Florida football recruiting: Gators lose four-stars QB Nick Evers, WR Jayden Gibson, WR Chandler Smith

By Adam Silverstein
December 8, 2021
Florida football recruiting: Gators lose four-stars QB Nick Evers, WR Jayden Gibson, WR Chandler Smith

Image Credit: UAA

The Florida Gators’ already-disastrous 2022 recruiting class took three additional major blows this week as four-star quarterback Nick Evers (Flower Mound, TX) and four-star wide receivers Jayden Gibson (Winter Garden, FL) and wide receiver Chandler Smith (Orlando, FL) — three of the program’s top five remaining pledges — all decommitted. Evers’ decision came shortly after a visit with new head coach Billy Napier.

Evers, who had long been committed to Florida, was one of the program’s most vocal prospects and one who appeared set to remain part of the Gators’ class despite the head coaching change. The No. 144 overall talent and 10th-ranked signal caller in the Class of 2022, Evers was the second-highest ranked remaining member of the class.

Gibson, rated No. 176 overall in the 247Sports Composite, was the third-highest ranked member of the class and arguably the prospect with the greatest opportunity to make an impact right away.

Smith, one of the fastest playmakers in the nation, sat out his senior season while rehabilitating from a torn meniscus. Also a long-time commitment, he tweeted that he had “been dreaming about being a Gator since I was a kid” but needed to “shy away from my childhood team and being a dual sport athlete I need to do what’s best for me.” He is ranked as the No. 220 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite and was the fifth-highest ranked remaining member of the class.

With Evers, Gibson and Smith now out, Florida’s class has just eight members and currently ranks 69th nationally in the 247Sports Composite. The Gators are listed lower than teams like Miami (Ohio) and Tulane at this time.

With the early signing period beginning in one week, Napier said in his introductory press conference Monday that he is not in a rush to stack Florida’s 2022 class with players just to fill numbers. Instead, he prefers to evaluate prospects, build relationships and form the class the right way, even if it takes until February.

“I think our approach here, we’re going to be very patient,” he explained. “I think I know everybody wants to pedal to the metal here and go a hundred miles an hour, but I think this the most important thing that we do — the people we get into the building, the staff, the players. So we’re going to evaluate the situation a little bit this week over the next 10 days or so. But you can expect us to be very conservative, very patient, trying to position ourselves for post-signing day to evaluate all the players that are left over, all the players in the transfer portal.

“And then, when we do have our entire staff and organization put together, position ourselves for some really strong weekends in January, and then try to close strong in February. But reality is you’re getting in the game and there’s like 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter. And I think the last thing we need to do here is make some mistakes. So we’ll probably — I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t sign many at all [in December], to be honest with you. But there may be a few out there that are willing to jump in here in the last minute.

“But let me say this about that: I think that, for me, I think it’s important in recruiting that both sides understand each other and have had time to build relationships, to have conversations, to know who is going to coach you, to fully understand what the plan is. So I think it goes both ways in that regard. I think it’s an injustice to them and it’s an injustice to us to all of a sudden just hurry up and elope right here at the last second.

“We’re going to be very patient, and I think we’ll position ourselves for, after this signing day’s over, we’ll go see what’s left out there and do the very best job we can do.”

The problem with Florida waiting until the traditional National Signing Day in February is that the vast majority of prospects will already be committed elsewhere in December. The early signing period has been responsible for more than three-quarters of signings for Power Five programs since it debuted a few years ago.

With Napier choosing to focus more on the future and not the present — evaluating and establishing relationships with players who already want to play for the Gators — it creates an interesting and concerning scenario where an already-lackluster class is getting markedly weaker by the day. Gibson’s decommitment Wednesday alone dropped Florida from 40th to 69th nationally.

Perhaps Napier’s plan is to fill the open scholarships next season with transfers. The transfer portal is absolutely loaded with prospects, and that could be a quick fix to UF’s problems. However, adding a significant number of transfers at once could create depth problems that may take years to solve with players rotating out of the roster faster than they would otherwise.

Even more concerning is that the Gators appear to be on their own nationally in terms of hemorrhaging commitments of this caliber immediately after a coaching change. Oklahoma did lose some key California-based prospects when Lincoln Riley took the USC job, but its class could sustain those losses as the Sooners are still ranked 12th nationally at this time.

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