Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be running down how Florida's recruiting is going and sets up for the rest of the 2015 cycle. Last week, we began with quarterback, one of the most shored-up spots. Today, we discuss the biggest question mark — running back.
Does Florida know what it wants at running back in the class of 2015? Probably. But what the Gators can land may depend on whether they decide they need to fit one or two different needs at the position.
Depth Chart Projection
For simplicity's sake, we're going to assume that older and more experienced players beat out younger and less experienced ones, that scholarship players beat out non-scholarship players, and that Matt Jones will be splitting time between running back and B-back. Obviously, not all of that will necessarily happen, but it's a good guideline for streamlining this chart.
|Fifth-string||Brandon Powell||Mark Herndon||???||???|
Florida has its starter in Kelvin Taylor for as long as he remains a Gator, but though he doesn't scream 2016 NFL Draft pick at this point, running backs should probably always evaluate their chances of making the league without putting four years of tread on their tires. Brown/Jones is good depth in 2014, and Jones/Lane/Powell likely good depth for next year, but both Jones and Lane have suffered significant leg injuries, and only Powell sticks out as a speed back on that entire chart.
Florida's probably in need of a speed back in the 2015 class, and could use an all-purpose back to go along with him. Kurt Roper has done well with smaller backs at Duke, having not grabbed a running back taller than 5'10" or heavier than 200 pounds as a recruit in his final four classes; Powell, listed at 5'9" and 177 pounds, is physically similar to what Roper's been used to working with, though he's a higher-rated player than most of Roper's rotation at Duke was.
I think that if Florida lands one back in 2015, it's likely to go for two in 2016, and vice versa. Three backs over the next two years would restock the talent pool at the position for when Taylor and Jones are gone.
Commits and Targets
Florida currently has no running backs committed in the 2015 class, though there's definitely a chance that athlete Derrick Dillon, he of the quiet Percy Harvin comparisons, could eventually play some running back in a spread scheme.
As for targets, 247Sports lists Miami commit Dexter Williams, Kentucky running back Damien Harris, Orlando stud Jacques Patrick, and Tampa burner T.J. Simmons, who committed to UCLA on Monday (and who may not hold a committable offer from Florida), among Florida's coveted prospects.
Williams, who is good friends with current Florida commit Jalen Julius, is the most likely Gator in that quartet: He admits to regretting popping so early for the 'Canes ($), and that his family would like to see him at Florida ($). The battle for Harris will likely feature Ohio State, Michigan, and Kentucky, while Patrick is seen as a Florida State lean, and I would be surprised if either one ends up in Florida's class.
That likely means that Florida will expand its board if Williams does not eventually flip to the Gators — or that Tampa athlete Ray Ray McCloud, seen as a Florida lean and a slot receiver much like Dillon, could end up being the man at "running back" in this Florida recruiting class.
Just as at quarterback, the novelty of Roper's scheme makes it somewhat difficult to precisely predict what players will be good fits for Florida at running back, but the pickup of Powell, an early enrollee who flipped to Florida from Miami after Roper's hiring, may tip the Gators' hand. Powell profiles as a scatback who can make plays out of the backfield as a receiver and hit holes quickly, rather than a bruiser, and the Sunshine State produces plenty of those swift and shifty players on an annual basis.
One Last Thing
One thing I've noticed in my limited watching of Roper's offense at Duke is the relative interchangeability of the running backs: Everyone seems to hit the hole hard and get to the second level quickly. This bodes well for Florida, which has and should always be able to get more talented versions of the players Duke had at running back during Roper's Durham days.