Down in Gainesville, some say its back to the glory days of lightning quick touchdowns regardless of down and distance. No one doubts what this year’s receivers can accomplish as a group, but for now lets look at each one individually.
The leader at the wide receiver position with out question is redshirt senior Andre Caldwell. At 6-0, 198-pounds, Caldwell possesses that rare ability to stretch the field vertically or go over the middle and make the tough catch. His ability out of the backfield will create nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators. Last season, Caldwell accumulated 21 carries for 102 yards at 4.9 yards per carry and one touchdown. From the receiver position, he totaled 57 catches for 577 yards and six touchdowns. Even more impressive than the numbers is how he has taken the younger guys under his wing. Every one of the wide receivers on the team looks to him for guidance on and off the field.
Sophomore Percy Harvin (5-11, 181-pounds) had just as big of an impact for the Gators as did any other true freshman in college football. His breathtaking cutting ability and vision was seen in every big game the Gators found themselves in. On the season, Harvin totaled 41 carries for 428 yards and three touchdowns. None bigger than the game changing touchdown run versus the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Georgia Dome. Harvin added 34 catches for 427 yards and two touchdowns from the receiver position.
Harvin, like Caldwell, possesses the kind of speed that you can only hope to contain. Harvin and Caldwell will be the focal point of this year’s offense, and when they are healthy, they are as explosive as any one-two punch in the country.
With Harvin and Caldwell commanding so much attention from defensive coordinators next season, look for a third receiver to have a break-out year. My pick, 6-0, 200-pound sophomore Jarred Fayson. It is hard to imagine that Fayson had only one catch for nine yards last year (if I had not looked it up, I would not have believed it either). All of his production last year came on end around or shuttle passes. Fasyon, for the year had 14 carries for 126 yards and one touchdown. His 9 yards per carry were second only to Harvin’s 10.4 per carry. He showed great explosiveness during practice while demonstrating improved hands.
Junior Louis Murphy (6-2, 199-pounds) had a tremendous performance in the Orange and Blue Game and is one of the more physical receivers on the team. Head coach Urban Meyer puts a premium on blocking from his receivers and this is an area that Murphy excels in. The added repetition in practice is where Murphy made a case for playing time next season, so much that he has a chance to crack the starting rotation. Last season he totaled two catches for 42 yards and one touchdown.
Heading into last season one of the players that I was most excited about watching was 613, 207-pound Riley Cooper. Now in his sophomore season, Cooper continues rehabilitation on his feet. By August, he should be ready to go. Look for him to push his way into the rotation. Cooper has great speed and is very physical, just ask LSU. During his freshman campaign, Cooper had four catches for 92 yards and three touchdowns. All three of his touchdowns came in the 62-0 route vs. Western Carolina. Cooper is behind some of the other wide receivers due to the foot issue, but has that rare combination of speed and toughness that allows him to go over the middle and make the tough catch or stretch the field vertically.
Redshirt sophomore David Nelson (6-4, 208-pounds) and redshirt freshman Justin Williams (6-1, 195-pounds) had very productive spring games combining for 13 catches and 134 yards. Both have done some good things in practice and will be counted on to provide depth. Nelson had five catches for 76 yards this past season.
True freshman Paul Wilson (6-0, 182-pounds) enrolled early and will benefit from being around guys like Harvin and Caldwell. Many Gator fans alike anticipate the arrival of another wide receiver this summer in Deonte Thompson (5-11, 186-pounds) from Belle Glade (Fla.) Glades Central. Thompson was one of the most dangerous players in the nation last year in leading Glades Central to the 3A state championship. In limited time, he had 30 catches for 504 yards and eight touchdowns. Thompson has been timed as low as 4.28. He is a true game changer and is a threat to score every time he gets his hands on the ball. Did I mention he averaged 42.9 yards per punt return his junior season?
Meyer has said he likes to play a rotation of eight wide receivers throughout any given season. While a lot will depend on how these receivers continue to develop, the potential for them is scary. The amount of speed that offensive coordinator Dan Mullen will be able to line up on the field at the same time will present nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators throughout the league. With the total number of scholarship offers down this year, look for Florida to sign three wide receivers.
These are some of the wide receivers to keep an eye on heading into the 2007 season in no particular order...
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard
Jacksonville (Fla.) Terry Parker
Norcross (Ga.) Norcross
Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton
Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian
Foley (Ala.) Foley