The Florida Gators narrowly missed competing for championships in 2019, with losses to LSU and Georgia knocking them out of the lead pack in the chases for both the SEC championship and a College Football Playoff berth.
Increasingly, it seems as though that close call is motivating Gators to come back for a potential championship campaign in 2020. At least, that’s what Wednesday’s latest declaration — from junior safety Shawn Davis — of a return instead of a departure would suggest.
Davis made his announcement to return through the official Twitter account for Florida’s football program, a zag away from the previous announcements of future plans by CJ Henderson, Feleipe Franks, Trevon Grimes, and Marco Wilson on personal social media accounts.
But the other differentiation for Davis is that he, more than all four of those named teammates, is returning to Florida with his NFL stock at an all-time high.
While Franks is hurt, Henderson and Wilson are both coming off uneven and arguably disappointing seasons, and Grimes is set to boost his stock significantly with more production in a senior campaign, Davis was surprisingly productive and effective in 2019 despite entering the season as a forgotten man of sorts at safety. He proved more durable than the frequently-injured Brad Stewart and Quincy Lenton and more reliable than Jeawon Taylor, finishing fourth on the team in tackles and first among defensive backs, and he showed a knack for finding the ball, pulling down three interceptions — including a crucial one against Auburn.
Florida’s safety play in recent years has been a topic of significant discussion among diehards, with most of the options the Gators have rotated through drawing ire. Davis, however, has largely escaped scorn by best blending ability to defend the run and pass, and he should be penciled in at a starting spot in the Gators’ defensive backfield in 2020.
But Davis would also very possibly have been selected in the 2020 NFL Draft — if admittedly in a later round — and while he could still improve his standing with a senior season as good or better than his sophomore campaign, he’s probably passing up an NFL contract for one last ride in Gainesville.
Davis returning also has the number of remaining undecided possible Florida early entrants dwindling toward zero. Kadarius Toney, whose explosiveness and unpredictability make him an equally tantalizing and terrifying prospect, has been considered a lean toward entering the NFL Draft because of cryptic comments on social media.
The other remaining draft-eligible juniors who were part of the 2019 team are a mix of injured players (Jeremiah Moon, Elijah Conliffe), walk-ons and little-used veterans (Nick Sproles, Rick Wells), and obvious returnees (Kyle Trask, Stone Forsythe, Brett Heggie), so Toney’s decision is what most observers are waiting on — and any other farewell would be a significant surprise.