The portal business is booming more than ever before, and Florida needs to take advantage.
Currently, the Florida Gators are undergoing a slew of turnover, directly affecting the talent it can bring in through the traditional measures of high school recruiting.
That was detrimental to teams looking to rebuild quickly in the past. Now, the crowded transfer portal presents fruitful, ready-now athletes for the taking at nearly every position.
Gators head coach Billy Napier emphasized the importance of targeting those walking around the crowded portal in his introductory press conference. Once early signing day comes and goes on Wednesday, it will be time for him to browse the open market of available players with prior collegiate experience.
As a result, AllGators looks at eight prospects in the transfer portal that Florida could target to replenish the roster without a strong recruiting class.
QB Cameron Ward, Incarnate WordAn award-winning FCS quarterback currently sits atop the NCAA Transfer Portal as the highest-rated uncommitted prospect.
As a true freshman, Cameron Ward asserted himself as a promising young star, earning the Jerry Rice Award for the best FCS freshman, notably won by current San Francisco 49ers QB Trey Lance in 2019. In 2021, he built off his impressive year one campaign, compiling 4,648 yards and 47 touchdowns on 65% completion.
Possessing a strong arm, pinpoint accuracy and patience to let plays develop, the Texas native is tabbed as a future NFL draft pick. His skillset is complemented by his footwork in the pocket, ability to throw off-platform and considerable zip.
Weighing his option in the portal after coach Eric Morris departed for the FBS level, Ward looks to take the next step up himself.
He’s expected to be a heavily sought after entity on the market, already receiving offers from Ole Miss,
In Napier’s first season as head coach, the Gators will look to retool the quarterback room with a serviceable backup for expected starter Anthony Richardson.
Ward, who has three years of eligibility remaining, would be a perfect safety valve for the oft-injured signal-caller Napier will inherit in year one of his tenure.
As a result, Florida has contacted Ward but has yet to offer the talented quarterback, sources tell AllGators.
OL Brey Walker, OklahomaOn the first day of Napier’s tenure at Florida, he made a resounding statement that one of his main missions early on would be to focus on obtaining talent along the front lines on both sides of the football.
The previous regime put him in a hole, with the inefficiencies recruiting the trenches being an oft-criticized aspect of its eventual collapse.
That has Florida in a problematic situation nearing the end of the 2022 cycle. As a result, the Gators are scouring the transfer portal for ready-now linemen to step into the fold as starters.
Brey Walker — a former five-star offensive tackle recruit for the Sooners — has played recorded 308 snaps throughout his collegiate career, playing the majority of those snaps at the guard position.
However, standing at 6-foot-7, 320 pounds, the veteran could serve as an immediate plug-in on the exterior given his experience and frame as well as UF’s dire need at the tackle position.
He has no previous ties to UF, but his above-average talents warrant a strong push for his services.
RB Jahmyr Gibbs, Georgia TechThe transfer portal is currently as full as it has ever been, packed tightly with high-caliber talent at nearly every position.
Former Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs is arguably the best of the bunch.
Churning out nearly 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons with the Yellow Jackets, Gibbs was a diamond in the rough for Geoff Collins’ lackluster ACC squad. Producing as an uber-talented all-purpose back, Gibbs pairs uncanny straight-line speed, acceleration, vision and change of direction abilities that elevate any backfield he’s in to an elite level.
For more on Gibbs’ skillset, check out AllGators’ scouting report from the last time Florida was involved for the ball carrier.
Being recruited by the previous staff out of high school, Gibbs was given a good glimpse at what the Florida program and campus had to offer him. His decision process narrowed down to GT and UF at the end, but the former four-star elected to stay home for his collegiate career.
Now, back on the open market, Florida has a second chance at landing the game-changing prospect.
It is presumably a long shot to beat out the current college football powerhouses for Gibbs, especially with the turnover Florida is currently experiencing across the board. Alabama has arisen as a legitimate suitor for the former Dalton (Ga.) star thus far.
However, given the rich talent he possesses — not to mention the Peach State ties he and Napier share — it would be malpractice not to kick the tires on the eventual NFL product.
RB Zach Evans, TCUWhile Gibbs would be the most significant splash landing for the Florida Gators, he’s not the only highly-regarded transfer running back with a previous tie to UF in the portal.
Zach Evans, who displayed a late interest for the Gators in a prolonged recruitment process, has again hit the open market.
Evans rushed for over 1,000 yards in his two seasons with TCU and presents a valuable skillset for the Florida backfield to replenish the depth it will lose with the departures of Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis this offseason.
In a system that utilizes heavy rotation to keep fresh legs, Evans would complement the likes of Demarkcus Bowman and Nay’Quan Wright, forming a dangerous three-headed monster rotation.
LB Branden Jennings, MarylandHomecoming hero?
Formerly as an SI All-American candidate at his linebacker prospect in the 2021 cycle, Branden Jennings’ transfer from Maryland pits another top-tier target back on the open market.
With Mohamoud Diabate hitting the transfer portal shortly after the close of the 2021 regular season and the uncertainty surrounding Ventrell Miller’s status on the team, the Florida search for linebackers begins.
Jennings would be an ideal player to target.
Transferring from Maryland after just one season with the Terrapins, the Jacksonville (Fla.) native flashed in a promising freshman campaign, totaling 23 tackles and one forced fumble in seven games played.
Equipped with the physical intangibles, strong coverage skills and a willingness to plug holes down toward the line of scrimmage, Jennings fits the bill for Napier and Co. Upon arrival, he could step into the fold as an immediate contributor alongside TyRon Hopper and Derek Wingo, gaining valuable in-game experience with three years of collegiate eligibility remaining.
What better way to land on his feet than suiting up less than two hours down the road from Duval County on Saturday’s?
CB Eli Ricks, LSUFrom the Bayou to the Swamp?
Florida’s intentions to rebuild their reputation as a pipeline to the NFL for defensive backs will not come without taking risks, no matter how much of a long shot it may be to acquire the talent.
Unfortunately for the Gators, the luxury of taking risks when the staff sees fit is more of a necessity.
Kaiir Elam will presumably move to the NFL following the Gasparilla Bow against UCF on Dec. 23. As a result, a major void will be left for the Gators to fill.
One outside corner spot will be occupied as true freshman Jason Marshall Jr. At the same time, the other will be a toss-up between the incumbent starter Avery Helm, the preseason CB2 Jaylon Hill and anyone else they can get their hands on from the portal.
Former LSU star Eli Ricks taking his talents to Gainesville would be a perfect replacement for Elam.
Replacing a presumable first-round draft pick is no easy task, but Ricks’ length and man-to-man coverage skills present nearly no drop-off for the Gators secondary.
The highly regarded defensive back recently said that Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and USC were the schools standing out to him, putting Florida at a relative disadvantage if they get into the race late.
However, with cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond coming over from the Tigers, Florida has a hook for Ricks that can catch them up to speed if they attempt to reel him in.
It’s a pipe dream at its core, but one that isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem given the connection Florida recently added.
OL Curtis Dunlap, MinnesotaAnother Jacksonville (Fla.) product is sitting in the portal, ready for the taking. Like Jennings, Curtis Dunlap Jr.’s entry into the transfer portal gives the UF a chance to sell a homecoming for a talented prospect.
Recruited by the Gators, Dunlap elected to take his talents north to Minnesota, where he played at guard for four years.
Starting all 12 games in his redshirt season, Dunlap was named an outstanding offensive freshman and All-Big Ten Honorable Mention in 2019. He highlighted a Golden Gophers offensive line that led PJ Fleck’s squad to an 8-4 record.
Standing at 6-foot-5, 345 pounds, Dunlap possesses the desirable size and experience to make an immediate impact for his next team in his final year of eligibility. His entry into the portal — for the second time (the first being in September 2020 before he withdrew his name 24 hours later) — comes after he slid down into a reserve role following an absent 2020 season due to injury.
Looking to bounce back, making the trip back to the Sunshine State may be of intrigue, something UF could undoubtedly play on if they intend to anchor down the trenches temporarily as they continue their overhaul of staff and retooled recruiting efforts.
WR Deion Smith, LSUThe Gators have made their keep when plugging holes via the transfer portal, but no position encapsulated that fact more than the wide receiver group.
Highlighted by Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes and Justin Shorter, Florida has found a way to keep talented wideouts on the roster despite relative mediocrity on the recruiting trail.
Given that a large portion of the new staff heads over to Gainesville from Louisiana, the emphasis on relationships and connections makes The Boot a highly likely destination for a lot of talent in the Gators transition class. That remains the same for who they may attempt to pluck out of the transfer portal.
As a result, former LSU wide receiver Deion Smith presents a viable option for a speed wideout who can stretch the field in Florida’s offense. As part of the 2021 recruiting class, Smith entered the portal after a limited freshman campaign, snagging just 11 balls for 186 yards and two touchdowns.
Possessing exceptional length and speed, Smith is the perfect entity for an offense that will surely look to target players deep down the field more than it has in the past few years.
With the most viable deep threat in Jacob Copeland hitting the portal himself, the room needs a ready-now piece. Plucking from the wideout production factory in LSU wouldn’t be too shabby a pickup.
Drawing on their ties to Louisiana, Napier, Raymond and the staff have an opportunity to extend the success of transfer portal receivers at UF to bulk up the holes in their transition recruiting class.
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