2020 Florida Gators Position Analysis: Defensive Line
Perennially, the Florida Gators defensive line is among the nastiest in college football even though the names change. And once again, despite the loss of a duo of all-league pass rushing specialists, the Gators are poised to deliver another disruptive unit featuring freak creatures. Even with seniors Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga moving onto the NFL, Florida returns its other contributors from last season and also adds some new phenoms to the bunch.
In 2019, Florida looked to replace Jachai Polite’s 12 sacks from the season before. That’s when Greenard exploded onto the scene last season with ten sacks, and prior to that, nobody knew of his value after coming over from Louisville. Zuniga, despite a fabulous overall career at UF, seized to really make the impact last season that he had in previous years due to a lingering high ankle sprain that was sustained early in the season—only appearing in five games total in 2019. Those two are skilled pass rushers that will each bring delight to their respective professional teams for the foreseeable future. But as for Florida—it’s time for new names to emerge and there are plenty with unlimited potential. So, just who will it be in 2020?
On the interior, the entire two-deep returns along with some fresh faces that could emerge as early as this season and take some wide-open spots. Florida’s defensive line, despite not yet having the big-name prowess of most years, should once again be amongst the scariest in college football for offenses to deal with.
And so, let’s get to the names that will be wrecking opposing offenses this upcoming season as Gator Bites’ series of position outlooks continues…
Starters: (Buck) The Buck Position is also known as the rush end lining up on the weakside of the defensive line, however he can also be utilized as an outside linebacker and more of a hybrid defender between each level of the defense.
Moon would be Florida’s most known pass rusher currently and 2020 should be his year to finally escalate to the high level that he’s capable of, if he’s ever going to get there. The fifth-year senior-to-be showed flashes last season posting three sacks, 6.5 tackles-for-loss, and 20 QB hurries before injuring his foot in November that effectively ended his season. The 6-6, 230-pound edge rusher has freakish athletic ability and will line up at not only the Buck but will also be used on the strong side as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will move him around between the defensive line and at outside linebacker.
(Strongside DE) Brenton Cox
The Georgia transfer and former five-star recruit is finally eligible to play after sitting out last season. And the Gator Nation welcomes the former Bulldog to Gainesville. This is an eager addition to the UF defensive line in particular because we’ve waited an entire year for it. Cox is listed at 6-4, 247 and is renowned for his reputation as a malicious pass rusher. I’m not so sure Cox will only play on the strongside exterior—I foresee him being used in a variety of sets all across the defensive line and will be a versatile member of this defensive front. Remember Florida plays multiple defensive lineman and they’ll be used in a rotation to keep legs fresh for crucial moments in games. Whether Cox starts or not, he’ll be in that rotation as a can’t miss disruptive attraction.
(Three-Technique Defensive Tackle) The three-technique lines up between the nose in the middle of the defensive line and the defensive end—between the offensive guard and tackle.
Look, I admit it’s been a much slower transition that I had presumed for the massive defensive tackle out of South Florida, but Slaton appears to finally be ready make his move in the Swamp. Slaton came in as a high-four-star prospect with a limitless future however didn’t really contribute at all during his first three years. He first came to UF at nearly 400 pounds but now he’s shaped up to a lowly 335 to go along with his 6-5 frame. And now he can move a little swifter and get after the QB along with clog up the interior on run plays. Slaton will play at the three position as well as in the middle at nose within Grantham’s defense. He made the comment that he would break the UF single-season sack record during his sophomore season. Well, I’m not so sure he can get above 13 which would break the record currently held by Alex Brown, but I do believe that he will contribute in a major way this season after finishing last season stronger than he’s been at any point during his career. Overall, he recorded 29 tackles with 12 of those solo, four tackles for loss, two sacks, and one-pass breakup last season.
(Nose Tackle) Kyree Campbell
Accomplishing 24 starts in his UF career, Campbell is clearly the most proven player on this defensive line to this point. And the senior turned down the NFL for one more run in orange and blue. Last season, he started all 13 games and was responsible for the fifth most tackles by a UF defender with 39 on the season while also tallying 16 QB hurries, four tackles-for-loss, a sack and a forced a fumble. The 6-3, 304-pounder is a run stuffer and will be paired up much of the time with Slaton which gives UF formidable size on the interior to bully offensive fronts.
(Buck) Mohamoud Diabate
Late last season, the then true freshman displayed his impressive athleticism and relentless motor off the edge as he really came on to finish. Notably, Diabate went into destruction mode against Vanderbilt tallying three sacks and a forced fumble. He finished the season with four overall sacks and an absurd 21 QB hurries in a limited role to go along with his 18 tackles, 4.5 for lost yardage, and he recorded that same number in sacks. His size might hinder him as a defensive lineman just a bit at this still very early stage of his career as he’s only listed at 6-2, 213—this might make his presence more of that of a linebacker right now, but he’ll still be in the rotation at Buck. Diabate has a rugged work ethic and a high football I.Q. and Gratham will use him multiple ways within his defense. Grantham even lined up the Auburn native in the secondary at the star position last season. Expect him to contribute all over this defense in 2020.
(Strong Side Defensive End) Zachary Carter
Carter is listed at 6-4, 263 according to Florida’s roster report, but the Georgia native says on his Twitter that he has bulked up to 287 this offseason. Carter is not just a large individual, he’s also a tremendous athlete with impeccable moves out of his stance that can get him into the backfield quickly to disrupt running plays or make the QB pay. The third-year sophomore splashed onto the scene towards the end of last season, and that momentum should place him squarely in the mix with his competition to start on the strong side. His 4.5 sacks last season is the second-highest mark returning on Florida’s defense this year and he should eclipse that number easily by early in the upcoming season.
(Three-Technique DT) Gervon Dexter
Here he is—the five-star freshman monster out of Lake Wales and he’ll be ready to get on the field in his first season. Dexter is already listed 6-7, 286 pounds and that’s before he’s even arrived on campus. He plays with outstanding footwork already along with eye-popping agility and coordination for a young and enormous player. He possesses a fantastic blend of pass rushing moves along with being stout in run protection. These qualities will get him on the field this season behind the two imposing seniors that are All-SEC caliber performers in front of him, and don’t be surprised if he eventually bumps one of them out and becomes a starter by season’s end. This kid is as fine and primed of a newcomer as you’ll find anywhere and at any position.
(Nose Tackle) Elijah Conliffe
The Tennessee native was predicted to contribute heavily last season but didn’t play a down as his season ended before it ever started. Entering his redshirt junior season, Conliffe, if healthy, will provide at a minimum depth in this defensive interior rotation along with the others listed above. He has terrific size at 6-4, 312 and he is known for his prowess in run protection. He appeared in 11 games in 2018 totaling 13 tackles and one fumble recovery during that season.
(Buck) Khris Bogle
The high four-star accolades that the Miami prospect was credited prior to his arrival in Gainesville were spot on, but the coaching staff decided to bring him along slowly to get used to the speed and physicality of SEC football. Bogle appeared in every game last season but only saw limited snaps in each finishing with 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss, 2.5 sacks, and seven QB hurries. The 6-6, 218-pound sophomore needs to add some more weight to his lengthy frame but he’s too talented to not be on the field. Bogle is ready to be featured in a much more expanded role and could even become the starter at the Buck position by midseason if he emerges that strong.
(Strongside DE) Andrew Chatfield
Despite only featuring a 6-0 frame, the South Florida pass rusher weighs more than 240 pounds and plays with incredible burst and quickness from his exterior position. The third-year sophomore-to-be only finished with five tackles in all in 2019, in a very limited role playing more as a linebacker. However, his role should change dramatically heading into this season after hopefully a maturing offseason for the young man. Chatfield is a supreme pass rushing specialist, which garnered him the notable high four-star mark before heading to UF. But he’ll need a strong fall camp and continue to develop and improve with such pressure coming from the others that are on their way.
(Three-Technique DT) Marlon Dunlap Jr.
This is somewhat of a question mark given Dunlap’s injury last season and especially after a not-so impressive junior season before that happened. Dunlap appeared in eight games in 2019 only recording 1.5 sacks and ten QB hurries. I expect the 6-3, 295-pounder to provide some depth in his final season in orange and blue but won’t accumulate anything staggering.
(Nose Tackle) Jaelin Humphries
The former four-star recruit was the only defensive tackle taken by the Gators in the 2019 recruiting cycle, and he redshirted last season after only appearing in one game. The Peach State prospect has excellent size at 6-4, 320 and could play either tackle spot. His versatility and superior strength as a run stuffing specialist could breed playing time in 2020, but he’s going to be pushed by an influx of newcomers that are all each individually gifted with their own talents.
(Buck) David Reese
The Fort Pierce native can play anywhere on the defense with his elite speed and athleticism, but he’s just been in a constant battle with injuries each of his first two years on campus. After redshirting last year with an achilles tear, the redshirt sophomore has the potential to be a relentless edge rusher that no offensive lineman can prepare for. Grantham has worked Reese at both linebacker and in the secondary, and with UF’s current cast of depth at the Buck position, he could eventually move to and find a full-time home at linebacker. But it seems Grantham likes the terrifying possibilities that Reese can bring to the outside of the defensive line and his size isn’t that inferior at 6-2, 220. He will be a mismatch for any offensive tackle with his speed off of the edge.
(Strongside DE) Princely Umanmielen
The four-star prospect could make his presence known in an already full position room. The Texas prospect already has outstanding size at 6-4, 250 and has long arms with plenty of room to grow into his frame. He’s instinctive against the run and has exceptional lateral quickness for a player of his size and stature. His pass rush skills need some work which could limit his role this season as he develops. But his versatility to play inside and out are impressive pieces to grow on and he has a bright future at both Florida and eventually the NFL. I expect Umanmielen to play a limited amount of snaps this season and gain a redshirt.
(Three Technique DT)
Maybe it’s too early for this true freshman to contribute, but if and when injuries do occur, he has the profile to get on the field this season. Goods is listed at 6-3, 303 and Mullen marveled about his talent even to the level that he expressed of Dexter’s. He was an early enrollee which means he had a head start on any of the other freshman. Now, during this unprecedented circumstance—he was sent home just like everyone else so I’m not sure how much that will matter. A redshirt might be probable for the Canada prospect as he adjusts to the speed of SEC football and the Florida heat jokingly, but then again, he could be forced into action as a first-year player.
(Buck) Antwaun Powell
The four-star recruit is known for his highly explosive nature coming off of the edge and he has good size to work with at 6-3, 234 as he begins his college football journey. Powell suffered back-to-back shoulder injuries in both his junior and senior years of high school, otherwise he might have even been rated as a higher profile recruit had he been healthy over that span. Given that, expect for the coaching staff to slowly transition the prospect into SEC football and learn behind the anchors in front of him as he’ll be an addition to a loaded group at the Buck position.
(Strongside DE) Johnnie Brown
The four-star Tampa product is already a barbarian belonging in the trenches at 6-2, 250. He’s nimbly athletic and extremely powerful even at this stage, and the coaching staff plans on bulking him up about 15 more pounds once he arrives in Gainesville. He could play at either defensive tackle position or eventually here at end where the staff plans to work with him. It might take the youngster a little time to find his footing, but he has the intangibles and angry character to emerge as an impressive player in this conference. Whether you see Brown on the field or his name in the stat column this season is irrelevant, because the specimen will have his time in Gainesville—it’s just a matter of when.
(Buck) Lloyd Summeral III
The 6-6, 215-pound prospect out of Lakeland redshirted last season after only appearing in three games. Summeral is lengthy and athletic—a perfect fit for the Buck position. But over time, he has the raw skills to develop into a fully diverse five-technique defensive end at the SEC level if he can put on some weight to go along with his current frame.
(Nose Tackle) Jalen Lee
The four-star Louisiana prospect bolsters this defensive interior with more length and size. The 6-4, 294-pounder is a warrior in the trenches, and is known for his impactful ability to blow up running plays, and the coaching staff will work with his explosion off the football to master his game and get to the QB. He plays with already mature awareness and he can move for his size. I expect a redshirt this season as this defensive line obviously already has grown men in place.