Florida's 2016 recruiting class is nearing completion, because National Signing Day is just eight days away — but it's also been nearly half done since the second week of January, because of a historic class of midyear enrollees.
Florida enrolled 12 prospects in classes for the spring semester earlier this month, a new record in the program's history. Because three of those recruits are junior college prospects, it's technically not a Florida record for early enrollees, as that term is generally reserved for high school prospects entering college for the first time: The Gators had 11 early enrollees in their 2010 recruiting class, Urban Meyer's final one with the school.
Of those 11 early enrollees, however, only Trey Burton and Matt Elam had significant impacts in their first years on campus. Florida's 2016 crop of January enrollees could yield a half dozen instant-impact players or more.
Florida needs depth at running back and wide receiver desperately, with Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett manning the former position by themselves with the departure of Kelvin Taylor for the NFL and Antonio Callaway seemingly the Gators' only reliable returnee at wide receiver. So Jim McElwain and his coaching staff targeted and landed early enrollees who could contribute right away.
Mark Thompson, who starred at Dodge City Community College — which plays in the same conference as junior college powerhouse Iowa Western — this fall, rushing for 1,298 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Conquistadors. Thompson is 6'2" and around 230 pounds, and has earned a rep as a bellcow with surprising speed. He ran for more than 150 yards in five games this fall, tallying 17 or more carries in 10 of 12 games.
While Thompson will have to learn Florida's playbook and develop as a pass-blocker, he's a fine complement to the smaller Cronkrite and Scarlett, and could take the majority of Florida's carries in 2016.
No one should be able to take Callaway's lion's share of Florida's receptions and targets in 2016, but Joshua Hammond, Dre Massey, and Freddie Swain could help lighten the sophomore-to-be's load. Massey is fleet on the ground, and could take Brandon Powell's place on Florida's sweeps, while Hammond and Swain are both fairly polished route-runners who have performed well against elite competition, with Hammond doing so during the week of practice at the Under Armour All-America Game and Swain doing so at the 2015 edition of Nike's The Opening.
Neither Hammond nor Swain is the sort of athlete who leaves jaws agape on film — but, then, neither was Callaway. And while Florida could use a deep threat to take the top off of defenses, something that even the quicker Massey may not be, it got along fairly well without that deep threat when it had competent quarterback play in 2015, with Callaway and Demarcus Robinson functioning as suitable substitutes.
In that vein, Feleipe Franks could be an instant-impact player, but it seems much more likely that he will redshirt in 2016, sitting behind transfer quarterbacks Austin Appleby and Luke Del Rio while gaining the weight and rhythm necessary to be Florida's starter. If Franks shows out in spring practice, something that seems unlikely after his struggles at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this month, he may find himself in the mix at QB, but that's a substantial if. (Kyle Trask, meanwhile, is a mortal lock to redshirt.)
The other field player who is likely to make an instant impact is Chauncey Gardner. The talkative defensive back has the skills to play both nickel back and safety, and Florida has openings available at both positions. Gardner may be destined for an outside corner role eventually, but with Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson set at those positions in 2016, the Cocoa product's shortest route to the field is probably a jog to the safety spot beside Marcus Maye, a fellow Brevard County Gator.
And, of course, the most obvious instant-impact player for Florida in 2016 is kicker Eddy Pineiro. Pineiro may compete with Austin Hardin in the spring if Hardin chooses to stay until at least then, but given the depths of Hardin's poor performance and Jorge Powell's significant injury in 2015, it's hard to imagine Pineiro not being the prohibitive favorite to take Florida's starting kicking job for his own, at least into the summer.
If the above subset of Florida's early enrollees is mostly likely to play early, the other half seems distinctly unlikely to do so.
Ideally, Franks won't be needed. Trask is maybe the most likely of any Gators recruit this year to redshirt, and it would be a minor shock if he didn't. Offensive tackle Stone Forsythe has the frame to be a good player as an exterior lineman, but Florida's far more set there than inside, and it would behoove the Gators to redshirt him. A similar tale is true for defensive end Jordan Smith: He may need to add some weight to have the power to scrap with SEC offensive linemen, and Florida's got sufficient depth at defensive end. McArthur Burnett, who profiles as either a cornerback or a scatback, might be better off adding weight than trying to find early playing time.
At linebacker, David Reese is a potential answer to depth concerns, but the Gators do have five returning linebackers, and Reese doesn't appear better than any of them in his highlights; there would be little reason to play Reese over redshirt freshman Rayshad Jackson, for example, if the two are comparable players.
2016 Florida Gators Early Enrollees
|Position||Name||247 Composite Rank/Rating||Commitment Date||Notes|
|QB||Feleipe Franks||No. 54, .9721 (4*)||November 29, 2015||
|QB||Kyle Trask||No. 2,078, .7986 (3*)||July 26, 2015||
|RB||Mark Thompson||No. 5 JUCO, .9315 (4*)||May 14, 2015||
|WR||Joshua Hammond||No. 163, .9276 (4*)||June 4, 2015||
|WR||Dre Massey||No. 26 JUCO .8834 (3*)||November 29, 2015||
|WR||Freddie Swain||No. 126, .9390 (4*)||October 9, 2015||
|OT||Stone Forsythe||No. 996, .8438 (3*)||May 7, 2015||
|DE||Jordan Smith||No. 337, .8903 (4*)||December 13, 2015||
|LB||David Reese||No. 408, .8791 (3*)||December 18, 2015||
|DB||Chauncey Gardner||No. 45, .9760 (4*)||June 14, 2014; March 15, 2015||
|ATH (RB/DB)||McArthur Burnett||No. 478, .8710 (3*)||October 3, 2015||
|K||Eddy Pineiro||No. 159 JUCO, .8323, No. 1 JUCO kicker (3*)||December 15, 2015||