Jim McElwain was hired during the worse possible time for the Gators, as his Dec. 4 hire came during the NCAA-mandated dead period for recruiting. Thanks to the calendar, McElwain had significantly less time to pull together his first recruiting class in Gainesville.
While many predicted the Gators to have a terrible recruiting class given the coaching turnover, McElwain was able to lure several top prospects to the Swamp by signing day.
The Gators ended up with a consensus top 25 ranked recruiting class filled with players that could contribute as soon as this season. The Gainesville Sun recently ranked the 11 true freshmen most likely do so this season, eight of the 11 signed after the school hired McElwain.
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1) Martez Ivey – offensive tackle
Prepare for a number of offensive linemen on the list, as the Gators are down to five healthy scholarship offensive linemen exiting the spring. The five-star Ivey was Florida’s biggest coup of signing day, as many had projected Ivey to follow Muschamp to Auburn. Instead the Apopka, Florida native will look to anchor McElwain’s first offensive line in Gainesville. That may be too much to expect from a freshman, but the talent and size is present for Ivey to succeed and the Gators badly need some younger linemen to step forward as soon as possible.
2) Jordan Scarlett – running back
The four-star Scarlett signed after meeting with the new Gator coach soon after his hire. Scarlett is a versatile back who looks to be able to handle all the responsibilities McElwain asks of his running backs. With Matt Jones gone to the NFL, a place on the depth chart is there for the taking.
3) Tyler Jordan – center
The three-star Jacksonville native is already on campus and participated in spring practice with the team. Considering the head start he has on his fellow freshmen linemen, Jordan may be the default choice if an injury occurs up front for the Gators.
4) Brandon Sandifer – offensive guard
Sandifer stuck with his commitment to the Gators after Muschamp’s departure, looking at the depth chart it appears he made a wise decision. Sandifer may be the most talented interior lineman the Gators brought in this offseason. If he can grasp the playbook during fall camp, he should earn at the very least a backup role with the team in 2015.
5) CeCe Jefferson – defensive lineman
One of the surprises of signing day, the Gators were able to land the five-star Jefferson over LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and just about every other elite program in the country. Jefferson could very well star in new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins’ psycho defense that relies on rushers getting to the quarterback to work effectively. Jefferson very well could become the next great defensive star for the Gators.
6) Antonio Callaway – wide receiver
The Florida Gators use to be known as WRU in the not too distant past, the four-star Callaway from Miami could help re-earn that title playing well opposite Demarcus Robinson. McElwain is known for his ability to develop quarterbacks but his track record with receivers is just as good if not better. Callaway should excel in Gainesville. The only question is how soon will it happen?
7) Nick Buchanan – offensive lineman
The six-foot-four Buchanan looks to provide depth up front for the Gators offense badly in need of bodies up front. Buchanan’s future appears to be at tackle but his best chance to play early is most likely at either guard spot for the Gators.
8) Rayshad Jackson – linebacker
Jackson was a two-star prospect from the Miami area. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins likes to rotate his defensive players as much as possible to keep them fresh in fourth quarters and deep into the season. The Gators currently lack depth at linebacker giving an early opportunity for Jackson to see the field.
9) Richerd Desir-Jones/Fredrick Johnson – offensive linemen
Both these players were three-star recruits and could help provide depth at guard or tackle for the Gators. If they can get their bodies into playing shape in a hurry, both players will be given every opportunity to earn playing time in fall camp.
10) Andrew Ivie – lineman
A three-star prospect, Ivie was projected as a defensive lineman, but with the Gators current lack of depth on the offensive line, he may be given his first action on the offense during the summer and fall camp. If Ivie can succeed on offensive side, he could find his way onto the field early.