December brings plenty of surprises in college football recruiting and Friday afternoon certainly checks that box.

After a year-and-a-half verbal commitment to Tennessee, Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy tight end and Rivals250 member Jonathan Echols has made a verbal commitment to the University of South Florida.

USF will keep the big two-way talent in the state of Florida following his time in helping IMG to an undefeated 2023 run.

Echols becomes the initial four-star verbal commitment for the Bulls 2023 class, also standing as the highest-ranked verbal commitment in the Alex Golesh tenure thus far.

What it means

What doesn’t it mean?

Echols is a prospect Golesh has personally recruited since getting the USF gig just over one year ago. Previously, of course, he was the tight ends coach at UT and initially was a part of the reason the IMG standout was planning a college career in Knoxville. That long-term play of a recruitment says a lot about the head Bull, who is fresh off of a better-than-expected 6-6 campaign on the field in 2023.

Folks can see the potential with the Tampa-area program, and different elements become validators in that perception. Much like a Power Five win over Syracuse in the Boca Raton Bowl would create optimism, going head-t0-head with an established SEC opponent for one of the top tight end recruits in America should provide similar. It turns out Echols took the short trip from Bradenton to Tampa multiple times as a Tennessee commitment before making the official flip between programs.

On the field, Echols gives UF an instant mismatch with his 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame. Should he sign with USF on December 20, he’ll present as big a target as the Bulls have on the current roster. His signature will also mark a top 10 signee in program history, from a rankings standpoint, the highest-ranked since D’Ernest Johnson in the class of 2014.

What Echols brings to USF

The Bulls lit it up at times in 2023, sitting No. 21 nationally in yards per game by season’s end. But in the passing game, tight end was a near afterthought. No Bull tight end hauled in more than 14 passes last season. With Golesh’s tight end history combined with this commitment, it could blossom into the best for both sides as soon as Echols gets acclimated for good in Tampa.

Echols is a towering and modern tight end who wants to work on the outside as much as he will make an impact between the hashes. Doing so at IMG, against a bevy of elite secondary players including the No. 1 cornerback in the country Ellis Robinson, has only strengthened his ability to function in space. The physical is only the beginning of what makes Echols a potential mismatch at the collegiate level.

It’s also important to understand the transitions Echols has made in his career thus far. He moved to IMG from Georgia, where he worked a a two-way prospect. Many in the industry thought he had a higher ceiling on defense and he worked as a pass rusher earlier in his junior season at IMG as well. It wasn’t until 2023 where Echols fully committed to tight end, but even then the offense there was built much more for the run game given a stout offensive line and deep stable of backs.

It means Echols still has some raw characteristics at the tight end position compared to most. The lofty ranking and projection sits more on the side of his immense frame and athletic profile rather than proven production, though there certainly has been plenty of flash along the way. Echols has twitch, length, hands and better straight line speed than most his size.

At most positions the lack of polish may prevent early expectation from one level to the next, but not at tight end. The game’s history teaches swift transitions with natural and athletic skill sets similar to that of Echols, who also has a strong basketball background, so we wouldn’t expect him to sit very long in Tampa. It could be a learning on the job type of career for Echols early on but it could blossom into a dominant run before all is said and done.

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