Craig Stephens

Purifoy to WR: Swamp Savvy Or Gator Bait?

Created on Mar. 14, 2013 11:13 PM EST

It's always risky to move a playmaker from one side of the ball to the other, but that's what the Gators are doing this season. Will Muschamp has decided to try Loucheiz Purifoy at receiver.

Purifoy started at cornerback for Florida last year, and was regarded as the best athlete on a stingy defense. Muschamp is rolling the dice and hoping that Purifoy delivers the same explosive plays on offense.

There are reasons to question the position switch. Last season, Purifoy played solid man coverage and knocked away five passes, but that's not what sets him apart.

Purifoy's athleticism stood out in the SEC. He made 47 tackles in 2012.In case you're not a football nerd, that's a high number for a good a cover corner who isn't getting picked on by offenses. This isn't a case of a guy getting thrown at because the offense thinks he is the weak link in the defensive chain. The Gators weren't concerned with Purifoy's coverage, and many of those tackles came from across the field. 

Purifoy is capable of making plays from sideline to sideline. He made an impact on special teams as well. Purifoy occasionally returned kicks for the Gators and even blocked the punt that let Florida save face and beat Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Gators weren't good defensively last year, they were great. All of the raw and advanced statistics back this up. They finished in the top five in every defensive metric, from yards per game to S&P defensive efficiency rankings (Football Outsiders). The unit was the reason that Florida climbed to No. 2 in the polls and was the identity of the team. Muschamp wanted a hard-nosed Saban-esque team, and put one out on the field. The defense regularly covered for a sputtering offense. Moving Purifoy to wide receiver should weaken the secondary.

Losing Purifoy from a unit that is already replacing both starting defensive tackles, two inside linebackers, and both safeties is a risk. There is danger that the vaunted Florida defense will fall from an elite level to merely good. That fall, combined with a mediocre offense, could have Muschamp on the hot seat next year. Florida fans don't handle losing very well. It's not Vanderbilt. One sub-par year can put your job in danger.

However, moving Purifoy is the right move. Even though the secondary lost both starting safeties, it is still deep with upperclassmen and experienced players. On top of that, the Gators most highly-regarded recruit in 2013 is Vernon Hargreaves III, a cornerback. Florida has the powder to reload on defense but they have been starving for a productive, big-play wide receiver since Percy Harvin left for the NFL.

Florida's offense held back the team last year. They were stagnant and at times looked incompetent against some of the SEC's upper-echelon defenses. Depending on which ranking you check, Florida's offense was anywhere from 32nd to 103rd in the country. The unit needs help and Muschamp is betting that it will be easier for the Gators to replace Purifoy's play on defense with players currently on the team than for Florida to find a deep threat on offense with the combination of production and potential that Purifoy has to offer.

Simply put, Florida is more talented on defense. This is true even with the new recruits. Moving Purifoy will help to close the gap. If the Gators had even an average SEC offense last year, they may have had a shot at a title. The formula has not changed. If Florida wants to win a national championship this year, they need to put more points on the board, and Purifoy is their best chance to do it.

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