Florida Gators’ National Signing Day 2022 recap: Class evaluations, recruiting rankings for 2023

By OnlyGators.com Staff
December 21, 2022
Florida Gators’ National Signing Day 2022 recap: Class evaluations, recruiting rankings for 2023

The Florida Gators on Wednesday locked up the vast majority of their Class of 2023 as head coach Billy Napier attempts to reshape the roster in his image entering Year 2. While Florida did quite well this cycle, it was perhaps not as dominant a showing as some expected from the Gators given the program’s investment into an army of staffers to support Napier.

Still, Florida wrapped up the day with a class sporting the highest average rating (92.34) the program has achieved since it signed the No. 1 overall class in 2010 (93.99). Despite the Gators currently standing 12th in the 247Sports Composite team rankings, they have the fifth-highest average this cycle behind only No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 3 Texas.

While Florida only has four top-100 signees and none in the top 50 of the 247Sports Composite, 18 of its 20 incoming freshmen are blue-chippers with only a pair of three-star prospects presently part of the class. (All 20 are expected to enroll early, 14 of which are from the Sunshine State.) Team rankings are generated as a sum total, and the Gators have two fewer commitments than any team ranked above them other than the Buckeyes.

“If you’re into rankings, to have a top 10 class in the first year, just really proud of our staff and all the hard work that went into that,” said Napier, referring to UF’s ranking by other recruiting services. “Time will tell if our evaluations were spot on.”

Napier continued speaking about recruiting the Sunshine State: “We definitely used an inside-out approach. We obviously branched out a little bit with the quarterback and obviously into Georgia and Alabama, but the majority of the players being Florida players, that’s one of the reasons why this is a great job. Now, obviously there’s a lot of others out there we’d like to have, too, but this group reflects our philosophy … and certainly the history of championship teams at the University of Florida.”

The crown jewel of the class is five-star quarterback Jaden Rashada (Pittsburg, CA), whom Florida flipped from rival Miami last month. Ranked as 247Sports’ No. 29 overall prospect, Rashada is the Gators’ first five-star signee at QB since Jeff Driskel is 2011. (He is a four-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite.)

Though it is rare for a true freshman signal caller to start for a prominent program, Rashada will certainly have that opportunity in 2023 given Florida lost Anthony Richardson to the 2023 NFL Draft and does not appear on track to bring in a top-tier player out of the transfer portal.

“Can’t compliment Jaden enough relative to who he is as a person, as a leader, his character. Jaden is a guy who came here and fell in love with the University of Florida and really connected with a lot of people here. It was sincere,” Napier said. “… One of the more highly regarded quarterbacks in the country. The ball really jumps out of his hand. He’s a junkie. He loves the game. He’s all about the work. He’s got a good sturdy frame that we can add weight to. Just been very impressed with his approach.”

Four-star defensive lineman Kelby Collins (Gardendale, AL) is a potential Day 1 contributor, four-star wide receivers Aidan Mizell (Orlando, FL) and Eugene Wilson III (Tampa, FL) offer high-end speed that the Gators have not possessed in a while, and four-star defensive back Dijon Johnson (Tampa, FL) is one of the most talented (and underrated) secondary players this cycle. He flipped from Ohio State during the season.

“Tre Wilson is one of the more dynamic slot, run-after-catch receivers. Just a very explosive, instinctive player. He does some really unique things on tape,” Napier said. “… [Mizell is] probably up to 170-plus pounds and just verified speed. We’re talking about elite speed. … This guy plays the game the right way. … Very explosive player in the vertical throw game and run after catch, but this is a very unique athlete; he’s going to run track here as well.”

Collins is Rashada’s equivalent on defense, and Florida plucked right out of Alabama’s backyard. “Kelby … one of the — you just turn the tape on — one of the more polished, ready to play players in the country. Just fundamentally advanced and really a violent player. Plays with effort,” Napier said. “… He’s a leader. He’s been a leader in this class, and certainly he’s going to be here in January and certainly a guy I believe is in prime position to be a difference maker. So, he’s got some leadership traits. He’s a hard worker … and it’s a big deal for him to be a Gator.”

Florida’s class is filled with high-ceiling and high-floor talent. Included among them are a pair of legacies in Mizell (whose parents ran track at UF) and four-star running back Treyaun Webb (Jacksonville, FL), the cousin of former Gators DB Dee Webb and the ace recruiter among his classmates. Florida also won its two signing day battles by retaining four-star CB Ja’Keem Jackson (Kissimmee, FL) despite pressure from Miami and four-star WR Andy Jean (Miami, FL) with Florida State attempting a flip.

“What stands out about Treyaun is the instincts, the vision,” Napier said. “… He’s kind of a legend there in Duvall. Coming up, he’s always been a guy to put that ball under his arm. He produces. I was pleased with how physical he played. He’s a tough guy. He’s played through some injuries in the past. He’s been a part of a winning program. You can never overlook that. And a guy that has got a little bit of an edge to him. He catches the ball well. Couldn’t be more excited about Treyaun.”

While Florida took care of business with its committed prospects, it unfortunately delivered one of the program’s weakest closes in recent memory. The Gators did not add any commitments down the stretch and struck out on numerous high-end prospects, including some at positions of need. They are still holding out hope with two prospects making decisions Thursday, but neither is expected to pick UF. That coupled with a weak start acquiring prospects from the transfer portal led to a concerning fan sentiment entering the early signing period.

And that’s a fair stance to take for those outside the program. Napier was hired not only for his prior on-field success but his commitment to “The Process,” particularly when it came to acquiring top-tier recruits. Florida invested millions to build him an army of staff members that should have led to a dominant class around the top five, akin to ones his rivals hauled in.

“Year 1, you learn a lot. You get familiar with your product but also familiar with the competition, how to present your product better, what works, what doesn’t work. We continue to get more efficient, more effective in everything we do,” Napier said. “… Just right now today, you think about where we were at this time last year, we’re light years ahead.”

While Year 2 peers like Miami’s Mario Cristobal and LSU’s Brian Kelly recruited better than Napier this cycle, both have extensive experience coaching and recruiting a the Power Five level. Napier not only had to deal with the fresh complexities of NIL and the transfer portal (like every coach), he was doing so while simultaneously learning what it takes to compete and recruit at a higher level. The difficulties involved with with recruiting nowadays should not be discounted, particularly for a relative neophyte.

“There’s no question [NIL has] been one of the challenges of the year, if that makes sense, because it’s new. … It’s not like a lot of what we do; we’ve been around before. We’ve worked at some of the better places in the country. … A lot of what we did at Louisiana, we bring it here and hit the ground running, and there’s certainly things that are new to college football — NIL, the portal.

“… What your approach is going to be continues to evolve and be fluid. … Definitely a [new] dynamic [that], every college football coach will tell you, just adds a variable to the game. … We’ve put a lot of smart people in a room and come up with a great plan there.”

While the Gators may add to their class before the early signing period concludes, they will now concentrate on plucking prospects from the transfer portal and mining what remains from the Class of 2023 ahead of the traditional National Signing Day on Feb. 1.

“We’ll add this group to the core group of veterans that we’ve got coming back, and we’ll continue to work in January and certainly in February, evaluate all the players that are available,” Napier said. “Still got some work left to do, but couldn’t be more proud of this staff and humbled by this group and their trust in us.”

2023 signees

* National Letter of Intent received by Florida | All rankings via 247Sports Composite

Kelby Collins (44)
Ja'Keem Jackson (60)
Aidan Mizell (102)
Eugene Wilson (110)
Dijon Johnson (114)
Roderick Kearney (116)
Kamran James (168)
Will Norman (192)
Jordan Castell (208)
Sharif Denson (220)
TJ Searcy (257)
Gavin Hill
Aaron Gates
Treyaun Webb
Andy Jean
Bryce Thornton
Jaden Robinson
Caden Jones
Knijeah Harris
Bryce Lovett

On Johnson: “A very unique player for his size. Plays corner, very physical, can make a play on the ball. … A guy that you put him up there and he can put his hands on you. He’s great in press coverage. He’s instinctive, he’s a great tackler, and he makes plays on the ball.”

On Jean: “This guy can run the route tree. This guy has a unique acceleration. He can really eat up the coverage. He can get behind you. I respect Andy, just his attitude and approach to life. He’s a blue-collar guy. He’s a worker.”

On Jackson: “Probably one of the more talented players in the class, just relative to he’s got a high ceiling. Receiver moved to corner. I originally evaluated him as a receiver. We had him on the receiver board. He makes the move. … Put on a show as a senior. One of the best players in the state, in my opinion. And really a guy, this time last year, not a lot of people talking about the guy.”

On four-star ATH Aaron Gates (Sharpsburg, GA): “My brother’s [high school] team plays against his team. I remember my brother called in the summer and said Gates is a problem. Plays both ways: returner, DB, receiver. … Aaron Gates is a worker. He’s relentless. He’s in the process of rehabbing right now. Aaron Gates is going to make the Gators better on the field, but just his presence, his character, the work ethic, the drive, he’s a very unique person.”

On four-star DB Jordan Castell (Winter Garden, FL): “Going to start in the safety room. He really improved as a tackler as a senior.”

On four-star CB Sharif Denson (Jacksonville, FL): “Every coach talks about Sharif Denson and the competitor he is. He’s a matchup player. He can play corner. He can play star. He is a competitor. We had a chance to observe him in the seven-on-seven competition. … A very smart player that comes from a great culture there at Bartram Trail. He’s going to bring a lot to our team. Mature and ready to go.”

On four-star DB Bryce Thornton (Alpharetta, GA): “If you want to just go watch a highlight tape, go watch his highlight tape. … You go in this guy’s school, everybody loves Bryce. He’s got an unbelievable smile, just brings great energy. Played through some injuries, tough. And another player that comes from a great culture where they’ve won, they overachieve. Very, very impressed with Bryce, not only his production as a player but just his demeanor.”

On four-star DL Kamran James (Orlando, FL): “One of the more impressive athletes in the class. … He has a high ceiling and really can’t compliment that family enough. … His upside is tremendous.”

On four-star DL Will Norman (Camden, NJ): “Will Norman is one heck of an athlete. … This guy could play on the edge for his size, really unique traits. His best football is in front of him. Lights up the room when he walks in. He’s got a great personality about him.”On four-star DL Gavin Hill (Gainesville, FL): “Unique in that he played some tight end in the past. I thought his senior tape was special. He played with a shoulder, tough as nails. … He’s a Gator through and through. There’s just a different level of passion that he’s going to bring.”

On four-star DL T.J. Searcy (Thomaston, GA): “Probably one of the freakier dudes in the group. … This guy played tight end, outside linebacker as a junior, played more of a 4-3 end as a senior. Unique movements for this size now and a very disruptive player.”

On four-star LB Jaden Robinson (Lake City, FL): “Jaden is one of my favorite players in the class. Jaden is a guy that, you know you watch his junior tape, he’s playing safety. He’s playing apex. He’s out in space. … He’s kind of grown into his body. They played him at Will linebacker in the camp, and we had a chance to watch him. It became pretty evident that he could play linebacker. … I think he scored a defensive touchdown seven weeks in a row in high school football. Think about that for a second. Seven weeks in a row this guy scores a defensive touchdown. Very difficult to do. Very instinctive player. He’s got a knack. He’s tough.”

On four-star OL Roderick Kearney (Orange Park, FL): “If you want to turn film on and say, ‘OK, who’s got the best tape?’ I would argue Roderick Kearney’s film is some of the most impressive tape of any offensive lineman in the country. This guy’s a really unique player. He’s driven. He’s focused. He’s got discipline. He’s always doing the extra, very bright. He’s got an edge about him.

On four-star OL Knijeah Harris (Bradenton, FL): “He’s one of the more physically ready. Did a great job this offseason. He really changed his body in this past offseason, played great as a senior. Just great presence about him, always got a smile on his face.”On four-star OL Bryce Lovett (Rockledge, FL): “Bryce is very young for his age. Probably should be a junior. Still very much growing. His senior film is really impressive. Certainly, he’s a guy who gets in the program and grows a bit, he’s got a bright future in front of him.”

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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