The Florida Gators will try to win their third consecutive SEC East championship in 2017. To do so, they’ll have to beat out their rivals Georgia and Tennessee in the standings.
I did a deep dive on the talent on the Gators’ roster last month. Today, I’m going to compare those talent metrics with the same for Bulldogs and Volunteers to see how the teams size up for this year.
What you’ll see below is the average numerical value from the 247 Sports Composite for the players on the teams’ rosters as publicly available on their official websites as of May 10. I included players who signed letters of intent in February but who aren’t yet on the rosters where applicable.
Florida has been scuffling on offense for quite some time, but the talent on hand is competitive with the other East powers.
UF is last at quarterback in part because it has a lot of guys at the position. Including potential offensive spark plug Kadarius Toney as a quarterback — he’s still listed as “athlete” on the official roster — the Gators have five players at QB, while the Vols have three and the Bulldogs have just two thanks to Brice Ramsey’s departure. Looking at only the top three UF signal callers — Feleipe Franks, Toney, and 2017 signee Jake Allen — yields an average of 0.9052, which would edge UT for second place.
Georgia makes out so well because Jacob Eason and 2017 signee Jake Fromm are both very highly rated. Looking only at the likely starters — since only quarterback one plays at a time — Eason’s 0.9973 rating leads Franks’ 0.9721 and Jarrett Guarantano’s 0.9612. Eason is also the only one of the three who has taken a college snap, as the other two are redshirt freshmen. UGA gets an edge here, even if Eason’s true freshman campaign wasn’t outstanding. Franks has the tools to be right up there, though.
Running back is one of Florida’s strongest positions, though, with Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson being former four-star recruits themselves. Lamical Perine showed the potential to outplay his three-star rating last year too. Tennessee has John Kelly and nothing else but question marks at the position after Alvin Kamara went pro early and Jalen Hurd transferred. The Scarlett-Perine-Thompson rotation is fairly good, but if they remain healthy — and it’s a big if — Chubb and Michel are the cream of this crop.
Wide receiver has been a position of weakness at UF for about as long as quarterback has been, but the Gators win this grouping outright. The best player at the position, Antonio Callaway, is only sixth in the talent ratings too. Sophomores Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, and Freddie Swain are all above him, as are 2017 signees James Robinson and Daquan Green. The Gators have a lot to like at the position, but much of it is still more about potential than proven performance.
That said, Georgia and Tennessee are in similar situations. The Bulldogs have the solid if unspectacular Terry Godwin leading a group of unproven young talent, and the same largely goes for the Vols with Jauan Jennings and the rest there. Depending on how Cleveland, who was bothered by injury and off-field issues last year, develops along with Hammond, Swain, and Robinson, this position could be a sizable advantage for Florida.
Tight end is a position of strength for all three teams, featuring Isaac Nauta (UGA), DeAndre Goolsby (UF), and Ethan Wolf (UT).
It’s harder to measure tight end ratings since the recruiting services don’t hand out many top grades, but Georgia got plenty of them. Nauta was a five-star recruit, and three of the other four tight ends in Athens were four-stars. Florida picked up a four-star this spring with Kemore Gamble, who earned positive reviews in the spring. Tennessee doesn’t have any former blue-chip recruits at tight end, though Wolf plays like one.
Offensive line was an underachieving position for all three teams last year. Florida’s line was awful at run blocking, Sam Pittman was a disappointment after his contentious exit from Arkansas to go to Georgia, and Tennessee chose not to renew the contract of former line coach Don Mahoney.
Georgia’s blowout 2017 recruiting class had O-line as a priority, and the top three players by recruiting rating on the roster came from it. Two of Florida’s top rated linemen are also from the most recent signing class. Tennessee has a lot of experience and could start five upperclassmen.
There is reason for hope that the Gators’ line might challenge Tennessee for the top spot. Former five-star recruit Martez Ivey will finally get to play his natural left tackle spot, Jawaan Taylor was a freshman All-SEC performer at the other tackle spot last year, while T.J. McCoy played well enough at center after Cameron Dillard got hurt that Dillard chose to become a graduate transfer. It’s still just unrealized hope though; the line has plenty to prove under new unit coach Brad Davis this fall.
Defense was largely what won Florida its two division titles under Jim McElwain, but that was also mostly with players who signed with Will Muschamp. That well is almost dry at this point and McElwain simply hasn’t recruited defenders at the same high level. The ratings for the defense show it well.
The line is the home of the only former five-star recruit on this side of the ball for UF in Cece Jefferson. Defensive end is a strong point with Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, Jordan Sherit, and Antonneous Clayton among returners and Zachary Carter and Elijah Conliffe from the new signing class. Tackle is largely unknown behind Khairi Clark and Taven Bryan, though.
Tennessee is in exactly the opposite place with end being a position of uncertainty with Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen gone. Georgia is in great shape here provided tackle Trenton Thompson returns to the team as expected. Even if he doesn’t, the Bulldogs have plenty of talent there.
Linebacker is Florida’s weakest position by talent ratings, and it really shows here. The top of the position isn’t so bad between former four-star recruit and spring game standout Jeremiah Moon going along with some lesser-regarded guys who nonetheless got real playing time last year in David Reese, Kylan Johnson, and Vosean Joseph. However, just to hit 10 total scholarship backers, Florida had to sign a two-star in February and move a tight end to the position during spring practice.
Linebacker is a strength for Georgia, however, with Lorenzo Carter, Roquan Smith, and Davin Bellamy headlining the group. Tennessee isn’t in quite as good a shape as UGA but doesn’t have as many concerns as the Gators. It has talented veterans like Darrin Kirkland and Cortez McDowell along with former walk-on Colton Jumper, who had more tackles than either of those two last year.
The secondary is the last major bastion of the Muschamp recruits, as three of them could end up starting: Duke Dawson, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington. Together with Outback Bowl MVP Chauncey Gardner, an all four-star backfield is possible despite the unit’s overall average. The Gators signed three blue-chip defensive backs in 2017, so the future might also look better than its current average does.
Georgia has some headliners in Malkom Parrish and Dominick Sanders, as does Tennessee with Todd Kelly Jr., Micah Abernathy, and Evan Berry. The top lines of the depth charts for all three teams are in good shape, in other words. UGA and UT are better equipped to handle injuries, though, as Florida would have to turn to some of those talented true freshman before too long.
Georgia is the favorite in the SEC East this year, and the talent advantages the Bulldogs have are the major reason. UGA is tops in seven of the eight major position groups and second in the remaining one.
Florida and Tennessee are fairly close in talent. A scoring system that hands out three points for first place in a position grouping, two for second, and one for third would give the Vols a score of 13 and the Gators a score of 12. They’re about even, though both are far behind Georgia’s 23 points.
Given that Jim McElwain has largely proven to be a better coach than UT’s Butch Jones, Florida is likely the second choice considering the teams’ even talent. So much depends on how the quarterback situations shake out at the two schools, though, as well as who can stay healthy.
The Gators’ starters will be competitive with the Volunteers’ and even the Bulldogs’ starters. What the talent comparison shows, however, is that UF doesn’t have much margin for error. That’s true for the defense especially. Florida can win the East for a third straight year, but it’s going to take high-quality coaching and a bit of injury luck to make it happen.