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Projecting Florida's 2016 depth chart after spring practice

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Plus: Tier lists!

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

I've been meaning to take an, er, in-depth look at Florida's possible depth charts for the fall since the spring began, but waited until the end of spring practice to really focus in on things. And then I got distracted by a whole host of other things for the better part of a month.

Still, better late than never, I sat down over the weekend and on this Monday to put together my first detailed analysis of Florida's roster of the 2016 offseason, one that I'm writing based on a mix of intel, observations, and flat guessing. In addition to filling spots on a projected depth chart — to the second team, not the third, because projecting a third team in May is just a bit too ridiculous for me — I'm grouping Florida's players into tiers to try to better explain how I feel about what's on the roster.

I'm not the only one who will be doing this sort of projection and analysis, not even here. We'll have a series beginning later this week that runs down what Florida has in the cupboard at each position, and I'm not writing it, only editing it.

For now, though, here are my projected Florida Gators depth charts for the 2016 season.

Projected Offensive Depth Chart

Position First Team Second Team
Quarterback Luke Del Rio Austin Appleby
Running back Mark Thompson Jordan Cronkrite OR Jordan Scarlett
Outside receiver Antonio Callaway Joshua Hammond OR Freddie Swain
Outside receiver Tyrie Cleveland Ahmad Fulwood OR C.J. Worton
Slot receiver Dre Massey Brandon Powell
Tight end DeAndre Goolsby C'yontai Lewis
Left tackle David Sharpe Martez Ivey
Left guard Martez Ivey Nick Buchanan
Center Tyler Jordan Cam Dillard
Right guard Antonio Riles Brandon Sandifer
Right tackle Fred Johnson Martez Ivey

The only returning starters I have projected on offense? Antonio Callaway, who remains suspended despite positive rumblings, David Sharpe, and Antonio Riles. I think that's probably a good thing, on balance, especially given the pedigrees of some of the new names here: If Tyrie Cleveland is actually Florida's starting outside receiver opposite Callaway for Week 1, it's probably a sign that his formidable talent isn't as raw as it could be as a summer enrollee. The same goes for Dre Massey, though Massey spending spring as the Gators' No. 1 slot receiver with Brandon Powell hurt means less than Powell's disappearing act over the last couple months of last fall.

I also have Martez Ivey staying inside on the line for now, because Florida needs his flexibility, and bumped Tyler Jordan up from backup center to starter because he was simply a better player than Cam Dillard to my eyes in 2015.

Offensive Tier Lists

Quarterback

Tier 1: Luke Del Rio
Tier 2: Austin Appleby, Kyle Trask
Tier 3: Feleipe Franks

I think Del Rio is Florida's obvious starter, and have written as much, but I also think we've got a better stable of quarterbacks to watch this fall than we had in previous years. Appleby's not likely to be more than a backup, but he's a competent one, and I think Trask is significantly more advanced than Franks at this moment, to the point that I'd be surprised if Franks was Florida's emergency QB this fall, not Trask. I do think both Trask and Franks would be aided greatly by a redshirt season, though I'm not sure how possible that is; it's more likely that both play in mop-up duty early on in the year.

Running Back

Tier 1: Mark Thompson
Tier 2: Jordan Cronkrite, Lamical Perine, Jordan Scarlett
Tier 3: Case Harrison, Mark Herndon

Thompson best fits the feature back role in a two-back offense that Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier had so much success with at Alabama, and I expect he'll be not just Florida's starter, but an above-average SEC running back this fall. What he and the Gators' other backs get on the ground will depend largely on the improvement of Florida's offensive line, but that's a very strong top two tiers, with four guys I think could be 1,000-yard rushers behind a properly congealed line — and, of course, Kelvin Taylor got 1,000 yards last year behind a rather poor line, though his per-carry average was worst nationally among 1,000-yard backs.

Wide Receiver

Tier 1: Antonio Callaway
Tier 2: Tyrie Cleveland, Ahmad Fulwood, Joshua Hammond, Dre Massey, Brandon Powell, Freddie Swain, Rick Wells, C.J. Worton
Tier 3: Alvin Bailey, Kalif Jackson, Ryan Sousa, Chris Thompson

Callaway was Florida's best receiver last year as a freshman, and is only likely to get better, especially if Florida can put anything at all on the other side of the field. (He could also work out of the slot to get extra targets, I think.) That second tier is a mess of potential, both of the tantalizing (four of those players haven't played in a regular season game for the Gators) and fading (Fulwood and Powell) varieties.

I think Cleveland's most likely to develop into a go-to threat to rival Callaway, but I wouldn't bet against 500-yard seasons from any of Hammond, Massey, or Swain, and wouldn't even be that surprised by one from Worton. (Wells will probably redshirt, but I think his potential is beyond that of the Tier 3 players.) Fulwood, though, probably has the easiest path to being the Z to Callaway's X: He was what Cleveland is, to some extent, years ago, and he knows the McElwain-Kerry Dixon system better than any of the freshman do, in theory. If he can't finally break out early this fall, I can't see a great reason to give him snaps and targets outside the red zone.

If any of those Tier 3 wideouts has more than 10 catches individually in 2016, I'll be a bit stunned. They have 11 catches combined in their Florida careers, and CeCe Jefferson, Vernon Hargreaves III, Roger Dixon, and Treon Harris all had more catches than Jackson and Sousa in 2015 ... though Jackson at least had the excuse of redshirting for failing to make an impact. If you're looking for transfer candidates, look no further. (Update: I HAVE PSYCHIC POWERS, apparently.)

Tight End

Tier 1: DeAndre Goolsby
Tier 2: C'yontai Lewis
Tier 3: Camrin Knight, Moral Stephens, Jr.

Goolsby is Florida's best bet for a 30-catch tight end in the mold of Jordan Reed or that guy we all think he plays like but won't say he plays like because it's incredibly tedious to explain to dunderheads that comparing players based on chops and style on a football field doesn't mean likening a college kid to a murderer. Lewis is a fine backup with some athletic upside. Knight could play his way off that third tier and into the second one, but I think Stephens is a blocking tight end destined to stay in line.

Offensive Line

Tier 1: Tyler Jordan, David Sharpe
Tier 2: Martez Ivey, Fred Johnson, Antonio Riles
Tier 3: Nick Buchanan, Richerd Desir-Jones, Cam Dillard, Stone Forsythe, Kavaris Harkless, Brett Heggie, T..J. McCoy, Andrew Mike, Brandon Sandifer, Jawaan Taylor

Here is where the trouble is on offense, without a doubt. Sharpe is a Tier 1 player based on position and talent more than production, and Jordan is a Tier 1 guy based on being flexible enough to be a guard or center and excel at either spot. But Sharpe isn't a lockdown tackle, and Jordan's likely to be less valuable than a lesser player, if only because a right tackle is more valuable than a good center.

So: Can Ivey, by some margin the roster's most talented lineman, make a leap to Tier 1 after an uneven freshman campaign and offseason surgery? Can Johnson? Can some of those Tier 3 redshirt freshmen hop up to Tier 2? I'm being less generous with Tier 2 placements for relative unknowns here than I was at wide receiver, but it's simply easier to contribute early at wideout than right guard, say, and Florida's receivers generally have better bodies of work prior to their arrival in Gainesville.

Projected Defensive Depth Chart

Position First Team Second Team
End Cece Jefferson Jordan Sherit
Nose Joey Ivie Khairi Clark
Tackle Caleb Brantley Taven Bryan
RUSH Bryan Cox, Jr. Keivonnis Davis
MLB Alex Anzalone David Reese
WLB Jarrad Davis Daniel McMillian
SLB Matt Rolin Kylan Johnson
CB Jalen Tabor Chris Williamson
CB Quincy Wilson Duke Dawson
Safety Nick Washington Marcell Harris
Safety Marcus Maye Chauncey Gardner
Nickel Duke Dawson Chauncey Gardner

Florida returns more starters on defense than offense, and has enough depth here that five-star signee Antonneous Clayton — who's going to play, trust — isn't even on my two-deep for now. But there are serious questions of depth at linebacker and defensive tackle, and valid worries about depth in the secondary, too.

Defensive Tier Lists

Defensive Line

Tier 1A: Caleb Brantley, Cece Jefferson
Tier 1B: Joey Ivie
Tier 2: Taven Bryan, Khairi Clark, Antonneous Clayton, Bryan Cox, Jr., Keivonnis Davis, Jordan Sherit, Jabari Zuniga
Tier 3: Luke Ancrum, Thomas Holley, Andrew Ivie, Jachai Polite, Justus Reed, Jordan Smith

Brantley and Jefferson are future NFL players, and perhaps NFL stars: Some think Brantley could be a first-rounder in next year's NFL Draft, and Jefferson has all the tools in the world. The elder Ivie could play in the NFL, too, though he's more of a journeyman tackle than anything, and I broke him into his own tier because his production really hasn't been far off of Brantley's, despite Brantley being significantly quicker.

Beyond those top three players, though, is there anyone that we can be sure is going to be more than merely good on a consistent basis? Cox is solid, but athletically limited as a rusher and a bit undersized as a standard end. Clayton's sure to flash in 2016, but may not be strong enough to be an every-down player as of yet. Davis was a pleasant surprise as a freshman. Bryan, Clark, and Sherit are all solid, though less miscast than Cox is (or was?) as an edge rusher. I still love Zuniga's high school tape, even if the only thing he's put on tape in college was less impressive.

And that Tier 3 is a mess. Ancrum was arguably the biggest project of the 2015 class, and is still far from the field, maybe further than he was last year thanks to Clayton and the development of Davis. Holley's body seems to betray him no matter what he does. Ivie the younger isn't as big or strong as his brother. Reed is an undersized pass rusher who isn't quick enough to play linebacker. Polite and Smith should redshirt. I'd be pleasantly surprised by contributions from any of those players this year.

Linebackers

Tier 1: Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis
Tier 2: Rayshad Jackson, Kylan Johnson, Vosean Joseph, Daniel McMillian, Jeremiah Moon, David Reese, Matt Rolin

The good news is that there's no Tier 3 because I have no way of distinguishing those six Tier 2 players from each other. The bad news is that Florida has eight scholarship linebackers, two of whom have previously suffered season-ending injuries, and one of whom was a safety last year.

Anzalone and Davis are as solid a top two as Davis and Antonio Morrison were last year, and I like Anzalone's ability to cover a lot of ground as either an inside or outside linebacker. (I'm also, uh, pretty definitively spitballing on positions in the depth chart, but one important thing to note is that Anzalone and Davis would unquestionably be the linebackers in a base nickel alignment, something I expect to see a lot.) Johnson was impressive in the spring game, and Rolin had a couple of nice games late last fall. Beyond that? Potential unrealized.

The Gators do have a break in case of emergency option at linebacker in safety Marcell Harris, I think, but Harris having not moved down a line as of yet (when Johnson did) does not speak to the likelihood of that move.

Defensive Backs

Tier 1: Marcus Maye, Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson
Tier 2: Duke Dawson, Chauncey Gardner, Nick Washington, Chris Williamson
Tier 3: McArthur Burnett, Marcell Harris, Quincy Lenton, C.J. McWilliams, Joseph Putu, Jeawon Taylor

It's tempting to make Tabor a 1A tier and Maye and Wilson a 1B, but I think Tabor's potentially slightly overrated to the point that he's also causing Maye and Wilson to be underrated after fine 2015 seasons of their own. In an alternate dimension in which Vernon Hargreaves and Keanu Neal had passed up NFL millions, this would be a secondary so loaded that I'd brag about it on Twitter every day; as it is, legions of amateur video editors will do that anyway.

Dawson is in a good spot at nickel back, and might actually be better than the stiffer Brian Poole in that role. Gardner has a lot of promise, but maybe not enough to beat out Washington, who played far better late in 2015, by Week 1. I like Williamson, but I think he's also unlikely to play many snaps outside, where he fits best, as Tabor and Wilson serve as workhorses. Burnett's got a great Twitter handle and an even better nickname: Nut-Nut. If I had to pick one Tier 3 player to contribute in 2016, though, it would be Putu.

Projected Special Teams Depth Chart

Position First Team Second Team
Kicker Eddy Pineiro Jorge Powell
Punter Johnny Townsend Eddy Pineiro
Kick returner Dre Massey Brandon Powell
Punt returner Antonio Callaway Brandon Powell
Holder Johnny Townsend Case Harrison
Long snapper Ryan Farr Jonathan Haney

I have already written 2,200 words in this post. I hope you weren't expecting a detailed tier list explaining why Pineiro is obvious Florida's starter at kicker.

Also, if Powell returns more than a handful of kicks this fall, I'm writing a letter.