Power rankings: What Gators position groups are most reliable, least reliable after spring?

We’re past spring practice, but still far away from the start of fall practice.

Florida head coach Jim McElwain watches a play during a spring football game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday, April 8, 2016 in Gainesville, Fla. (Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)
Florida head coach Jim McElwain watches a play during a spring football game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday, April 8, 2016 in Gainesville, Fla. (Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)

So what do we do? Let’s take a step back and take a look at where Florida’s position groups stand after the spring.

[Florida Gators: 5 things we learned from spring game]

[Trio of JUCO signees poised to make immediate impact for Gators]

1. Defensive line: This might be surprising to some as the unit lost DT Jonathan Bullard and DE Alex McCalister this offseason, but it’s still probably the deepest position group on the team. With two starters — DT Caleb Brantley and DE Bryan Cox — returning, and sophomore DE Cece Jefferson and experienced DT Joey Ivie and DE Jordan Sherit coming back, the Gators will be good up front. Behind those five, DEs Jabari Zuniga and Keivonnis Davis had strong springs to add some more depth. Keep an eye on Brantley and Jefferson, who are expected to have big seasons. With their depth and talent on the defensive line, the Gators should be able to cause havoc against most teams.

2. Cornerbacks: This isn’t the deepest position group on the team, but it might be the most talented. Florida brings back All-SEC CB Jalen Tabor, which enters the season as arguably the best player on the team. After finishing his sophomore season with four interceptions and an SEC-best 14 pass breakups, Tabor is now widely considered as one of the best CBs in the country. So how good can this position group be? It will depend on junior CB Quincy Wilson, who will replace All-American Vernon Hargreaves and start opposite of Tabor. At 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, Wilson is a big and talented CB who will have an opportunity to make his name known this season. The Gators are expected to start Duke Dawson at nickelback in place of Brian Poole. Dawson won the job with a strong spring and intercepted two passes in the spring game. The trio of Tabor, Wilson and Dawson has the potential to be great.

3. Running backs: After the Gators’ rushing offense finished last season ranked 112th nationally, there is renewed hope surrounding this year’s version of the running game. It looks like Florida will be able to rely on three solid backs — talented sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett, and JUCO transfer Mark Thompson — this season. Cronkrite came out of the spring as the favorite to win the starting job, but all three are expected to have roles in the offense. The most intriguing player in the group has to be Thompson, though. The newcomer stands at 6-foot-2, 242 pounds and arrived to Florida this year as the top-rated junior college running back in the 2016 class. With the help of an improved offensive line, the Gators should be able to produce better rushing results this season.

4. Linebackers: As long as linebacker Jarrad Davis is healthy, the Gators will be OK at this spot. But a healthy Alex Anzalone could lift this position group to one of the best in the SEC. Anzalone is still recovering from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the final 12 games of the 2015 season, but he was cleared to return to spring practice as a non-contact participant. Anzalone is expected to be ready to play by the start of the season. The emergence of safety-turned-linebacker Kylan Johnson this spring makes this position group even more intriguing. Johnson finished the spring game with a game-high eight tackles to go along with one interception. However, depth is still a concern for Florida at this position.

5. Tight ends: The ability to catch passes and make plays downfield is not a concern, but can Florida’s top two tight ends be relied on to be consistent blockers? 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior DeAndre Goolsby and 6-foot-4, 230-pound redshirt sophomore C’yontai Lewis have not proven that yet. Goolsby and Lewis combined to catch 21 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns as backups to departed starter Jake McGee last season. But Goolsby and Lewis weren’t asked to block much. The duo worked on improving as blockers this spring and made some progress, according to coaches. How much progress? If Florida has to bring in tight ends Moral Stephens and Camrin Knight to do the job, that’s not a good sign. But if Goolsby and Lewis have improved enough to stay on the field, the potential for two-tight end sets with the pair of pass-catching tight ends adds another weapon to the Gators’ offense.

6. Special teams: The Gators featured one of the best punters in the country in Johnny Townsend, but one of the worst kicking games in the country last season. Townsend returns for his redshirt junior season this year, but what about the kicking game? Florida is optimistic the addition of kicker Eddy Pineiro will help fix its kicking problems. And there were a lot of problems, as the Gators missed 11 of 20 field goal attempts last season. Pineiro is known for his strong leg and showed it off in the spring game. He wasn’t perfect, but he made 3-of-5 field goals. The three field goals Pineiro made came from 52 yards, 46 yards and 56 yards away. The longest field goal Florida made last season came from 43 yards away, so that’s a big upgrade already. The two field goals Pineiro missed came from 53 yards and 52 yards away. If Pineiro lives up to expectations and helps bring a reliable kicking game to Florida, special teams won’t be much of a concern for the Gators.

7. Safeties: We all know what returning safety Marcus Maye can do, but the departure of Keanu Neal has left a big void at the other safety spot. Marcell Harris and Nick Washington are competing to fill the spot, but neither gained much separation from the other this spring. The Gators need Harris or Washington to step up and make the decision easy for coaches. If not, this could end up being the weakest link in Florida’s secondary.

8. Offensive line: It’s been a process to rebuild Florida’s offensive line. The Gators began spring practice last year with seven healthy scholarship offensive linemen. While Florida is still struggling with depth up front, there are much better numbers at the position this year. Out of the five linemen who started for Florida against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, four return — LT David Sharpe, LG Martez Ivey, RG Tyler Jordan, RT Fred Johnson. The Gators are expected to start that same combination in 2016 with Cameron Dillard plugged in at center. Making it even more exciting for Florida, three of those players — Ivey, Jordan and Johnson — will be only sophomores this season.

9. Wide receivers: If the suspended Antonio Callaway returns for the start of the season, it will lift this position group up the rankings. But the uncertainty surrounding the status of Callaway, who’s the best receiver on the roster by far, and the lack of a clear-cut No. 2 receiver, makes this position group one of the shakiest on the team.

10. Quarterbacks: There were encouraging signs surrounding this position group this spring. Redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio really separated himself from the group in the race for the starting job, but he’s still played in just three games over his college career. His lack of experience is still a concern. There is upside at this position, but there are still too many question marks at this spot entering the fall.

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