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Florida lands Arik Gilbert, five-star LSU transfer tight end

The Florida Gators are losing one of the best tight ends in recent memory — and replacing him with one of the best tight end prospects in recent memory.

LSU v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The biggest hole on Florida’s offense entering the 2021 offseason may not, in fact, be the spot where its Heisman finalist quarterback was, but the space vacated by All-American tight end Kyle Pitts.

Florida went a long way toward filling that hole on Sunday night, as LSU transfer Arik Gilbert publicly committed to the Gators on Twitter.

Gilbert was a true freshman at LSU in 2020 after being the No. 1 tight end — and No. 5 prospect overall — in the 2020 recruiting cycle, and made good on his hype immediately as a Tiger, catching 35 passes for 368 yards (good for third and fourth on the LSU roster, respectively) and two touchdowns in just eight games and never having fewer than two catches or 25 receiving yards in any one contest.

But Gilbert was reportedly homesick at LSU, and chose to sit out the remainder of the season after those eight games, eventually opting to transfer. As he hails from Marietta, Georgia, speculation swirled that he would remain in the SEC after his transfer, with Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee all mentioned as possible spots.

Florida tight ends coach Tim Brewster pursued Gilbert hard, though, hinting strongly in mid-January that he had persuaded the transfer to head to Gainesville.

With Gilbert’s tweet in the ether, Brewster did some celebrating on Sunday ... and Monday morning.

Expecting any Florida tight end to equal or surpass Pitts — who did considerable mountaineering of his own to end up ahead of Ben Troupe, Jordan Reed, Aaron Hernandez, and others in terms of collegiate successes — is obviously putting a lot of weight on that successor. But it’s going to happen, so it may as well happen with a player as talented as Gilbert, whose freshman-year stats vastly outstripped those Pitts put up in 2018 (three catches, 73 yards, and a touchdown) and would look a lot like Pitts’s sophomore-year numbers if extrapolated to a standard 13 games.

In 2019, Pitts had 54 catches for 649 yards and five scores — strong totals, especially on a team absolutely loaded with quality targets. Expanded to 13 games, though, Gilbert would have had 57 catches for 598 yards and three or four touchdowns — and with one less year of college football under his belt.

2020 was obviously a strange year in college football, and Gilbert’s role for the Tigers was unusually large for a freshman — he briefly led all Tigers in receiving, though he got caught down the stretch in absentia — partly because of opt-outs by Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall. But that production speaks for itself, especially for an LSU offense that took several steps back from being the world-conquering unit it was in 2019, and it should have Florida fans bullish on Gilbert’s prospects.

How bullish? Well, Gilbert is now the fifth one-time five-star recruit to transfer to Florida under Dan Mullen, following Justin Shorter, Brenton Cox, Jr., Lorenzo Lingard, and Demarkcus Bowman — and his statistical profile blows all of the rest out of the water. In Shorter, Cox, Lingard, and Bowman, Florida was bringing on renowned talents who had (or have) barely produced at the collegiate level. Gilbert was a plug-and-play option for LSU as a true freshman, and acquitted himself nicely as a focal point of the Tigers’ offense.

In that sense, Gilbert is more like transfers Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes, and Jonathan Greenard — all of whom came to Florida with at least some production — except for his talent being enough to be anointed a five-star recruit. Basically, Gilbert represents the best of both worlds as a transfer: Talented enough to dream on the future, but productive enough to at least see a high floor as a worst-case scenario.

To say this is a huge pickup may actually be understating things, and even if Gilbert isn’t destined to be the sort of game-changer that Pitts — arguably the best player in college football in 2020 when healthy — was in orange and blue, he’s assuredly well-positioned to be a highly productive player for Mullen’s offense.