Billy Napier’s Recruiting Has the Florida Gators Trending Up

Billy Napier had a difficult first season at Florida, but recent wins on the recruiting trail, coupled with an improved class in 2023, has fortunes trending up.

It may not have been the season anyone wanted in Gainesville in 2022, but if early recruiting returns are any indication, the Florida Gators may be setting up for a return to prominence. And they can thank Billy Napier.

PFN Mock Draft Simulator - Desktop

Under Billy Napier, Gators Have Been Tearing Up The Recruiting Trail

Billy Napier turned the Louisiana football program around in quick fashion after being hired in 2018, and he may be on the way to doing the same thing for the Gators.

Yes, the results of year one weren’t anything special: A .500 regular season and bowl game loss put the Gators at 6-7 for the season, the same mark as they had in 2021, which was the final season under Dan Mullen.

MORE: SEC Season Predictions, 2023

Mullen’s teams had been trending downward, going from 11-2 in 2019 to 8-4 in 2020 to 6-7 in 2021. Napier had a pretty big mess to clean up as not only had the on-field product eroded, but recruiting had really slipped.

The Gators were top 10 in recruiting in both 2019 and 2020 before slipping to 12th in 2021. Since Napier was hired late in 2021, the 2022 class also goes to Mullen—and it fell to 18th.

Needless to say, the faithful in Gainesville were getting restless and wanted someone to right the ship.

Enter Napier.

Napier’s Recruiting Success May Outshine 2022 On-Field Performance

Put the 2022 season into the archives as it was a transitional season. The lack of depth and a change of system almost guaranteed the Gators would struggle — which they did. A last-minute win over Utah in the season opener may have been the high point as Florida could never get things going for long stretches.

The Gators ticked up to 14th in recruiting for the 2023 cycle, keeping five of the state’s top prospects at home. In the two previous cycles, Mullen had managed to keep just six Sunshine State products at home, and with such fertile recruiting ground, it’s a huge disservice to let the top players get away to Alabama or Georgia or Ohio State.

But it wasn’t the state of Florida that turned the Gators’ recruiting fortunes around. It was their northern neighbor.

Making inroads into Georgia, where Kirby Smart and his crew are king, has been huge. Napier has not backed down from the challenge, inking three Peach State natives in 2023 and getting commitments from six more in the 2024 cycle. Georgia has been turning out top talent for a number of years now, and to not mine that well would be a huge disservice to the program.

While it’s all fine and good that Napier keeps the best Florida kids at home, spreading a wider net should net better results.

As a point of comparison, Mullen managed to get just six players from Georgia in his final three classes, and that no doubt played a part in the Gators’ flagging fortunes.

Recruiting at Florida puts a ton of weight on a coach’s shoulders because not only is he recruiting against Alabama and Georgia and the rest of the SEC, he’s also recruiting against Florida State and Miami. If fans see that the Seminoles or Hurricanes are getting the better talent, they can turn on a dime.

Since Napier’s arrival, the Gators have beaten the Seminoles and Hurricanes in nabbing quality recruits, posting the best Average Per Recruit figure of the three teams in the last two recruiting cycles.

Because Napier had been at a Group of Five school prior to arriving in Gainesville, many fans didn’t know about his ability to recruit.

The Ragin’ Cajuns routinely finished at the top of the heap in recruiting for the Sun Belt Conference (1st in 2019, 2020, and 2021) as Napier utilized his uncanny ability to tap underrated talent—notably current Gators running back Montrell Johnson Jr., who originally signed with Louisiana. Napier was able to get two recruits ranked in the top 30 in Louisiana in 2021, so he’s shown recruiting bonafide.

Gators fans are not used to seeing their team languishing nearer to the bottom of the SEC East than the top, so they have understandably set a high bar.

But they are not the only ones.

“I can assure you that no one has higher expectations for what we want to accomplish than me,” Napier said shortly after his hiring.

Better Talent And Depth Could Pay Off In A Big Way

Napier knows that he is under a white-hot spotlight at Florida, but it hasn’t seemed to bother him in the least. The criticisms of his first season take a back seat to the expectations he has placed on himself and his staff.

Whether or not the 2023 class helps the Gators begin an upward climb toward the SEC title remains to be seen, but Napier knows there is no sabbatical in recruiting. And he has hit the road with purpose, reeling in a class that is currently ranked third nationally, with designs on the top spot.

The Gators have reeled in a pair of five-star recruits in the 2024 class—quarterback DJ Lagway and safety Xavier Filsaime, both among the top 10 players in talent-rich Texas—and Napier may have turned the tide of public opinion in his favor. From 2020 to 2022, Mullen managed to get just two five-star players.

“Nobody in college football had a better June than the Gators, who reeled in nine commitments after hosting five five-star recruits, 11 top-100 players, and 33 blue-chippers on an official visit,” The Athletic’s Manny Navarro wrote in a recent article. “Defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong and linebackers coach Jay Bateman have teamed up to assemble one of the best defensive classes in the country…

“… Kudos to coach Billy Napier for elevating Florida’s recruiting from very good to elite.”

Florida will need those players to be elite from the beginning as it was handed a seemingly impossible 2024 schedule.

MORE: SEC Weekly Schedule, 2023

The Gators will play a real gauntlet, including Georgia, Florida State, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and first-year SEC member Texas. Difficult to be sure, but with more (and better) reinforcements, Florida may just be able to navigate the choppy waters and once again prove to be a presence in the SEC.