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National Signing Day 2016: Why Tyrie Cleveland is a game-changing pick-up

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Cleveland may be Florida's best wide receiver recruit since Percy Harvin.

Student Sports

Florida's National Signing Day was an up-and-down affair. The commitment of Tyrie Cleveland was the first big up, the decommitment of Shavar Manuel was the first big down, and the ride kept going as the day progressed, with the decommitment of Aaron Robinson and the addition of Joseph Putu.

And there are good and bad things to say about all of those individual events. Losing Manuel makes it imperative for Florida to add interior defensive linemen in the 2017 recruiting class! Putu might well play right away, could become an important part of a 2017 secondary that could lose at least three starters, and almost certainly made Bret Bielema mad! Robinson's decommitment is arguably the endpoint of a cold war between Florida and Alabama that's one of the more interesting and underreported stories of the 2016 cycle!

The most exciting thing, though, is Cleveland committing. Because he's Tyrie Cleveland. And he's really, really, really good at football.

Cleveland also answers a lot of questions for Florida from this cycle. Who is the primary candidate to play on the opposite side of Antonio Callaway with Demarcus Robinson headed to the NFL? It's Cleveland. Who would Florida get to fill out a wide receiver class that was missing a crown jewel after Nate Craig-Myers, Binjimen Victor, and Sam Bruce all cooled on the Gators? Cleveland again. Why didn't Florida start recruiting mid-tier wide receivers simply to soak up scholarships? Cleveland. Why did Florida nab Rick Wells so early, and keep him despite him looking around? One last time, it's Cleveland.

But for me, Cleveland is also likely to answer a question I get asked all the time in the spring and summer: "Who are you excited to see this fall?"

I vary those answers from time to time, but in the 2013 and 2014 offseasons, I answered "Demarcus Robinson" to those questions with regularity. Robinson put on shows in open practices, and has the sort of fluidity and grace in movement that I just find aesthetically pleasing. I thought he was going to be great for the team I love watching — and in fits and starts, he was.

I thought similar things about Andre Debose, and came to think similar things about Percy Harvin, whose recruitment was before my time as a diehard fan. That's the promise of a playmaker: I start thinking up 70-yard touchdowns and whooshing end-arounds, and cutting highlight reels in my head.

Florida has one of those in Callaway, but his is a subtler brilliance than the kind Cleveland might offer, and one more in line with that of the rest of Florida's wide receiver class: Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Wells are all variations on the Callaway mold of a great route-runner with adequate physical tools to my eye.

Cleveland is different. Cleveland allows for dreaming. And dreams are what you sell in college football ... if you're not Alabama, anyway.

Florida might not make Tyrie Cleveland a star immediately, or at all. Tyrie Cleveland might not make Florida better right away, if ever. But his commitment means I get to have a hunch that he's going to be a great Gator on great Gators teams.

I like that.

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