Florida Gators’ National Signing Day 2023: DJ Lagway, LJ McCray sign but losses suffered for 2024

By OnlyGators.com Staff
December 20, 2023
Florida Gators’ National Signing Day 2023: DJ Lagway, LJ McCray sign but losses suffered for 2024

The Florida Gators on Wednesday locked up the majority of their Class of 2024, and while head coach Billy Napier did retain his two top commitments — absolute lynchpins that could help change the trajectory of the program — there was nevertheless significant attrition that went even beyond initial expectations. Given the state of Florida’s class in November, it was believed the team might close with its highest-rated set of signees in more than a decade; instead, the Gators came nowhere close.

Five-stars quarterback DJ Lagway (Willis, TX) and defensive lineman LJ McCray (Daytona Beach, FL) — respectively the No. 4 and No. 6 players in the class, per 247Sports — are as dynamic a one-two punch as any coach in the nation landed this cycle. In fact, the only other program to obtain a pair of top-10 signees was Georgia, though Florida nabbing a quarterback named the MaxPreps Player of the Year earlier this week clearly gives the Gators the edge.

Lagway and McCray are the types of talents Florida has struggled to land of late. They are the best one-two punch the Gators have secured since the trio of Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley in 2010, and by all estimations, Lagway and McCray are simply better players.

The problem for Florida is what happened down the class. The Gators lost their next four highest-rated commitments over the last month with two such players choosing to sign elsewhere this week. Florida had seven top-100 prospects committed only to wind up with three. It lost a five-star safety and three four-star defensive linemen, a painful blow given how much effort UF put into recruiting the position.

The Gators had the No. 3 class in the 247Sports Composite team rankings for most of the season but ended Wednesday ranked No. 16 with just 18 commitments, fewer than any team above them in the rankings. It’s the largest such collapse in program history and likely one of the most significant in recruiting history — particularly without the loss of a coach coming into play.

In fact, Florida obtained a “worse” class than Napier acquired last offseason both in terms of total points and prospect average. That despite the class including holding the No. 4 and No. 6 players in the nation. Consider how that calculates. Unlike last year when the Gators could promote having the fifth-highest prospect average, they are 10th in that category this year.

In his post-signing day press conference, Napier insisted that Florida did not lose commitments in the secondary and across the defensive line, the two positions in which he fired assistant coaches. That was not entirely accurate, though he also insinuated UF may have processed a couple players.

“Reality is we might have been OK with some of [the attrition],” he said. “… It goes back to, ‘If you don’t want to be here, let’s get that out of the way now.'”

There are nevertheless immensely talented players in the class outside of Lagway and McCray.

Four-star linebacker Myles Graham (Gainesville, FL) is a legacy who was the first commitment and first signee in the class; he’s going to be “ready to go” from Day 1, Napier said. Fellow four-star LB Aaron Chiles (Oleny, MD) will be right alongside Graham trying to cause havoc on defense.

Four-star running backs Kahnen Daniels (West Point, MS) and Jadan Baugh (Decatur, GA) were both wins for Napier on the recruiting trail, more recently Baugh who committed to Florida over Alabama on Wednesday. Four-star wide receiver Jerrae Hawkins (Bradenton, FL) will immediately be the fastest player on the field when he enrolls, and four-star tight end Amir Jackson (Portal, GA) will significantly upgrade the talent in that room.

But the Gators do have holes created by that class attrition. They will need to address defensive back and defensive line through the transfer portal and/or the traditional National Signing Day in February. There were also a lack of offensive line additions with four-star Fletecher Westphal (Leesburg, VA) being the most notable by far. (Curious when there are two coaches at that position.)

Florida undoubtedly increased its talent level Wednesday, and through two signing classes, it’s clear the evaluations being made by Napier and his staff are superior to those of his predecessors.

However, it cannot be ignored that Napier himself claimed he was in the “talent acquisition business,” and seeing so many defections from a class that ends up finishing outside the top 15 — when top-five talent is needed to actually compete for national championships in this day and age — is not how any Gators supporter wanted to spend National Signing Day.

Let’s take a look at the Class of 2024 with additional evaluations from Napier to come later. Prospect rankings via 247Sports

DJ Lagway (4)
LJ McCray (6)
Myles Graham (81)
Fletcher Westphal (124)
Aaron Chiles (138)
Amir Jackson (139)
Kahnen Daniels (187)
Jerrae Hawkins (229)
D'antre Robinson (252)
Tawaski Abrams
Jadan Baugh
Josiah Davis
Mike Williams
Gregory Smith III
Teddy Foster
Michai Boireau
Marcus Mascoll
Noel Portnjagin
Brien Taylor (9-juco)

OnlyGators.com was here all day offering live updates, analysis and reactions to National Signing Day. Keep scrolling to see all the coverage!

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