This is the sixth in a 10-part series looking at the positional needs and early targets for Florida football in the 2015 recruiting class.
The Gators currently have 19 scholarships available excluding walk-ons. With potential juniors leaving early and inevitable attrition, UF will likely sign 28-30 prospects next year.
Here’s a breakdown of the defensive end position:
Returning players: Jonathan Bullard, Taven Bryan, Bryan Cox Jr., Dante Fowler Jr., Joey Ivie, Alex McCalister, Justus Reed, Jordan Sherit, Gerald Willis
Verbal commits: None
Top targets: Mekhi Brown, Byron Cowart, CeCe Jefferson, Arden Key, Albert Huggins, Jason Strowbridge
Others offered: Michael Barnett, Terry Beckner Jr., Austin Bryant, Jashon Cornell, Natrez Patrick, D’Andre Walker
The skinny: On paper, Florida should be in good shape at defensive end for 2015. However, juniors Bullard and Fowler are candidates to leave early for the NFL, and Ivie and Willis could grow into tackles. If those two scenarios happen, UF would return just five ends next year. That’s why the position is such a priority for the Gators, and they will try to sign three or four prospects.
At the top of their board are in-state targets Cowart (Seffner Armwood) and Jefferson (Glen Saint Mary Baker County), who both visited Florida on Saturday and rank in the Top 10 of the Rivals.com national recruiting rankings. Cowart and Jefferson have named UF their leader in the past and would like to play together in college. If the Gators can land them, it will be their most impressive D-line haul since Bullard and Fowler in 2012.
Brown also visited Gainesville this past weekend, but the Columbus (Ga.) Carver pass rusher appears solid with his Alabama commitment. Key, another Georgia prospect, has the Gators in the mix along with UGA and South Carolina. Florida defensive line coach Brad Lawing is heavily pursing Huggins, a consensus top-100 prospect from Orangeburg (S.C.) Wilkinson. Strowbridge of Deerfield Beach, the same high school that produced UF early enrollee Brandon Powell, was offered by Florida during his junior day visit.