Florida's gamble on Cormani McClain could pay massive dividends

Florida takes a calculated risk on former five-star cornerback Cormani McClain.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As Billy Napier looks to rebuild Florida into an SEC powerhouse, he knows infusing elite talent is paramount. The Gators took a calculated risk this week by adding former five-star cornerback Cormani McClain from the transfer portal after his disappointing freshman season at Colorado.

The upside here is undeniable for a Florida secondary that desperately needs playmakers. At 6'2" with elite athleticism, McClain has the physical tools that are extremely coveted at the cornerback position. His combination of length, fluidity, ball skills, and willingness as a tackler made him a top-five national recruit just a year ago.

However, McClain drew the ire of Deion Sanders, and he managed just 13 tackles and 2 pass breakups while struggling to see the field consistently. A change of scenery back in his home state of Florida could be just what the talented but raw defensive back needs.

This is where defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong and secondary coach Will Harris must get through to McClain. If they can harness his physical gifts and keep him focused, the former five-star could rapidly emerge as an impact player for a Florida pass defense that ranked 119th nationally in yards per attempt allowed in 2023.

"I'm going to bring the old version of me out and change the narrative," McClain said in his transfer announcement. "I'll be part of a real program that's going to let me reach my full potential."

Those are precisely the words Napier and his staff want to hear from a supremely talented but underachieving player seeking redemption. The coaching staff knows his arrival alone won't fix a secondary that surrendered 20 pass plays over 40 yards last season, second-worst in the country. But in Harris, they have a proven developer of defensive backs who can hopefully tap into McClain's considerable upside.

With veteran corners like Jason Marshall and Devin Moore already on the roster, there is no immediate pressure on McClain to start from day one in 2024. He can take his time adjusting to Harris' scheme while focusing on regaining the work ethic and study habits that made him a five-star recruit initially.

If it all clicks, Florida could be adding an impact starter to their secondary as early as 2025, possibly even having significant playing time in 2024.