Florida's wide receiver corps is as unsettled as any position group of Gators outside of quarterback. While Antonio Callaway gives Jim McElwain's team a go-to target for the next two years, the rest of the depth chart may as well be a listing of question marks.
Demarcus Robinson's departure for the NFL means that Brandon Powell is the Gators' leading returning receiver other than Callaway — and Powell's biggest play in 2015, despite 29 catches for 390 yards and three touchdowns, was arguably his block thrown for Callaway against Tennessee. Powell suffered considerably, maybe the most among Florida's wide receivers, after Will Grier's suspension: He recorded four catches for 42 yards against LSU, then had just nine catches for 96 yards over the final seven games of the season.
Which was, uh, more than any wide receiver outside of Callaway, Robinson, or Powell had for Florida in 2015. C.J. Worton's four catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns came entirely in Florida's season opener and on a 46-yard touchdown catch against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Valdez Showers and Ahmad Fulwood each had six catches on the year, and never more than two in a single game. Alvin Bailey had three catches. Chris Thompson had five. Every other Gators receiver had no more than the one catch that Vernon Hargreaves and Cece Jefferson each recorded.
Playing time, clearly, is very much available.
The good news is that Florida has three potential game-changers on campus already, and seems to be on the rise for a fourth. Joshua Hammond, Dre Massey, and Freddie Swain are the three in the fold, and all seem to have skills that could translate immediately.
Hammond and Swain have each earned reps as masterful route-runners who don't impress with superlative athleticism as much as they do an uncanny knack to get open. And both were coveted by other schools: Florida had to fend off Georgia for Hammond, and Swain was hotly pursued by Tennessee.
Massey, meanwhile, is closer to a burner, and — despite a significant delta in acceleration and top speed between the two players — one in a Percy Harvin vein.
Florida struggled to deploy its wide receivers in the running game and screen pass situations this fall, especially after Grier's suspension, but Massey's the sort of quick, smallish player who might be able to take the place of either Powell or Callaway in those roles, and could also see work as a returner.
And then there's Tyrie Cleveland, a four-star wideout from Houston who grew up in Jacksonville as a Florida fan. Cleveland has great size at somewhere between 6'2" and 6'3", and possesses the massive paws seen in the picture that accompanies this article. With Robinson leaving, Fulwood seemingly up against a ceiling lower than the one many forecast for him, and Kalif Jackson a total unknown at the moment, Cleveland would seem to fit a bigger receiver role beautifully. You can bet Florida's coaches will say as much while he's on his official visit this weekend.
Even if none of Florida's three enrollees ends up playing in 2016 — which is an extraordinarily unlikely prospect, to be sure — they should help the Gators upgrade their depth at the position. And if Rick Wells, set to become a signee on National Signing Day, remains in Florida's class despite some flirtation with other schools, he'll be another welcome addition to the depth chart.
Florida had an incredible seven scholarship wide receivers who failed to record even 10 catches on the season in 2015, and only Jackson has the excuse of being redshirted for a failure to make an impact. That alone is a clear sign that attrition is possible at the position, and coupled with Florida's apparent willingness — in the fall, anyway — to take five or six receivers in this recruiting class, it seems likely that attrition will happen.
Even without any attrition, it will help to have young players to shoulder more of the load at the position. Powell, Worton, and Ryan Sousa were Florida's only wide receiver commits in 2014, and Callaway and Jackson were it in 2015; every other returning receiver has spent at least three years in the program, and while none of them would seem to be major losses from the standpoints of talent or production, it is, at least theoretically, better to have more options.
The only player widely acknowledged to be left of Florida's recruiting board at wide receiver is Cleveland. That, of course, isn't for lack of trying: Florida pursued Nate Craig-Myers (now an Auburn lean), Miami commit Sam Bruce, Ohio State commit Binjimen Victor, Auburn commit Eli Stove, USC commit Josh Imatorbhebhe, Mississippi commit Tre Nixon, and Georgia commit Cavin Ridley, just among players in the national top 50 of high school wide receivers in the 247Sports Composite. Swain and Hammond are both top-50 wideouts, too, and Massey might be one if he were a high school prospect, but that trio being Florida's entire haul, given the net the Gators cast, would disappoint.
So landing Cleveland is perhaps this staff's most crucial task remaining in this class. He's committed to Houston at the moment, but quite clearly looking around, and the buzz has always been that Florida feels good about its chances with him. We'll see if that buzz has any standing in truth after the weekend.
Also of note: Florida is bringing in Virginia wide receiver Grant Holloway, just outside the national top 50, on a track scholarship. If he were to want to play football, Florida would essentially have to hand him a football scholarship to do so, but he does stand as a possible option down the road.
2016 Florida Gators Recruiting Class: Wide Receiver
|Name||Hometown / High School / College||247 Composite Rank/Rating||Measurements||Commitment Date||Highlights|
|Joshua Hammond||Hallandale, Florida / Hallandale High School||No. 163, .9276 (4*)||6'0", 180 pounds||June 4, 2015||Hudl | YouTube|
|Dre Massey||Mauldin, South Carolina / Mauldin High School / Holmes Community College||No. 26 (JUCO), .8834 (3*)||6'0", 185 pounds||November 29, 2015||Hudl | YouTube|
|Freddie Swain||Citra, Florida / North Marion High School||No. 126, .9390 (4*)||6'1", 188 pounds||October 9, 2015||Hudl | YouTube|
|Rick Wells||Jacksonville, Florida / Raines High School||No. 457, .8727 (3*)||6'0", 185 pounds||October 9, 2015||Hudl | YouTube|