After significant fanfare — including Billy Napier’s public acknowledgement that Florida’s first depth chart of the 2022 regular season would not be ready until Wednesday and a “leak” of a “depth chart” from someone who purported to have gotten it from a friend who saw it in Florida’s new facility — the Gators’ first two-deep of the fall was released late Wednesday, and it holds all the secrets of life, the universe, and everything.
Kidding: It just shows where Florida’s coaches have arbitrarily placed Florida’s players on position-by-position lists that are in no way legally binding.
Look: The #Gators have released their depth chart for Saturday's 7 p.m. match-up with No. 7-ranked Utah pic.twitter.com/PQATb7Xe8A— Graham Hall (@GrahamHall_) August 31, 2022
There isn’t that much that’s surprising about this depth chart — except maybe that it appears to come straight from Excel or Google Sheets? — in my opinion, but it’s still worth examining position-by-position.
So Anthony Richardson is going to start! Huh. Shocking!
Listing Richardson’s height and weight as 6’3.5” and 232 pounds, numbers that seem just slightly small for a guy who has acquired a Bunyanesque mystique while appearing to many to be the spitting image of Cam Newton on the field, is maybe minimally unexpected, but that spot on the chart was all but inked in as soon as Emory Jones transferred to Arizona State (if not earlier).
More interesting, of course, is that Jalen Kitna is QB2 for now. The son of NFLer Jon sliding up to that spot is probably temporary, with Jack Miller out due to a thumb injury (that the depth chart notes, helpfully). But Florida — and every fan in Gator Nation — probably ought to hope that Richardson can take every significant snap, as Kitna hasn’t taken any in a game as a Gator and also missed some of fall camp while recovering from a medical procedure, and QB3 behind him is Kyle Engel, a walk-on who has two more SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll selections than he does snaps.
But while Miller is the presumptive backup when he’s healthy, and he’s certainly got more experience and regard than Kitna and Engel, this is obviously Richardson’s show to star in, and Florida managing his health is probably going to be a recurring theme this fall.
One of the genuine surprises on the depth chart: Trevor Etienne’s presence on and Lorenzo Lingard’s absence from the running back rotation. Returning playmaker Nay’Quan Wright pipping Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson despite Wright coming off a major injury in 2021 is maybe a bit of an upset, but freshman Etienne seemingly taking a spot many would have guessed would go to Lingard is closer to a shock.
I think all of those four backs are likely to get some work for Florida this fall, as Napier’s Louisiana teams shared carries — but Richardson’s probably going to get some carries, too, and I am not bullish on the chances that four backs and a QB whose running prowess is as valuable as Richardson’s is all have what they consider a full workload. (Demarckus Bowman seeing the same logjam and transferring this summer probably had at least something to do with how little burn the fourth or fifth back in this setup will ultimately get.)
Still, Lingard being motivated by being left off this list is likely a good thing for Florida.
Trusting God , I’ll be— Lorenzo Lingard JR (@d1champ99) September 1, 2022
The thing that stands out to me at wideout: No one’s short. The shortest listed player of the eight wide receivers Florida put on this depth chart is 6’1” Ricky Pearsall — who may actually be getting disserviced by this exercise, as he’s been listed at 6’1.5” by some recruiting profiles. (Pearsall was 6’1” on his Arizona State bio, though.) Every other Gators wideout is 6’2” or taller, with five players checking in at 6’3” or better.
That’s enviable size at the position, but Florida may suffer for that roster construction if none of those big guys can stretch the field. The Gators are coming off a year with just 44 pass plays of 20 or more yards, down dramatically from the nation-leading 75 that Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney (among others) generated in 2020, and even if Pearsall has some of the route-running skills needed to get free for big plays, Florida’s struggles to establish a deep threat outside of Jacob Copeland a year ago would seem likely to continue, what with Copeland gone and all the other personnel returning. Maybe Xzavier Henderson or Marcus Burke emerges in that role?
The strength of this corps — outside of its literal strength and size — will probably be its slot options, as Pearsall and Trent Whittemore have both been productive in that role. But if Florida can leverage Justin Shorter and the other taller players on this roster into red-zone efficacy, it’s not hard to squint your way into seeing a passing game could be effective and efficient even without explosives.
Dante Zanders — previously known as Dante Lang, and previously a defensive end — being the starter here is amazing given that Florida is just two years removed from having Pitts put up an all-time campaign and seemingly capitalizing on Pitts on the recruiting trail by hiring the notorious Tim Brewster to be its TEs coach. Instead of Brewster reeling in big names, though, Florida sputtered at TE with the lesser-known Kemore Gamble producing inconsistently last season, putting up three games of 60+ receiving yards and no others with more than 40.
Zanders beating out the undersized Keon Zipperer and drawing plenty of praise from Napier and others over the course of the spring and fall camp schedules could be the story of a diamond in the rough finally getting some shine, but I’ll be surprised if he is more than the fourth or fifth option in the passing game. Where Zanders might be really good is as a blocker, as he’s got the size (6’5”, 262 pounds) to be a sixth lineman or a jumbo lead blocker when needs arise.
I’m also curious as to where or whether Arlis Boardingham would have shown up on this list if healthy. He, more than any other player on Florida’s roster, is the guy who favors Pitts’s unicornish measurements and speed, and if he can return this fall, I think he plays.
Could Florida’s line be an elite one in 2022? The return of three starters — Richard Gouraige, Ethan White, and Kingsley Eguakun — and addition of potential All-American O’Cyrus Torrence is a good base, and Michael Tarquin has seemed inked in at right tackle, with experience in 22 games prior to this year. And last year’s line really was good, largely keeping Jones and Richardson clean while helping the Gators rank fourth nationally in yards per carry. (Jones and Richardson had a lot to do with that, in fairness.)
The issue here, as with many other spots, is depth. I think Josh Braun is probably Florida’s sixth lineman and might slot in at either guard or tackle should an injury occur, despite how the depth chart is written, but the backup tackles and center all being freshmen is certainly cause for concern. Good health might make the offensive line coaching tandem of Rob Sale and Darnell Stapleton look good by default; an injury or two will probably have them scrambling to earn their keep.
I worry that Patrick Toney’s 3-4ish defense is probably going to reduce Gervon Dexter’s efficiency a bit — and potentially his stats a lot — if he has to work against tackles as an end rather than using his superior speed against guards, but as long as he’s probably lining up in the B gap more often than not, that position change (“position change,” maybe?) is more a shift in nomenclature than in role. And Dexter isn’t a classic nose tackle despite his great size, so I’m fine with others in that spot — even if the disparity between 299-pound Jalen Lee and 439-pound (!!!) Desmond Watson is obviously immense, and those players being at least adequate is the key to Florida’s run defense.
How much pressure Princely Umanmielen and Brenton Cox Jr. are able to generate off the edge seems like it might be the key to Florida’s pass defense, too, as Toney’s probably going to do more with creepers and simulated pressures than five- and six-man rushes. And if any player behind Umanmielen or Cox would like to emerge this fall, that would be great.
Ventrell Miller and Amari Burney have combined for more than 300 tackles as Gators, and while Miller is definitely the better-loved of the two in the fan base, you could do a lot worse than Burney as a starter. But what’s behind both of them should yield a breakout or two, as there’s talent down to the third string at both spots. Shemar James being a second-stringer after one fall camp seems like a good portent.
Florida listing corners and STAR players separately suggests to me that it’s got outside corners and slot corners, and maybe boundary and field corners from that outside corners pool, rather than a bunch of players cross-trained at all the corner spots. If that’s the case, and Avery Helm is a starter opposite established starter Jason Marshall with Devin Moore as the third outside corner on the roster, I think we’re liable to see big plays both made and given up on the outside, as underclassmen tend to yield.
That STAR spot seems like a strength, though: Johnson has really good instincts (if not always married to great physicality) and Perkins is a fiesty cover man, while Wilcoxson seemed like he might get some playing time last year as a reclassified freshman before injury.
It’s hard not to like safety as the best position on Florida’s defense right now, though. Trey Dean has improved throughout his career and — not unlike Burney — is at worst a solid starter, while Rashad Torrence has flashed as a playmaker. And the players behind them — Kamari Wilson, Donovan McMillon, and Corey Collier — have plenty of talent. And Toney and Corey Raymond is one heck of a pairing of defensive backs coaches.
Jeremy Crawshaw seems likely to be a top-20 punter in the country, and Florida’s allocated resources (read: scholarships) to long snappers that should make that a strength, too.
Beyond that? I think we’re hoping that one of the two of Adam Mihalek and Trey Smack can be a reliable kicker, and that someone emerges from that group of returners as a field-flipper — and that Napier and crew are hoping the same, as just renaming special teamers “game-changers” does not destine them to change games as desired.
Etienne would be my pick to click as a kick returner, while Henderson did enough good on a few punt returns a year ago for me to have some hope there. Napier jettisoning Fenley Graham in the offseason without giving him a full fall as a returner feels like something that might come up if the return teams struggle, however.
This is a depth chart that reflects one of the essential truths about this 2022 Florida team: It’s got players who can reasonably expected to do things at a lot of starting positions, but its depth is a concern at many of those positions. Florida probably won’t be able to sustain performance despite an injury except at, say, running back and safety, and there are critical positions — quarterback, obviously, but also defensive line and corner — where a significant injury could be a staggering blow.
Napier’s talk about creating an army of assistants and bulking up Florida’s roster and walk-on corps has not, to this point, been talk: He’s really done that, at least where he can. But there was always only ever so much he could do to flip a roster from the Dan Mullen era, and he’s going to be trying to make meals using what was left in the cupboard for the most part this fall.
Here’s hoping the potency of what was on the rack makes up for not having too many extra shakers of the good stuff.