Florida Gators’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Montrell Johnson Jr., Trey Wilson III

    Billy Napier's feeling the heat after an 11-14 start with the Florida Gators, and there's pressure on these top 10 returning players to win now.

    Billy Napier and the Florida Gators head into the 2024 season looking to improve. A 5-7 finish left the fanbase disgruntled, and now they expect better this year. The top 10 returning players on the Florida roster provide intrigue, but will it be enough to return to a bowl game in 2024?

    Florida Gators’ Top 10 Returners in 2024

    Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes on each team’s roster page to open spring camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

    10) Cam Jackson, NT

    While it’s no secret that Florida needs to get better against the run, they do return talented players who can make it happen. The depth they bring back on the interior defensive line can be disruptive, but at worst, they eat up blockers for the linebackers behind them.

    Cam Jackson and Joey Slackman could be a formidable duo up the middle for the Gators, but Jackson stands out the most. Well, aside from Desmond Watson. Jackson comes in at 6’6″ and 374 pounds, and the former Memphis transfer hopes to build upon a solid first season in Gainesville.

    9) Trikweze Bridges, CB

    Napier and his staff hit the transfer portal to address a couple of key positions, and the secondary was on their priority list. Someone needed to line up opposite Jason Marshall Jr., and the Gators wanted someone who could help a defense that only produced three interceptions in 2023.

    Trikweze Bridges found himself stuck behind Khyree Jackson last year but did shine in a regular season outing against Washington. His long frame and four career interceptions caught a few teams’ eye, but the Gators plucked him out of the portal. He’ll get a chance to start on a unit that should be better than last season.

    8) Jake Slaughter, OC

    After playing in 13 games, mainly as a special teams player in 2022, Jake Slaughter worked his way into the starting lineup in 2023. He started eight games for the Gators last year, playing 622 total snaps. Napier and his staff produced quality linemen with the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, and they’re on their way to doing the same with the Gators.

    7) Asa Turner, S

    A mass exodus from Washington benefits the Gators with the arrival of Asa Turner from the transfer portal. Turner, a multiyear starter for the Huskies, brings a long frame to the Florida defense, something that’s turning into a theme.

    At 6’3″, Turner’s length helped him pick off six passes while with the Huskies. He played a significant role in getting his former team to the College Football National Championship Game. Turner gives the Gators a starter who can help the younger guys learn the system and the nuances of playing safety.

    6) Shemar James, LB

    Defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong’s group showed signs of improvement last year, and the fanbase expects to see them take another step in 2024. They finished 71st in total defense but returns a good chunk of production from last year.

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    Shemar James returns as an underrated linebacker in the conference. He has 101 career tackles in his two seasons with the Gators, and Armstrong hopes that he can become more disruptive this season. According to CFBData, the defense finished 110th in tackles for loss last year and 70th in front-seven havoc rate.

    5) Graham Mertz, QB

    Napier’s offense took some big hits from the NFL Draft and the transfer portal, but his quarterback does return. While Graham Mertz will have to hold off incoming freshman DJ Lagway, there shouldn’t be too many concerns about him keeping the job.

    Last year, he threw for 2,903 yards with 20 touchdowns and three interceptions — all career bests — but the staff hopes he can be even better in 2024. Mertz will need an outlet besides Trey Wilson III, but the Gators have a few other intriguing options who can fill some vacancies in the passing game.

    4) Jason Marshall Jr., CB

    Jason Marshall Jr. was once viewed as the next great Gators defensive back, but that hype fizzled. He’s still a quality cornerback who can get back to that point, but it will take some work.

    Teams weren’t shy to test the Gators through the air last fall, and Marshall alone had 10 passes defended. The defense as a whole finished 70th against the pass, so the group needs to improve. Marshall could lead the charge, and adding Bridges and Turner as support in the secondary could infuse confidence into his game.

    3) Jordan Castell, S

    Armstrong knows his secondary could be the strength of the defense this year, but he’d like to see someone besides his starting safety lead the team in tackles. At 6’2″ and 207 pounds, Jordan Castell can handle the physical style of play, but that also speaks to the lack of disruption up front.

    Castell returns one of the aforementioned three interceptions from 2023, and more disruption up front could lead to him making more of an impact in pass defense this year.

    2) Trey Wilson III, WR

    One of the best things about college football is seeing incoming freshmen hit the field running immediately. Eugene “Trey” Wilson III was one of those players last fall, and the Gators expect big things from him this year.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Florida Gators Football Roster

    He’s the leading returning receiver with 538 yards and six touchdowns last year, and any improvement in the passing attack should mean more production for him. He’s electric with the football in his hands, and Napier’s staff will look to get him more involved this season.

    1) Montrell Johnson Jr., RB

    With Trevor Etienne off to Georgia, the backfield officially belongs to Montrell Johnson Jr. The Gators’ leading rusher in 2023 must help the guys behind him create depth in case he needs a breather, but we should expect a 1,000-yard season from him.

    He ran for 817 yards and five touchdowns but also caught 30 passes for 236 yards and another score. He’ll also benefit from an improved passing attack, and his 5’11” and 213-pound frame can carry the load until more receivers emerge.

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