FSU Pre-Spring Roster Analysis

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(Cross-posting a roster analysis I did for NoleDigest on 2/9/2013; I figure it’s worth getting a slightly wider audience.)

Now that signing day has come and gone, I figured it’d be worth doing a short review of what FSU has returning. I’ll try to update this here and there moving forward. Guys in bold have starting experience:

QB (4 – 0)
Clint Trickett (R-Jr)
Jacob Coker (R-So)
Jameis Winston (R-Fr)
Sean McGuire (R-Fr)
John Franklin (Fr)
Lost: E.J. Manuel

Analysis: Fisher has consistently shown in the past both at LSU and FSU that unless an older QB is significantly better than a younger QB, he will default to the younger player. (This makes sense, as the younger player should have more room to grow.) As such, my guess is that Coker or Winston ultimately emerges as the starter in 2013, though Trickett might take the first snap of the first game. Think back to how Weatherford ultimately gave way to Ponder and Richardson for a prior example of this sort of situation, though Trickett is less limited in the passing game than Weatherford was and will fight to win the job.

This will be an interesting spring at this position without question. If I had to guess, I’d default to Coker as the guy with a little more experience in the system and a more polished arm than Winston at this point, but all the QBs will be given every opportunity to win the job. Either way, FSU’s personnel here is a much better match with the rest of the roster than it was last year, as EJ was much better from the gun than from under center, but the backs were better coming downhill. Each of the possible starters is more accurate downfield and should be more of a threat off play-action than we saw in 2012, meaning the offense will likely operate more from under center, with a lot more inside zone and Power-O than FSU was able to run in 2012. Expect to see more Pistol in 2013 as well, as it also fits better with this QB personnel.

Franklin will start his career at QB, and I like him there a lot more than most seem to. His film shows the ability to throw to all three levels, and he has outstanding touch. He may, however, decide to move once he sees the competition up close, and he could play several other positions. But if he stays at QB, he’s got better tools at that position than many realize (to go with great speed) and could contend for the job after Winston moves on. Don’t forget that RGIII and Johnny Manziel were guys who most programs wanted at DB rather than QB. No team ever complained about its QB being able to run 4.4 or better.

RB (4 – 0)
Devonta Freeman    5’8, 200 (Jr)
James Wilder, Jr.     6’2, 220 (Jr)
Mario Pender           5’10, 195 (R-Fr)
Ryan Green             5’10, 190 (Fr)
Lost: Chris Thompson

This position is dangerously thin; you’d ideally like at least five and usually six viable backs on your roster due to the injury frequency here and the kind of attrition that goes with the position. I’d very much like to see Wilder add 10-15 pounds in the offseason, as I think he’d be much better over 230 pounds than at 220. Pender is the wildcard here, as he could give FSU a legit breakaway threat from the position, something the 2012 offense desperately missed once Chris Thompson went down with a knee injury. Ryan Green will need to be ready to play right away, and his versatility out of the backfield will be an asset. I would expect some packages with both Wilder and Freeman on the field at the same time, especially in the gun or pistol. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Bracy or Whitfield get some snaps in the backfield in special packages, much like Fisher did with Trindon Holliday at LSU and Urban did with Harvin at UF.

FSU needs to sign a minimum of three solid RBs in the next cycle to get the numbers back where they should be. Fortunately, as Geoff has observed, the prospects are there to do just that.

FB (1 – 0)
Chad Abram        6’0, 235 (Jr)
Lost: Lonnie Pryor

Another position where FSU is thin. Abram will need to be solid as a short-yardage lead blocker. As thin as this position is, it’s not really a concern, as I expect to see FSU run a lot more two-TE sets this year, with O’Leary moving around and lining up in the backfield taking over most of Lonnie Pryor’s role. That should lead to more opportunities for O’Leary in the passing game on boots in the flat, etc.

This is not a position FSU needs to aggressively fill, but having a body or two here in the future wouldn’t hurt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a backup linebacker or safety moved here in the spring or over the summer.

TE (4 – 1)
Nick O’Leary        6’3, 240 (Jr)
Kevin Haplea       6’4, 250 (Sr)
Christo Kourtzidis 6’4, 250 (R-Fr)
Jeremy Kerr        6’6, 260 (Fr)

I expect to see all four TEs play this year, as the offense will be much more TE heavy than it has been in the past, since Pryor was so good that Fisher couldn’t afford not to have him out there. Kourtzidis needs to show good progress in the spring, particularly as an in-line blocker, but he has potential there. Kerr should immediately upgrade FSU’s short yardage blocking at the TE position, much like Caz did a few years back. FSU has struggled to set the edge with the TEs in the running game the last couple years, but this year should be a refreshing change on that front, with improved blocking from TEs making a huge difference in short yardage. (Most of FSU’s problems blocking in short yardage in the past four years have come from the TE position.) As mentioned above, look for O’Leary to move around a lot, lining up as an H-back, fullback, and in the slot. Haplea and the other two will line up as more traditional TEs.

Looking forward, FSU should probably pick up two in the next cycle, one more of a versatile type and another in-line blocker.

WR (12 – 4)
Rashad Greene     6’0, 180 (Jr)
Greg Dent              5’11, 185 (Sr)
Kenny Shaw          6’0, 175 (Sr)
Willie Haulstead   6’2, 235 (R-Sr)
Christian Green     6’2, 210 (Jr)
Kelvin Benjamin   6’5, 235 (So)
Jared Haggins       6’1, 187 (SR)
Josh Gehres          6’1, 190 (R-Sr)
Marvin Bracy        5’9, 175 (R-Fr)
Isaiah Jones         6’4, 200 (Fr)
Kermit Whitfield    5’9, 175 (Fr)
Jesus Wilson         5’9, 170 (Fr)
Lost: Rodney Smith

Loaded. But there really needs to be some separation among the guys on this list. Greene is definitely “the guy” here, but after him there’s a logjam. I am a proponent of rotating WRs, but eleven (not counting Gehres) is too many. Wilson should probably redshirt. Jones is probably a guy who could see some time as a freshman due to his size, but I’d ideally like to see him shirt as well. Whitfield should be returning kicks and punts. Ideally, I’d like to see Willie Haulstead win back one of the starting positions to go alongside Greene. Benjamin needs to earn it in the spring and fall, as he fell off in the second half of 2012. Dent and Shaw are both third-down slot-types and were the second and third best WRs in 2012, but neither offers the kind of big-play threat from the slot that Bracy and Whitfield do. Christian Green is the wildcard here, as he has superstar talent if he could just put it all together. Bracy and Whitfield will need to get reps; they’re the guys you want to run the bubble screens and tunnel screens to. Haggins appears lost in the shuffle at the moment, but he’s a good player too. Handling personnel at this position and making sure the right hands touch the ball is going to be a real challenge for Dawsey and Fisher this year.

Bottom line, as much talent as FSU had at this position last year, it still lacked playmakers and struggled to go downfield, which put a lot of pressure on the offense to have successful 10-12 play drives every time. This unit needs to produce a lot more big plays next year if the offense is going to take a step forward; it’s simply asking too much of offenses in the modern game to execute 10 plays in a row perfectly on every drive. You’ve got to have splash plays, and the WR unit has to step forward and make those plays happen. That probably means seeing more of Bracy and Whitfield in the slot, though having a QB who throws a bit more accurately down the field should solve some of that problem as well.

Looking forward, Dent, Shaw, Haggins, and Haulstead will graduate after this year followed by Greene and Green the next, and the younger WRs are a bit smallish, so FSU will need to get some numbers and size here in the next cycle.

OL (14 – 3)
Cameron Erving       6’5 304 (Jr)
Josue Matias            6’6, 325 (Jr)
Tre’ Jackson             6’5, 324 (Jr)
Bryan Stork               6’4, 315 (Sr)
Bobby Hart                6’5, 315 (Jr)
Austin Barron            6’3, 295 (Jr)
Ruben Carter            6’5, 290 (R-So)
Sterling Lovelady      6’2, 290 (R-So)
Jacob Fahrenkrug      6’4, 320 (R-Sr)

Ira Denson               6’4, 315 (Fr)
Ryan Hoefield           6’3, 265 (Fr)
Wilson Bell               6’4, 295 (Fr)

Tre Pettis                 6’5 330 (R-So)
Dan Foose                6’6 300 (R-Jr)
Lost: Menelik Watson, Daniel Glauser, , Henry Orelus, Garrett Faircloth (Med DQ)

The OL looks very good (likely a top 5 unit in the country) going into 2013, though not quite as good as if Menelik Watson had stayed. Four starters return, but the RT position is open. Possibilities:

1) The most obvious solution would be for Bobby Hart to have a great offseason and live up to his potential starting at RT—in which case this would likely be the best OL in the country. Hart’s development is no guarantee, however.
2) Stork to RT (where he was last spring) and Barron to center. I don’t think Barron would be a dropoff from Stork at center at this point, but Stork isn’t a natural RT, so that’s not ideal.
3) Matias to RT and Ruben Carter or Hart to his guard spot. Depending on how comfortable Matias is in space, this could also work well.
4) Faircloth could possibly win that RT position as well if he can get healthy, which would again be a good sign. He has the frame and length, but it’s not clear if he’s going to get healthy or not.

Fourteen is a little thin as far as numbers (I’d prefer about 17), and as of right now there are really only eight reliable bodies on roster (nine if Fahrenkrug returns healthy), with three freshmen and two real question marks. Denson could probably contribute right away at guard if he needed to. Orelus was a viable body a few years ago, but it’s not even clear if he’ll be around next year. He could, however, turn it around and rejoin that top group. Based on last spring, Pettis needs to lose some weight and get quicker to become a viable player. I’m not even sure Foose really exists. Bell and Hoefield will need redshirts.

Absent injury, this is at worst a top-10 OL in the country. Erving might be FSU’s most valuable player at this point; he is the one guy on either side of the ball whose absence due to injury would be most acutely felt. There’s good depth at guard and center, and there are enough bodies to compete for the RT spot that FSU should be okay there. This line could be the best in the country if someone stepped into that RT spot and played great.

The real concern here is once you move beyond 2013. Erving is likely gone to the NFL with a solid season, which would again open a tackle position where there’s less depth. Barron should be able to step right in at center in 2014, but Matias, Jackson, Hart, Barron, and Faircloth all graduate after 2014, leaving a lot of holes that will need to be filled. Denson and Ruben Carter should fill the guard spots nicely in 2014, and there’s a couple bodies (Lovelady/Hoefield) for the center spot, but the tackle positions are completely up in the air by the time you get to 2015 (will Bell develop?), making that a major priority for the next recruiting cycle. Fortunately, tackle is the kind of position that you can fill with a great athlete and just let him play in space; there’s less technical stuff to worry about than at center and guard.

Offense Summary:

All in all, the overall talent level on the offensive roster is a bit better in 2013 than it was in 2012, with fewer question marks going into the season. If FSU gets solid answers at RT and QB, I think it’s reasonable to expect the offense to actually be a good bit better in 2013. Although the QB will be less experienced, the offense will be more experienced around him. Perhaps more importantly, the 2012 offensive talent was not especially well matched to EJ Manuel’s skill set. Manuel was significantly better out of the shotgun (but was unfortunately a liability in the zone read), but once Chris Thompson went down, the running backs were better suited to a downhill running game than the outside zone/stretch running game that better meshed with Manuel’s abilities. In contrast, the 2013 offense should mesh much better, featuring more multiple tight end looks and much more power football and play action downfield than you saw in 2012. So long as the RT and QB positions pan out, that should be a recipe for a more efficient offense in 2013. The more amazing thing is that there are only five seniors in the current two-deep on offense (Stork, Dent, Shaw, Haulstead, Haplea), which sets the offense up to be completely loaded in 2014 as long as the two tackle positions are squared away.

Defensive Tackle (8 – 2)
Timmy Jernigan               6’2, 300 (JR)
Demonte McAllister          6’2, 290 (R-SR)
Eddie Goldman                6’2, 325 (SO)
Nile Lawrence-Stample     6’1, 295 (SO)
Jacobbi McDaniel             6’0, 295 (R-SR)
Derrick Mitchell               6’4, 315 (R-SO)
Justin Shanks                  6’4, 340 (R-FR)
Keith Bryant                    6’2, 305 (FR)
Lost: Amp McCloud, Demonte McAllister

Wow. If there’s a bigger and more athletic set of defensive tackles in the country, I don’t know of it. This group’s third string would likely start at more than 90% of the programs in the country. This group should actually be a bit improved over last year’s group, which took a step back from its outstanding 2011 season, as Amp McCloud struggled with his conditioning after getting hurt in the fall and Everette Dawkins wore down some late in the year. This group should rotate liberally and will wear down opposing offensive lines—one major reason to expect FSU to continue with an even-front base for the foreseeable future, though they’ll throw some odd fronts out there on occasion, especially with a behemoth like Shanks at NT. It’s not entirely clear where each of these guys will line up in Pruitt’s system. McAllister is a clear 3-tech, but Jernigan and Goldman could play either position. Generally you want the taller player at the 3-technique, so I see it shaking out something like this:

NT                            DT (3-tech)
Jernigan                    McAllister
NLS                          Goldman
McDaniel/Shanks         Mitchell

Mitchell could easily move to OL and compete for a tackle position right away, much like Cam Erving last spring, but so far he hasn’t shown much interest in that. He could also be a terrific 3-tech, so there’s no reason to force that kind of move. Shanks is huge and offers a great option in short yardage. This is not only the best group of DTs in the country, it may be the best single unit in the country.

Looking forward, Jernigan could well wind up a 3-and-done, and McAllister and McDaniel are seniors, so I’d expect two or three DTs in the next class.

DE (7 – 1)
Mario Edwards, Jr.     6’4, 285 (SO)
Chris Casher             6’4, 260 (R-FR)
Dan Hicks                 6’4, 260 (R-SR)
DeMarcus Walker       6’4, 265 (FR)
Desmond Hollin         6’4, 265 (JR)
Giorgio Newberry      6’6, 275 (R-SO)
Davarez Bryant         6’4, 250 (FR)
Lost: Von Stryker, Brandon Jenkins, Tank Carradine, Toshmon Stevens

Aside from Edwards, who has a higher ceiling even than Werner, this position is a question mark. Casher and Hicks are both coming off injuries, and Casher hasn’t played much football the last two years. I’m higher on Walker than many. He shows excellent burst and power on film to go with excellent size, and given a full spring he should be a good contributor as a freshman. Hollin is a terrific athlete and could potentially walk right in and start if he “gets it.” At worst, he should be good depth. I’d rather see Newberry move to the offensive side and see if he can win the RT job, but he was better in the second half of the year than the first and could conceivably take a step forward this year. He’s better on the left side than the right, as he lacks the kind of suddenness that tends to be more necessary on the right side. Bryant is a project but is another terrific athlete who could become very good with some seasoning and would be a redshirt candidate if everyone else stays healthy.

Numbers aren’t really much of a concern here for 2013, though it’s asking a lot of four essentially first year players (Casher, Walker, Hollin, Walker) to pan out pretty quickly. Last year may have suggested otherwise, but this position is among the least-injured in football; you typically expect to finish the year with the same ends you started with. There is plenty of athletic talent here, and I think there are enough bodies to ensure a viable two-deep at this position. Amazingly, this position could actually wind up better overall in 2013 than 2012 simply due to the depth problems the 2012 team had once Jenkins and Casher went down. Edwards is capable of approximating Werner’s performance, and the ability to rotate four or five ends rather than playing two (Tank and Werner) nearly the entire game should make a big difference, especially late in games. FSU’s ends were gassed at the end of games all too often late in the year during the 2012 season; that shouldn’t happen with this group. I also don’t expect Pruitt’s defense to ask his best end to play contain rather than rushing the passer nearly half the game the way Stoops did with Werner. All this of course assumes that this unit won’t undergo a similar injury curse as last year. If anyone goes down, this position starts to look pretty thin, pretty quickly.

Looking forward, signing another two or three in 2014 seems about right to keep the depth where it should be.

LB (11 – 2)
Christian Jones         6’4, 235 (SR)
Telvin Smith            6’3, 210 (SR)
Reggie Northrup       6’1, 221 (SO)
Ukeme Eligwe          6’3, 230 (SO)
Terrence Smith        6’4, 215 (SO)
Nigel Terrell            6’1, 225 (R-JR)
Matthew Thomas       6’4, 205 (FR)
Freddie Stevenson     6’1, 220 (FR)
Tyrell Lyons             6’2, 220 (FR)
E.J. Levenberry        6’3, 230 (FR)
Ro’Derrick Hoskins    6’3, 215 (FR)
Lost: Vince Williams, Nick Moody

Suddenly the numbers here look much better after pulling in five freshmen, several of whom could play early. Jones will be on the field somewhere, but I’ll be interested to see where he lines up in Pruitt’s scheme. Telvin needs to gain some weight and get more consistent to be effective as an every-down player. He’s a terrific blitzer, however. Terrence Smith looked quite promising last spring; he’s rangy, fast, can cover, and showed a good knack for blitzing off the edge. That said, the clock is now ticking for him given the five freshmen behind him. Northrup looked promising in limited time last year, and Eligwe has very good size for the MLB position. Matthew Thomas should see the field very early, as should Freddie Stevenson. Nigel Terrell seems to have been passed by. Karlos Williams could also potentially join this group and immediately upgrade the talent level at one of the OLB positions, but it looks like he’s going to stay at safety at this time.

This is a position to watch in the spring and fall, as there is little clarity on who will play where beyond the fact that Christian Jones will be one of the starters. Eligwe and Levenberry seem more suited to the Mike position. Stevenson and Northrup could probably play all three. I really like Stevenson and expect him to be in the mix coming out of spring along with Telvin and Terrence Smith, Northrup, and Eligwe. Thomas will join that group in the fall.

Having this many solid athletic bodies at LB is also huge for special teams, as LBs provide the backbone of the coverage units and return teams.

Looking forward, Jones and Smith will move on after this year. I’d expect two or three in the next class.

CB (8 – 1)
Nick Waisome          5’10, 175 (JR)
Lamarcus Joyner      5’9, 195 (SR)
Ronald Darby           5’11, 190 (SO)
Keelin Smith            6’3, 190 (R-SO)
Colin Blake              6’3, 195 (R-FR)
P.J. Williams            6’2, 195 (R-FR)
Jalen Ramsey           6’1, 195 (FR)
Marquez White          6’1, 180 (FR)
Lost: Xavier Rhodes

Lots of talent here.  Joyner’s move to corner definitely shakes things up, but he’s long for his height, physical, can mirror, and has great speed. He is also an excellent tackler, which is important in Pruitt’s scheme, and should be a terror on blitzes from the slot or boundary. The one concern is that the top returnees are a bit smallish, but all the guys behind them are big. Joyner, Ramsey, and Darby are the most talented on the roster, but Smith, Blake, Williams, and White all have talent and length. Smith has a very high ceiling with his rare length for the position, especially as the system moves towards a Saban-style coverage system. This position should be a battle to see the field.

Tyler Hunter was the nickel CB under Stoops, but those roles are all up for reevaluation with the new staff. With Joyner’s move to CB, I’d expect him to be the primary slot corner in the Nickel, with one of the bigger corners coming on the field for the boundary in those scenarios. As of right now, I’d expect Darby and Waisome to continue splitting one corner, Joyner to start at the other, and Smith/Blake/Williams/Ramsey to compete for the third (outside) corner in the nickel with Joyner sliding inside. Hunter will compete for the dime role, but with Joyner sliding inside, it looks like more of a fight for him to get on the field. Either way, I’d expect the CBs to rotate a bit more with Pruitt than they did under Stoops.

There are good numbers here, so this shouldn’t be a priority next year, but you never turn down an elite corner. I’d expect one or two.

Safety (6 – 1)
Terrence Brooks       5’11, 200 (JR)
Karlos Williams         6’2, 230 (JR)
Tyler Hunter             6’1, 195 (JR)
Lamarcus Brutus       6’0, 200 (R-FR)
Gerald Demps           5’11, 195 (R-SR)
Nate Andrews           6’0, 185 (FR)
Lost: Justin Bright (Med DQ)

Joyner and Brooks were one of the nation’s best safety tandems last year, but Joyner’s move to CB (though he’ll surely play inside at times) really opens things up. Joyner’s move clearly opens things up for Karlos Williams, and he has a clean slate with the new defensive staff. Putting Joyner, Brooks, and Williams all on the field at once is likely the best way to get the best 11 defenders on the field at once at this point. I expect Williams to wind up playing the Mark Barron role in Pruitt’s secondary as he’s well suited for that kind of role. The one concern is the number of spread teams FSU will face, as Williams is not an ideal one-on-one defender if teams can get him in those matchups via formation. Avoiding that will be important for this new scheme and personnel group to flourish. Williams’ size does offer some intriguing options in multi-DB packages, as he can slide down to a LB spot for dime and 7-DB packages without sacrificing size against the running game. I’d expect the new staff to move him around quite a bit to use his athleticism in different spots.
Hunter is an excellent utility player in the secondary and will likely continue to have some role in the nickel/dime packages, though Joyner is now the likely starter at nickel sliding inside from CB. Brutus is an unknown at this time. Demps needs to impress the new staff to be anything more than a special teams body at this point. Andrews has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen in a high school film, but he’s not especially fast. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops after getting on campus.

I expect to see a lot more single-high safety looks next year as opposed to Stoops’ nearly ubiquitus two-safety shell. That might also give more reason to put Williams out there as a headhunter in center field.

This position is pretty upperclass-heavy and will need to add two or three more next cycle, though it’s not clear how Pruitt will want to address DB recruiting in the future (e.g. will he want to sign more CBs and just move the ones who don’t cover as well to safety?). It’s also possible that one of the big corners moves here down the line.

Defense Overview

The tackles and safeties should be among the best units in the country. There’s plenty of talent at LB and CB, but who will be playing where isn’t quite established. The end position should be solid at the very least, with the possibility of an elite season from Edwards if he can stay focused and keep his weight down. Bottom line: FSU has gotten to the point where it’s reloading rather than rebuilding on defense. This defensive roster is loaded for several years to come. There is depth at every position.

I also think the change in defensive philosophies will be a net positive, as the new staff will emphasize putting more pressure on the quarterback and pattern-reading in the secondary in the effort to create more turnovers. I’d anticipate the defense giving up a few more big plays but also creating significantly more turnovers than it has the past few years.

I felt like the 2012 defense was a little disappointing after a stellar 2011 campaign. The 2013 defense actually has better personnel top-to-bottom than the 2012 defense did once it lost Brandon Jenkins, so it is not out of the question to expect a better overall defensive year as long as the new staff is able to press the right buttons.

Like the offense, the defense is actually relatively young, with only five seniors (plus an early-entry candidate in Jernigan) in the current two deep. 2014 is set up to be absolutely loaded.


K: Roberto Aguayo    6’1, 212 (R-FR)
Lost: Dustin Hopkins

You don’t lose the top NCAA record-holder for points and expect to get better at the position. No one should expect Aguayo to be quite the weapon Hopkins was, especially given Hopkins’ ability to kick the ball a mile high and give the coverage teams a chance to pin teams inside their 15 yard line on kickoffs. Spring should tell us more here, but there is no reason for much concern at this point. Aguayo had an excellent high school career and the chance to learn from Hopkins for a year, so he should be well prepared to step into the lineup. Who ever would have thought in the 90s that FSU would become “Kicker U”?

P: Cason Beatty        6’3, 229 (SO)

Beatty had a decent freshman season marred by some protection issues against USF and NCSU, the latter of which cost FSU a game. He gets the ball off quickly enough, however, and has good leg strength. He just needs to get more consistent going into next year with the incremental improvement expected from freshman to sophomore year, and FSU should be improved in the punting game.

LS: Chris Revell        6’0, 206 (SR)
Lost: Dax Dellenbaugh

Dax Dellenbaugh was an excellent longsnapper for the ‘Noles. Revell has been the backup for a while, but obviously nobody outside of the team really has a good sense of what to expect here. This is an important spot, as great longsnappers are instrumental in a consistent kicking game and help prevent blocked kicks by getting the ball to the specialist more quickly.


Offense: 39 total (6 seniors)
Defense: 40 total (7 seniors)
Specialists: 2
Total: 82 scholarship players (16 seniors). Naturally some attrition is expected between now and August, but FSU should carry over 80 this year.

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