You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Napier: Gators Landed on Graham Mertz after Extensive QB Search

All Gators on FanNation logo All Gators on FanNation 2/3/2023 Brandon Carroll
© Provided by All Gators on FanNation

After extensive evaluation in the winter portal window, Billy Napier landed on Graham Mertz out of a pool of 24 to assume Florida’s quarterback starting duties.

Photo: Graham Mertz; Credit: Florida Gators Creative Media

The quarterback position at the University of Florida has been a revolving door of uncertainty following the departure of Tim Tebow in 2009 — outside of Kyle Trask’s output in 2019 and 2020.

That’s once again the case in 2023.

Seeing Anthony Richardson walk away from the collegiate gridiron to pursue his NFL ambitions — as well as the dismissal of Jalen Kitna, a chronicle ending in heartbreak with Jaden Rashada and a cutting of ties with former commit Marcus Stokes — Florida’s top priority in the early stages of its winter portal activity was finding a bridge new face of the franchise at quarterback.

The question was: Who will be the guy to serve as the starter for one-to-two seasons before Napier’s handpicked QB1, DJ Lagway, is able to take over behind center as a class of 2024 commitment? Well, his name is Graham Mertz.

On Wednesday during the National Signing Day press conference, Napier discussed the process that led to landing on the former Wisconsin Badger while breaking down what he’s shown since arriving at Florida.

“We evaluated a lot of quarterbacks in the portal,” Napier said. “I think we evaluated like 24 quarterbacks. I think we had eight people operating independently in the building, myself included, and again an objective evaluation, team recruitment.”

That extensive search included the overview of multiple top QB transfers in the country this offseason, beginning when Richardson shared his intentions to depart to the NFL with the Gators staff.

After weighing the variables for each guy, Mertz emerged as a top target for Florida, meeting the criteria on and off the field that Napier has set for recruiting talent, especially at the game’s most important position.

The interest resulted in an unexpected visit on Dec. 10 just days before his Dec. 21 commitment. 

The biggest selling point in Florida’s direction was the upside he presents as a skilled, experienced pocket passer in the power five.

“You’re talking about a guy who started 32 games, an experienced player, and I do believe he’s got unique tools. When you go back all the way to his high school recruitment, he was one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Little under 6-3, he’s 215 pounds, extremely intelligent.”

However, the tape and statistics weren’t the lone aspects of the selection process.

To get a better understanding of what Mertz brought to the table aside from his 5,405 yards, 38 touchdowns and 26 interceptions on 59.5% completion, Napier dialed up former Badgers head coach Paul Chryst for a rundown of his former QB1.

“Had a great conversation with Paul Chryst — just all the people there who spoke on his behalf,” he said. “Paul is great. He’s legendary. I mean, it’s unbelievable the things he’s accomplished, the number of players that he’s coached and he’s got a lot of good things to say about Graham.”

As a result, the Gators' head coach, offensive play-caller and quarterbacks coach is optimistic about the player — and leader — he’s getting to operate his offense into next season.

“I think we’re getting an experienced player that’s got arm talent, that can process, and wanted to be at Florida. He has been fantastic. I think he has proven his work ethic, just observing him and hearing other players talk about him — the work he’s done with our staff, not only strength and conditioning, but also every part of training, nutrition and film study. The guy’s a very experienced player.”

Napier will get to learn more about his QB when phase two of Florida’s offseason regimen commences next week.

However, even with Mertz‘s arrival, the Gators will continue to scour the quarterback market during the spring transfer window to account for the lack of scholarship options after m the failure to land a signal caller in the 2023 class.

With Napier on record saying his goal is to have four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, the UF staff will once again work diligently to pull in another piece.

"We definitely will be in the market in the spring,” he affirmed. “I think if there presents an opportunity, there's a player that passes evaluation, we certainly would be in the market for another player there."

Given the extensive process used to select Mertz this winter amongst a talented bunch of quarterbacks on the move, another addition would merely serve as depth — at least in the upcoming year — rather than presenting legitimate competition to his role. That is barring any unexpected entries in the spring.

For now, the former Big 10 starter is the guy for Florida. He’s expected to firmly remain in that spot moving into the 2023 season. 

Stay tuned to All Gators for continuous coverage of Florida Gators football, basketball and recruiting. Follow along on social media at @AllGatorsOnFN on Twitter and All Gators on FanNation-Sports Illustrated on Facebook.

Get your Gators football, basketball and other sporting events tickets from SI Tickets here.


More from All Gators on FanNation

All Gators on FanNation
All Gators on FanNation
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon