0" and 190 pounds in his Twitter bio — 247Sports suggests 5'11" and 170 pounds is accurate — is a consensus four-star defensive back, per the 247Sports Composite. He's also got some impressive film — from his freshman and sophomore years, mind you — and seems to have the requisite swagger to play defensive back, given that he used the words of Miami's favorite adopted son, LeBron James, to announce his decision to flip on Twitter, and hit the Nae Nae after making a pick at a 7-on-7 camp earlier this year.
Gardner's flip came as something of a surprise, and had the side effect of making a little brother mad. Scott Patchan, the younger brother of former Florida player Matt Patchan, tweeted out this bit of bitterness, which SB Nation's Miami blog called "ether" amid joining the chorus of non-Florida fans desperately hoping Will Muschamp is fired, shortly after Gardner dropping the 'Canes for the Gators crossed his timeline.
You decommitted from Miami to commit to Florida ? pic.twitter.com/6tnmGmJMSD
— Scott Patchan (@scott_patchan) June 14, 2014
I believe the phrase for that is #reacting. And just days after a report suggested an individual with ties to Miami was partly responsible for Joker Phillips resigning as Florida's wide receivers coach, it's definitely amusing to see Miami fans forced to reckon with Florida snagging an excellent recruit from the 'Canes.
Gardner joins Tyler Byrd and Tre Jackson in Florida's 2016 class, and all three players profile as lanky, fleet defensive backs, though Byrd and Jackson feel like corners, and Gardner more like a safety. While attrition is certainly a possibility, as we're more than 18 months from any of those players even enrolling at UF, that glut of DBs makes sense: Florida will need to reload at both corner and safety in the 2016 class.
Florida's 2014 roster will have from five to seven (depending on where Nick Washington and Quincy Wilson end up) corners who would have eligibility in 2016, but with one of those players being Vernon Hargreaves III — a mortal lock, barring injury, to declare early for the 2016 NFL Draft as a likely first-round pick — it's really more like four to six, and that's a shallow pool even if Florida can reel in 2015 commit Marcus Lewis.
Florida's safety pool will be deeper, with three to five players (again, depending on Washington/Wilson) on the 2014 roster likely to be around in 2016, and 2015 commit Deontai Williams also profiling as a safety. But Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal would be seniors in 2016, leaving Florida's 2017 depth chart at safety much more bare, so getting a safety in the 2016 cycle makes sense.
Additionally, the prospect of early playing time in the secondary should always work as a pitch at Florida under Muschamp, despite whatever depth may exist. Hargreaves, Matt Elam, and Marcus Roberson all played extensively as freshmen, with Hargreaves and Roberson supplanting established corners to do so, and Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Tabor may do the same in 2014. Recruits now in high school also remember Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins starring as freshmen for the Gators, too — though Haden's freshman year at Florida coincided with Gardner being in the third grade, if I have my math right. (Reminder: We're old.)
The chance to play early and often for a school that would have sent five defensive backs to the first round of the NFL Draft since 2002 (if Hargreaves becomes a first-rounder as expected) was certainly alluring enough for Chauncey to take a chance on the Gators.