The Florida Gators are hoping that quarterback Jeff Driskel can evolve into one of the elite quarterbacks in the SEC. To do that, he’s going to have to improve on his consistency in the passing game. One of the best friends of any quarterback looking to be more efficient in the passing game is a tight end who can catch the ball. Gators sophomore Kent Taylor could be that friend for Driskel.
Jordan Reed has been the primary tight end for Florida over the last two seasons where he caught 73 passes, including 45 in 2012. While he was never a terribly dynamic playmaker, never surpassing the 100 yards receiving mark last season, he was a steady presence in the middle of the field, catching at least two passes in every game of the regular season with 50-yards receiving or more in five games.
With Reed’s departure to the NFL, Florida is left with little pass-catching experience at the tight end position. Junior tight ends Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook have the most game-experience on the roster, playing in 12 and 16 games respectively, but they are not viable options in the passing game.
The 6-foot-4, 253-pound Burton has as many drops as receptions (two) in his career and the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Westbrok has zero catches in his career since being converted to tight end before the 2012 season from the defensive line. Both are little more than blockers and will see significant action in Florida’s jumbo package.
That leaves an opening for a pass-catcher for Taylor. At 6-foot-5, 223 pounds, he would be the tallest pass-catcher on the Gators’ roster, which would come in handy in the red zone. His athleticism and body control were supposed to earn him reps near the goal line last season, but a concussion set Taylor back and he finished the year with just two catches for five yards and a touchdown.
His lean frame, however, could pose a problem because he lacks the bulk to truly play as a traditional tight end on the end of the line of scrimmage. He lacks the size to go head-to-head with SEC defensive ends as a blocker and he could have some issues fighting through an end or linebacker out of three-point stance to get into his route. That could force Florida to experiment with flexing him out into the slot, giving them more of a spread look.
As of now, the biggest competition for playing time for Taylor comes from Colin Thompson, a redshirt freshman. Thompson was forced to redshirt last season after undergoing a second surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. He projects more as a traditional tight end with a greater blocking ability than Taylor. He also has the ability to be a factor in the short passing game and his size makes him a nice target on third-down situations.
Head coach Will Muschamp will have the final say on how he wants his offense to run next season, but if he goes with Taylor, Florida will have an athletic pass-catching tight end that they can use to create matchup problems for the defense all over the field. Having a weapon like that would really accelerate Jeff Driskel’s development as a passer.