The wide receiver problem

Florida must recruit well to overcome a lack of playmakers at wide receiver

Updated: November 1, 2012, 11:06 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Saturday's loss to Georgia was just another example of how desperate Florida is to find playmakers in the passing game.

TE Jordan Reed caught five passes for 74 yards against the Bulldogs, but Quinton Dunbar was the only receiver to catch a pass at EverBank Field. He had three receptions for 40 yards.

That's a familiar scenario for the Gators this season. They're getting very good production out of Reed, who leads the team with 30 catches, but he is getting little help from the receivers.

[+] EnlargeJordan Reed
Brett Davis/US PresswireWith 30 receptions, tight end Jordan Reed has become the Gators' most-consistent receiver.
It's a big part of the reason UF's offense has struggled in the past three games. Opponents are loading the box to stop RB Mike Gillislee and forcing the Gators to throw the ball. UF is struggling to do that, for several reasons -- the offensive line has been spotty, the backs and tight ends have been inconsistent in picking up rushers, and QB Jeff Driskel is holding onto the ball too long and not making quick decisions.

But the main reason is the wide receivers' lack of production. No wide receiver has caught more than three passes in a game this season and only two -- Dunbar (18) and Frankie Hammond (13) -- have caught more than two passes in a single game.

And the coaching staff is no longer making excuses.

"You run a route, you get open," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "In this league you've got to win on man-to-man coverage. Zones are easy. You just know the coverage you've got to beat." It's not a situation that's going to get better this season, either. If nobody has stepped up after eight games, it's not likely to happen, which means the Gators had better hit on the receivers they're recruiting, better than they have the past five seasons.

UF has four receivers already committed for 2013 -- Ahmad Fulwood (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny), Alvin Bailey (Seffner, Fla./Armwood), Marqui Hawkins (Columbus, Ga./Carver) and Chris Thompson (Gainesville, Fla./Gainesville) -- and all four will be given plenty of chances to crack the lineup next season.

They're a talented group that has something that has been missing from the position for a while: size. All are 5-foot-11 or taller, and Fulwood is 6-4, which would make him the Gators' biggest receiver behind redshirt junior Stephen Alli (6-6), who has three catches in 33 career games.

Tom Luginbill, ESPN's senior national recruiting analyst, breaks down each player:

Fulwood (6-4, 189) -- "Big and physical; great ball skills, but he is not a speed guy or vertical threat. He may initially have trouble separating versus faster, quicker CBs who can mirror his every move. Would expect he could develop into a great red-zone guy in time."

Hawkins (6-1, 190) -- "May be the most-talented, best-upside guy in their class off talent alone, but also the most green, so how quickly he develops will likely determine his role early. He has the best combo of speed/size/quickness of the pass catchers in the class."

[+] EnlargeAlvin Bailey
Corey Long/ESPN.comUnder Armour All-American Alvin Bailey is one of four receivers committed to the Gators for the 2013 class.
Bailey (5-11, 175) -- "He isn't as fast as [former Gators RB Chris] Rainey, but could be used in a similar role. Bigger than Solomon Patton, but similar in skill set. Likely more dynamic and versatile to play both inside, outside, and as a potential change-of-pace in the backfield."

Thompson (5-11, 170) -- "Likely has the best pure speed of the group, but still developing in our opinion. Certainly a guy who can stretch the field."

There's obviously no guarantee those four players will develop into the playmakers Florida needs -- just look at the list of receivers the Gators have signed the past five seasons -- but UF coach Will Muschamp has a pretty good feel for them because all but one has been to at least one of his camps. That's one of the most important things when evaluating receivers, Muschamp said.

"I think it's critical to get the guys in camp because sometimes in seeing the tape that we see, it's hard to see vertical plays down the field," he said. "It's hard to evaluate defensive backs. Sometimes it's hard to evaluate wideouts and quarterbacks. Those are the three that are hardest to evaluate off tape. You really need to see those guys in camp."

Fulwood, Hawkins and Thompson have participated in UF's camp. Bailey hasn't, but Muschamp and the staff has seen him live plenty over the past year-and-a-half while recruiting former Armwood RB Matt Jones.

The hope is one of those will develop into the kind of receiver that used to roam the field for the Gators. Florida had at least one receiver make the Associated Press or coaches' All-SEC first or second team in all but one season from 1990-2009. Riley Cooper was that last player to make an All-SEC team, as he was a second-team pick in '09.

UF certainly won't have one this season.

"Do I see a big-time [receiver on the roster]?" Pease said. "I don't know if I'd say that, but I feel confident in some of the kids that we have. Do we have to get better? Yeah, we've got to get better everywhere."

But that won't happen until next season.

Swing and misses

Here's a look at the wide receivers the Gators have signed the past five seasons. As you can see, Florida hasn't exactly hit any home runs with these signees. The 2008-2011 classes belong to former coach Urban Meyer.

2008

Frankie Hammond (6-0, 151) -- Hallandale, Fla./Hallandale -- 54 career catches for 734 yards and 6 TDs

Omarius Hines (6-0, 180) -- Corsicana, Texas/Corsicana -- Moved to TE, now a RB; 904 career all-purpose yards

T.J. Lawrence (6-1, 185) -- Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen -- Transferred to FAMU; academically ineligible in 2011

Carl Moore (6-4, 220) -- Sierra College -- Juco transfer caught 41 passes in three seasons

2009

Stephen Alli (6-5, 205) -- Andover, N.H./Proctor Academy -- Special teams player has just 3 career catches

Andre Debose (6-0, 180) -- Sanford, Fla./Seminole -- Fantastic talent, poor work ethic. Has school-record 3 KO returns for TDs

2010

Robert Clark (5-10, 175) -- Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer -- Transferred to Louisville in middle of 2011 season

Chris Dunkley (5-11, 170) -- Pahokee, Fla./Pahokee -- Transferred to South Florida; has four catches this season

Quinton Dunbar (6-2, 168) -- Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington -- Leads all WRs with 18 catches this season; has 32 career catches

Solomon Patton (5-10, 175) -- Mobile, Ala./Murphy -- 8 career catches; 14 carries on jet sweeps this season

2011

Javares McRoy (5-9, 165) -- Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland -- Transferred to Texas Tech in April 2011

Ja'Juan Story (6-3, 190) -- Brooksville, Fla./Nature Coast -- Transferred to TCU a week after UF's 2012 practice began

2012

Raphael Andrades (6-0, 194) -- Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln -- 2 catches for 5 yards this season

Latroy Pittman (6-0, 195) -- Citra, Fla./North Marion -- 2 catches for 6 yards this season

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter