System Overload?

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June 28 , 2001
System Overload?

Death, taxes, a University of Florida wide receiver being picked at the top of the NFL Draft… There are so few certainties in life.

Since 1990, 13 Gator wide receivers have been drafted by NFL teams, and seven of those were picked between rounds one and three. Gainesville has become the place to be for talented speedsters, thanks in large part to coach Steve Spurrier’s Fun-N-Gun offensive system, which needs talent on the wings in order to succeed. Thus, Spurrier, a Heisman-winning quarterback in his college days, has turned the recruitment of wide receivers into an art form.

And far from resting on their laurels, the Gators are currently home to two of the best, most exciting receivers in the nation: sophomore Jabar Gaffney and junior Reche Caldwell. They’re likely to be the fourth and fifth Gator receivers selected in round one since 1997. The two combined for 133 receptions and 20 TD’s last year. And both still have room to grow, physically and mentally.

Gaffney set NCAA records last year for most receiving yards and touchdowns by a freshman. He earned all-SEC honors (the 11th consecutive year at least one Gator receiver has made that team) and showed a flair for making the big play. He caught at least one touchdown pass in 8 consecutive games. Caldwell is a junior with 76 career receptions who last year won the team’s coveted, and highly contested, Offensive Big Play award. Caldwell is an excellent route runner who can turn the small, underneath pass into a backbreaking gain.

Both are former high school quarterbacks with sub 4.44 40’s, and together, they’ve pushed one another to the brink of stardom. While Caldwell, at times, dropped balls and lacked concentration in 1999, he turned in his best performance last year opposite Gaffney, catching 55 balls for 870 yards, averaging an impressive 15.8 yards a catch. Caldwell, meanwhile, drew enough attention to free Gaffney long enough to break records.

And that’s not all. Waiting in the wings at Florida are burner Taylor Jacobs, sleeper Carlos Perez (coming off an attention-grabbing spring workout), Matt Jackson, Reggie Vickers and OJ Small.

So it would seem, if you’re Charley Casserly, that you might want your top scout on the next plane to Gainesville.

Or would you?

Travis Taylor, Ike Hilliard and Reidel Anthony were the most recent Florida receivers taken in the first round, yet only Hilliard placed among the top 20 in any receiving category last year (tied for 11th in TD’s). The three combined to catch 98 balls last year; three receivers totaled more individually. Darrell Jackson, Travis McGriff and Jacquez Green were all Gator receivers too, all taken between rounds two and three, and all decent at best, nonexistent at worst, NFL products.

In fact, to find the most successful Florida receiver to come into the NFL during the last decade, one would have to travel all the way back to 1991, when Ernie Mills was a third round selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ernie Mills?!

So what’s the deal? Is Florida to the NFL what Duke University is to the NBA? As a matter of fact…

The run-n-shoot it’s not, but it’s pretty obvious Spurrier’s Fun-N-Gun system overwhelms undermanned and inexperienced amateur competition, and doesn’t rightly prepare its players for the next level, in that it supplies such an upper hand, players are never required to actually learn how to play their positions in order to master their positions. They let the system do the work; drink the kool-aid, rack up your stats, go to the NFL. Everything will be fine in the morning.

Gators are the quintessential products of their system. Consider that, in addition to the lack of star receivers, the Gators have had exactly one quarterback drafted by the NFL during their decade of offensive excellence (Danny Wuerffel in 1997) — and he was a total bust.

We use Florida not as a means to attack Spurrier, or his system, and certainly not the individuals who run it to perfection. Gaffney and Caldwell are both legitimate NFL prospects, with prototypical size and speed. But they’re also taking full advantage of the head start Spurrier’s system automatically grants them, so while they’re numbers may be impressive, they may also be misleading.

When you’re an expansion team, and every player counts, it’s important you find guys you know can play at this level, because they’re likely to be few and far between early on. Plus, with the salary cap, you don’t want to dedicate a large portion of your money to players who are in over their heads. Thus, when it comes to scouting teams like Florida, buyer had better beware.

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