First, let me apologize as this turned out to be much longer than I was expecting, but I do think there are a lot of good data to go through and I hope you are willing to dive into it. As we approach the start of the season, I thought it might be beneficial to dive into different aspects of the transition from the 2020 team into the 2021 team. So, let's dive in to evaluating the Recruiting & Evaluating the Overall Roster for the Florida Gators football team.
Recruiting & Evaluating the Overall Roster
The 2021 Recruiting class finished with a ranking of 12 (90.30 average rating for 23 commits which included a long snapper). Accounting for the attrition and additions, Florida’s roster seems to be settling in to what we can likely expect from Mullen going forward. For the most part, the McElwain recruiting disaster has been washed out and the 2021 Roster is practically all Mullen.
Florida Gator Roster Breakdown from 2017 - 2021
Couple areas of concern...
Area #1 - Offensive Line is still not over the 50% mark with respect to the Blue Chip Ratio, something we have not seen accomplished since 2014. Furthermore, the OL has very little "elite" to "great" rated prospects, with Delance (0.946) and Gouraige (0.960) being the only lineman on roster with a rating over 0.910 and one of them is not playing at the level equivalent to their rating.
- Florida’s Offensive Line rating since 2014 has mostly been below 0.85 (when adjusted for experience) and the line has played like it. Replacing Heggie and Stone with White and Braun will improve the raw ratings a bit, but the experience factor will go down. Heggie and Stone had a lot of starts between them. Gourage should be improved and I'm hoping Reese will be at least back to his MSU levels... just leaves Delance as the known unknown and Florida will once again be playing the seasons with fingers crossed that the OL has no injuries.
- 2014 - 0.910 Adjusted Rating & 0.930 Raw Rating
- 2015 - 0.802 Adjusted Rating & 0.856 Raw Rating
- 2016 - 0.800 Adjusted Rating & 0.897 Raw Rating
- 2017 - 0.795 Adjusted Rating & 0.873 Raw Rating
- 2018 - 0.861 Adjusted Rating & 0.877 Raw Rating
- 2019 - 0.820 Adjusted Rating & 0.873 Raw Rating
- 2020 - 0.888 Adjusted Rating & 0.899 Raw Rating
- 2021 - 0.875 Adjusted Rating & 0.911 Raw Rating
Area #2 - Safety is another area of note, given the lack of production from the unit the past few seasons. While the Blue Chip Ratio has finally exceeded 50%, until this most recent recruiting class there are only one (1) player with a rating over 0.900 (Dean). The additions of Collier (0.9525) & McMillon (0.9195) will help, but probably not very much in the 2021 season.
Area #3 - Tight End might be another area of concern given the low level of Blue Chip Recruits that have been added to the roster. Aside from Zipperer (0.9543 in the 2019 class), Florida has not added another Blue Chip to the roster. Zipperer probably has the 2021 & 2022 seasons left before making an attempt at the NFL, so this next 2022 class will be critical for Florida to land an elite prospect at this position and get someone who can make an impact as a freshman.
Florida’s Roster Improvement Under Mullen
Even with those areas of concern, Florida seems to have stabilized their roster moving into 2021, maintaining a Blue Chip Ratio in the 60% range in back to back years. The overall improvement of the roster and the individual position groups is easy to see, especially when you go back and look at what the roster was at the end of the 2017 season (when Mullen was hired) and how the roster has improved from a 36.1% Blue Chip Ratio in 2017 to the 62.8% in 2021, with every position group seeing improvement.
Historical Recruiting by Coach
Let’s pull a thread a little more and compare the last 4 coaches (going back to 2008) and evaluate what each of those coaches left their predecessor. For Meyer, we will only evaluate the 2008 – 2010 classes since most of the recruits before that would have graduated (yes, this is not accounting for redshirts and/or transfers, that is a level of detail that is extremely difficult to track down and would ultimately have little impact on the overall point).
Historical Recruiting for Florida
You can see where the devastation of the offensive line started…. Muschamp’s transition year ended with only 2 Lineman and 1 Blue Chip. In 2012, he signed 2 Blue Chips, but only 2 linemen in back to back classes! Then, in 2013 and 2014, he signed only 1 Blue Chip in those classes for an overall 3 of 15 (20%) Blue Chip Ratio from 2012 – 2014 and the two that were signed in 2012 left early for the NFL. Unfortunately, Mac was not much better, going 3 for 10 (30%) during his short time. To date, Mullen has been able to improve this (8 of 18 = 44%) but still not at a level you would like to see (>50%), especially when accounting for those who didn’t actually enroll or make it to a fall practice (like 2020’s Walker with a rating of 0.9308 & 2019’s Wilson with a rating of 0.8917).
The other areas that jump out are at Linebacker and Safety.
- Even though Muschamp recruited 6 of 7 Blue Chips at Linebacker (86%), he failed to sign any in his last class (2014). Follow that up with poor recruiting during the Mac years (1 of 7 = 14%) and you end up with a lot of youth and not a lot of talent. I think it is fair to say that Mullen has done an outstanding job of repairing this via recruiting, with all 8 of his recruits being Blue Chips. The 2021 will be the season to determine if that recruiting success translates to on field performance success.
- At Safety, the issues started in 2015 when Mac was hired as he only recruited 1 Blue Chip (out of 4 = 25%) at the position during his 3 years and pretty much rode the defensive recruiting coattails of Muschamp during his tenor at Florida. Similar to LB, Mullen has done a good job (on paper) recruiting talent, with 2021’s class being the most talented. Once again, the 2021 season will show if that talent is able to produce on the field.
Also, if you deep dive into the Defensive Line numbers, look at the steady drop off in the Blue Chip % from Meyer (85%) to Muschamp (59%) to Mac (46%). Looks like Mullen’s 2021 class is correcting that problem, but it probably will take another year to see the full benefits of that correction, which is probably why Florida brought in two (2) DL transfers for the 2021 season.
It is also interesting to note the Blue Chip Ratio similarities between Meyer and Mullen. In fact, they are almost identical with respect to the overall Blue Chip Ratio (Meyer at 71% and Mullen at 66%) and the split between Offense (Meyer at 61% and Mullen at 57%) and Defense (Meyer at 79% and Mullen at 74%). Where you are likely to see a difference though, is the breakdown of those Blue Chips between Elite, Great, and Good level Blue Chip recruits.
Evaluating the Blue Chips on the Roster
Having looked at the Blue Chip Ratio from the 30,000 foot level, lets see if we can breakdown the Blue Chips into 3 tiers: Elite (0.999 – 0.960), Great (0.959 – 0.920), and Good (0.919 – 0.890). If we evaluate the Florida Gator Rosters, as it stands after NSD 2021, we have the following classification of the Mullen Recruits:
Mullen's Recruits by Tier (Red names never made it to a Fall Practice)
Overall, 12% of Florida’s recruits would be considered Elite and 22% are considered great. Also, something to consider is Mullen’s success in recruiting talent from the Transfer Portal, players like HB - Bowman (0.9909), WR - Shorter (0.9962), HB – Linguard (0.9861), and LB – Cox (0.9867) have added talent into those Elite section.
While this is a vast improvement over the prior two coaching staffs, the question we need to ask ourselves is how does this compare other teams?
Rosters Tier Analysis and Comparisons
Looking at how Florida’s Roster compares to others, let’s breakdown some other rosters (using the 247 Composite Roster Rating) and compare that to where Florida’s roster is presently.
2021 Roster Comparison by Tier
Florida’s 2020 roster was ranked 7th (even though Mullen has not landed a recruiting class inside the Top 8) the 2021 Florida Gator Roster breakdown is as of today (which includes the recent transfers), based on who has enrolled (plus Sapp). 247 has not fully updated the 2021 rosters for most teams, but I was able to take the existing rosters (which is updated for everything except the 2021 recruiting class ratings for players) and then add the 2021 recruiting class metrics
When you breakdown the numbers into the categories, you see that Florida’s talent is pretty evenly matched with LSU, UCS, Texas, Texas A&M and ahead of Tennessee, FSU, Auburn, and Penn State. However, they are considerably behind Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Clemson, and Oklahoma with respect to the Blue Chip % & the mix of "Elite / Great" recruits.
Obviously there is a significant gap between Florida’s roster and the Tier 1 teams, but outside of those 5 teams, Florida’s roster is on par and/or better than the rest of the teams.
It seems to me that while Florida may not be recruiting at a level needed to be equal with the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, or Georgia, one could argue that they are recruiting well enough to at least complete with those top tier programs each year.
That is not to say that Florida is going to be winning multiple championships, but it does seem reasonable, given the accumulation of talent and the closing of the talent gap, that Florida has the talent to win an SEC Championship, the question becomes how reasonable of a chance is it and have frequent will they be?
Most, if not all, historical trends and analytics are not in Mullen’s favor, aside from Dabo at Clemson, no coach has been able to win a National Championship (in the modern era of football) without signing a Top 5 Recruiting class and outside of the first three years of being hired. Auburn has probably come the closest, back in 2013 (won SEC Championship) and again in 2017 (Lost SEC Championship game).
However, the data does strongly support the notion that Mullen has done far better than the previous two staffs with respect to recruiting & roster management and his success on the field (2018 going 10-3 with a Sugar Bowl win over Michigan; 2019 going 11-2 with an Orange Bowl win over Virginia and 2020 going 8-2 in an all SEC season and having a competitive game against Alabama in the SEC Championship game) has earned him the right to try and prove history wrong over the next 2 – 4 seasons.
State of the Union
The current state of the Mullen era is this, while the program is not at the elite level Florida is capable of being at, the ship has been "righted" and program is in good shape to be competitive with anyone on the field.
Many fans (myself included) are going to continue to be concerned about the level of recruiting and unwillingness to change certain staff members that are not yielding "championship" level results and/or mentalities, and those are reasonable concerns. However, I do think we need to keep things in the right perspective and not get so singularly focused on reaching that elite tier that we lose track of progress that has been made over the last 3 seasons to get to the level we are today… which is just outside of the elite tier.
That is not to say that we should be content with where we are today, but it does imply that some of us (mostly board posters) need to have a more balance perspective. I’m not suggesting that the level Mullen has restored the program to is the "best we can get" or that "we should not expect better", but what I am suggesting is that to lose sight of the accomplishment of getting the program to this level cannot and should not be so easily overlooked or dismissed because there are a lot of other programs who have been failing for years to achieve Mullen’s level of success. Because of that accomplishment, Mullen has earned the right to keep doing things his way and as a fanbase I think we can be reasonably confident that he will not "sink the ship" in the process of that pursuit (as Muschamp and Mac did).
And for those few who have already grabbed their pitch forks and starting making their way to the castle, maybe you should look around and honestly evaluate just how easy finding an elite coach is, because the reality is that it is not easy, in fact it is almost impossible… just ask Tennessee, Florida State, Auburn, USC, Texas, Nebraska, UCLA, and countless other "Blue Chip" programs that have been struggling to recapture their glory days for years.
Where do we go from here?
I realize that many fans are frustrated that Florida lags behind Alabama and Georgia, but you cannot (or should not) just fire a coach after the success he has had on (record) and off (roster restoration) the field after his third season just because he has lifted the program to a level just one notch short of expectations. Maybe he can defy the odds and win a championship or maybe he won’t, but regardless, we (as the fanbase) need to keep the proper perspective as it relates to Mullen and the success he has had at Florida.
Mullen certainly has the football knowledge to develop an elite powerhouse program, but there are two basic questions I have related to him achieving it:
- Is he willing to commit more of his time and energy into recruiting to improve to classes in the 4-7 range?
- Is he willing to make the difficult decisions related to his staff?
Now, at the end of the next 2-3 seasons, if it turns out that Mullen is not the right guy for the job because he isn’t winning championships, then at least Florida has the time to ensure that they get the absolute guy they want and not just the "best" guy available. If the day comes that it is time to move on from Mullen, it should not be urgent process and should only be done when the #1 desired candidate is available and wants the job… you do not move on from Mullen and take a guess at his replacement (like Muschamp and/or Mac hires. or Tennessee’s approach to hiring a coach). The only time you would do that is if the ship starts sinking.
For those that are prematurely itching to switch out he head coach, I’m not sure there is a reasonable candidate out there that you would be willing to go "all in" on that you could be confident would be an improvement over Mullen. So, IMO we keep with Mullen and see what he can do over these next few seasons and if he is willing to replace a few staff members to improve recruiting and/or on field results, then even better!