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Florida Gators Top Fives for 2019: Assumption No. 5 is skill position strength

Florida’s offense is loaded with skilled athletes entering Dan Mullen’s second year.

NCAA Football: Florida Spring Game Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first post in what I hope is a months-long series of Florida Gators Top Fives for 2019. These posts will (generally) run on weekdays, counting down (up?) from No. 5 on Monday to No. 1 on Friday, touching on matters both serious and silly related to Florida football. (They will usually not run at night; I will usually not need two naps during the day.)

We begin this week with assumptions, which I’m loosely defining as the foundational beliefs about this team that I will use to evaluate it in 2019.

Dan Mullen came to Florida with twin missions: Rebuilding Florida into a national power in football, and rebooting an offense that had fallen into disrepair under the defensive-minded Will Muschamp and ultimately overwhelmed Jim McElwain.

Through one year, he’s made a significant amount of progress in that regard — and his Gators will be poised to make an even bigger leap in 2019 because of depth and talent at every skill position that hasn’t been seen in Gainesville in years.

In truth, Florida returning almost all of its 2018 contributors at those skill positions has a lot to do with that. No. 2 rusher Jordan Scarlett is the only one of Florida’s top 10 rushers in 2018 to not return to the Gators this year, and the Gators’ top seven receivers all return as well, with Scarlett and tight ends C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens being the only Gators to catch 10 passes or accrue 100 receiving yards in 2018 and not be on the 2019 roster.

But it’s also true that Florida’s running backs and receivers should be better in 2019 than 2018, and that Mullen and Co. added talent around the existing nucleus.

Lamical Perine led Florida in rushing in 2018 and finished the season by tallying 346 yards on just 41 carries over the Gators’ season-ending four-game winning streak, including big runs to stake Florida to leads against Florida State and Michigan. He should be Florida’s No. 1 back and receive either a majority or a large plurality of the carries in 2019, but he will be joined by the electric Malik Davis, who has flashed early in two injury-shortened seasons, and the hammering Dameon Pierce, whose ferocity complements Perine’s all-around game and Davis’s explosiveness well. 2019 signee Nay’Quan Wright could factor into the Florida backfield, too, and multifaceted weapon Kadarius Toney is sure to get carries as a runner.

Mullen has also seemed bullish on Toney as a receiver, though, and if he can develop into a slot weapon who can do more than go deep and catch screen passes, he could help Florida put some deeply threatening personnel groupings on the field for Feleipe Franks. A souped-up Toney next to the lanky Trevon Grimes on one side of the field with the thoroughly solid Van Jefferson and walking mismatch Kyle Pitts on the other side would pose problems for nearly every defense in the country — and then there are reliable vets Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, potential playmaker Jacob Copeland.

A fine trio of 2019 signees at receiver — Arjei Henderson, Dionte Marks, and Ja’markis Weston — seems destined for at least two redshirts, unless any of the three stars very early in fall camp or injury racks Florida’s depth.

And then there’s tight end, where Florida suddenly seems to have a wealth of options after years of struggles. Pitts, who is either a tight end playing receiver or the reverse thanks to a massive frame that glides on the grass, is clearly a standout talent, but Kemore Gamble and Lucas Krull each have promise, as well. Tight end is another spot where a talented 2019 signee — in this case, Keon Zipperer — may well end up redshirting purely because of a lack of touches.

And Florida being in the position of being able to expect freshmen to redshirt because the players in front of them are both numerous and talented is a sea change from last year, when Mullen had to secure the transfers — and in the first two cases, the immediate eligibility — of Grimes, Jefferson, and Krull, or from the McElwain years, in which Demarcus Robinson served as Florida’s primary option and Toney had to come out of nowhere to help jump-start the Gators’ attack.

This year, at its skill positions, Florida has a lot of players who were touted as talents and have been coached into contributors. While that’s no guarantee of offensive success, it does mean that there is powder in the barrels.