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Recruiting Roundup: Florida Gators’ final official visitor weekend sets up National Signing Day

The Gators got three commits over the weekend, and are still in position to land several more.

North Texas v Florida Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The final official visit weekend of the 2017 recruiting cycle has come and gone for the Florida Gators — and it was more than a little eventful. Here’s what you need to know about the Gators’ sprint to the recruiting trail’s finish line.

The visitor list

You may recall that Florida’s official visitors last weekend were both commits and targets, split close to evenly. The list this past weekend consisted entirely of targets on Friday — though two of the visitors would become commits by the end of the weekend.

That visitor list, in alphabetical order:

  • Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald, a defensive end from Lakeland
  • Tre Brown, a cornerback from Oklahoma committed to Oklahoma
  • Lacedrick Brunson, a linebacker from Miami
  • K’Lavon Chaisson, a defensive end from Texas
  • Brian Edwards, a defensive back from Miami
  • Brandon and Breyon Gaddy, twin defensive tackles from and committed to Maryland
  • Adarius Lemons, a running back from Clearwater and Florida decommit
  • Charleston Rambo, a wide receiver from Texas committed to Oklahoma
  • LaBryan Ray, a defensive end from Alabama
  • Brad Stewart, a defensive back from Louisiana
  • Donovan Stiner, a safety from Texas
  • Devonte Wyatt, a defensive tackle from Georgia committed to Georgia

Additionally, Florida had JUCO defensive tackle Malik Young on campus for an official visit in the middle of last week.

That’s a large number of large human beings.

Many of those names were already familiar to recruitniks — Lemons, obviously, but also Edwards, Ray, and Stewart — but several others were prospects not on Florida’s radar until January, or even just last week. Chaisson and Rambo were nowhere near Florida’s boards all fall; both Abadi-Fitzgerald and Stiner got offered during the week.

Because of that, and because Florida is still in it for a handful of uncommitted or still-deciding prospects who were not in Gainesville, it’s not realistic to think that all — or even most — of this weekend’s visitors will be Gators.

Which visitors could commit?

Still, at least a few probably will be — and, obviously, two already are. Stewart and Stiner committed on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, following linebacker Nick Smith’s lead in committing to the Gators over the weekend.

Florida’s top three remaining targets — other than Stewart, who was probably among the top targets on campus before he committed himself out of the category — are probably Chaisson, Rambo, and Ray, in some order, and all three are blue-chip players. None of them is, alas, likely to end up with Florida: Chaisson is probably staying somewhere in Texas, Rambo seems likely to stick with Oklahoma, and Ray is an Alabaman that Alabama covets, which makes Florida’s quest to get him to sign with the Gators a difficult one, despite some Gainesville-area family. If I had to tab one of the three as the most likely to surprise by picking Florida, it would be Ray — because of that family and Florida’s months-long recruitment of him — but I still think that outcome is quite unlikely.

Beyond that upper echelon, the bulk of the remaining visitors were defensive backs and defensive tackles. Stiner committing ensures some extra depth going forward, but Brown — another player Florida got to visit late after a seeming lack of hot pursuit all year — and Edwards also being present shows that Florida is keen to take more than the four defensive backs it now has committed, if possible. The Gaddy brothers and Wyatt show the same is true of defensive tackle, a position where Florida has Kyree Campbell enrolled and no other player in the fold.

I think both Brown and Edwards have spots in this class if they want to proactively take them, but Florida is also still pursuing recent decommit Elijah Blades and longtime lean Chris Henderson, and had athlete Eric Stokes — possibly a collegiate corner — on campus two weeks ago. I think the Gaddys and Wyatt could all end up with spots available, though Elijah Conliffe’s decision on Tuesday may help reveal how many slots are truly vacant at this moment. And Florida probably isn’t taking more than six defensive backs or four defensive tackles.

That leaves Abadi-Fitzgerald, Brunson, and Lemons, all of whom may be backup plans at best. Abadi-Fitzgerald is the sort of massive human...

...that programs sometimes take in the hopes of making a football player out of an athlete over time on campus. Florida’s track record in that regard is mixed — your opinions on Alex McCalister, Lynden Trail, and Earl Okine may vary — but it’s worth noting that Chris Rumph has done a fine job so far of developing Florida’s defensive ends.

Brunson is about as much of a Randy Shannon Special as there is: He’s a two-star linebacker from Miami’s Jackson High, and he has a lizard-low national profile. Florida has three linebackers — Smith, fellow commit Ventrell Miller, and early enrollee James Houston — and does not really need a fourth, though it would almost certainly take Texas stud Levi Jones if he wanted to be a Gator, and so Brunson may just have been insurance against something dramatic happening with Smith.

Lemons, meanwhile, would probably be a Florida commit at this point if not for a fall that saw him transfer schools and skip off the direct path to Gainesville that he could have stayed on from the moment he committed to the Gators last July. If his talent were his only concern, Lemons would be a no-doubter take, but his transfer — and the reasons behind it, whatever they are, which Florida’s coaches obviously probably know — cast doubts on his ability to do the things necessary to be a successful player at the collegiate level, and made what was already reputedly an arduous effort to get academically qualified more complicated.

If Lemons is a likely qualifier, I think he’s a take for Florida. But that strikes me as a big if.

Robinson makes more seismic off-campus news

And in other stories about character: The same James Robinson that I wrote “appears to be Florida’s prospect to lose” last week spent his Saturday raging at and then copping to a report that he was cited for marijuana possession last weekend on his official visit to Ohio State.

The news that Robinson was arrested was originally reported by 247Sports Ohio State beat writer Alex Gleitman and independent Ohio State site Eleven Warriors.

In fact, Robinson was issued a misdemeanor citation for marijuana possession, rather than arrested and taken into custody. (The state of Ohio has decriminalized marijuana possession, and the national trend toward decriminalization includes issuing citations rather than arrests.) That’s a fine distinction, to be sure, and one that Gleitman later noted in a tweet and rewrote his story to reflect, and one that Eleven Warriors noted in a follow-up tweet and a correction on its story — but hundreds of retweets of those original reports passed along false information that an 18-year-old was forced to correct, largely on his own.

The incident seems to be the reason that Ohio State is no longer recruiting Robinson, but it has not deterred Florida from pursuing the Lakeland wide receiver. SEC Country’s Zach Abolverdi reported Saturday that Florida coaches looked into the matter and “decided to continue” with Robinson’s recruitment, also reporting that sources close to Robinson said he was the only person cited in a group of smokers, and that Robinson did not fly to his official visit with marijuana.

All of that is messy, even without delving into conspiracy theory, like that Ohio State sites reporting a recruit’s “arrest” a week after Ohio State ceased recruiting him, rather than at the time reporters on the beat clearly learned that the Buckeyes were no longer recruiting Robinson, might be about optics, or that Robinson tweeting and then deleting a tweet saying “OSU PLAYERS DO SO MUCH DRUGS” and sources close to Robinson saying that he was not the only one smoking on a visit weekend on which he would necessarily spend most of his time around Ohio State players and fellow recruits may hint at preferential treatment.

What it boils down to for Florida fans, though, is this: Florida’s coaches decided to continue recruiting a player cited for weed possession on an official visit elsewhere, and that player will now forever be branded a weed smoker, and Florida as tolerant of that behavior if he commits to the Gators, as is still widely expected.

I’m okay with that, partly because of my own personal opinions on how the United States should treat marijuana and those who use it. Some people, assuredly, will not be. Robinson, whether he should come to Florida or head to Oklahoma, will bear the brunt of the blowback for his citation, regardless.

But it’s worth remembering, if and when you see coaches grandstand on Twitter about ending their pursuits of recruits for questionable postings on social media, that a four-star wide receiver with copious talents can be caught smoking on an official visit and have two of his three finalists stand their ground on recruiting him.

Florida likely to close with top-15 class

Last week’s panic about Florida’s recruiting — Blades decommitting and Kai-Leon Herbert committing to Miami over Florida were a combination to the gut on Wednesday that left the Gators outside the top 30 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings — has largely died down. Florida’s three weekend commits have boosted the Gators up to No. 20 in those same rankings, and with every player currently committed to Florida seen as unlikely to flip, it is likely that No. 20 is the Gators’ floor.

But Florida still has more offers to turn into National Letters of Intent, and is tied with UCLA for the third-fewest commits among the top 20 of those rankings, with just 17. Virtually any commit by a remaining Florida target — with the exception of a sleeper like Abadi-Fitzgerald or Brunson — will help the Gators climb the rankings.

In a world where Florida were leading for most of its remaining targets, the current crop of commits would be a foundation that could permit a vault into the top 10. An absolutely impossible dream close — in which Florida landed Blades, Chaisson, Henderson, Jones, Ray, Robinson, Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs, and two-way tackle Tedarrell Slaton — would lift Florida’s “score” for the 2017 recruiting cycle to No. 5 nationally, just ahead of where Florida State currently is and just behind Michigan.

That, of course, won’t happen.

A far more conservative close on just blue-chip players, with just Slaton and Robinson joining the fold, would push Florida to No. 13, one spot behind reigning national champion Clemson and one spot ahead of Stanford and its three five-star commits.

But that won’t happen, either.

The eventual outcome is likely to be somewhere in the middle, I think. I’m confident that Florida will end up with Robinson and Slaton, both seen as Florida leans, and that there will probably be a handful of other commits between now and National Signing Day, too. Adding those two, Conliffe, and the Gaddy brothers would be adding five players projected to Florida by 247Sports Crystal Ball users — both Brandon and Breyon are predicted to flip to Tennessee, thanks to a host of predictions made over the summer, despite clearly being down to Florida and Maryland, and most recent predictions suggesting a flip to Florida — would give Florida a score good enough to get the Gators to No. 11.

And while that ranking probably wouldn’t mark this Florida recruiting class as “great” — despite, y’know, the class necessarily being among the top decile of classes in a division of college football with nearly 130 teams — it would certainly spare Jim McElwain from the myopic hysteria of fans who pay attention only to Signing Day (“We were ranked No. 30!?!?”) and not to filled needs or the long, slow process of recruiting.

McElwain would still, of course, face plenty of criticism on granular levels, and would have fans who increasingly seem to know all there is to know about running college football and college athletics programs despite not currently working in the industry second-guessing him — but it wouldn’t be out of proportion, as it could have been, and would allow Florida to end this recruiting cycle with minimal long-term damage done to perceptions.

What that’s really worth is beyond my capacity or interest to calculate. What I know is that, in my estimation, this Florida recruiting class is probably going to be all right.