Florida State recruiting: Projected depth chart on offense with 2018 signees
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Freshmen receivers to have opportunity to make impact this fall
With the 2018 cycle now in his rear view, Florida State coach Willie Taggart is turning his focus to spring practice and the 2019 class.
The Seminoles signed the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class despite Taggart arriving in Tallahassee on Dec. 6. He and his staff were able to hit on a majority of their needs down the stretch of the 2018 cycle and a handful of the newest Seminoles could help as soon as this fall.
While only three players from the 2018 class are already on campus as early enrollees, Taggart’s “lethal simplicity” philosophy should result in more freshmen playing sooner on offense thanks to simplified schemes.
How could that play out with the depth chart this fall?
Let’s take a crack at the Seminoles depth chart, with our first look coming on the offense.
Starter: James Blackman (sophomore)
Next man up: Deondre Francois (redshirt junior)
Others to know: Bailey Hockman (redshirt freshman)
If there’s one place that Taggart and his staff missed out on adding depth in the 2018 class, it’s at the quarterback position.
As such, the Seminoles enter 2018 with only three scholarship passers on the roster. However, the good news is that two of them — James Blackman and Deondre Francois — each have a year of experience as a starter under their belts.
Francois will not be able to fully participate in spring practice as he is still recovering from a torn patellar tendon injury he suffered in the 2017 season opener against Alabama.
Blackman and Hockman will compete in the spring with Francois likely to make it a three-way battle during fall practice.
All three passers have their strengths and each brings something different to the table. Blackman gets the nod here simply due to his experience and because of how well he played at the end of last season.
Starter: Cam Akers (sophomore)
Next man up: Jacques Patrick (senior)
Others to know: Anthony Grant (freshman), Khalan Laborn (redshirt freshman), Amir Rasul (junior), Deonte Sheffield (freshman), Jonathan Vickers (senior), Zaquandre White (redshirt freshman)
Running back is perhaps the deepest segment on the roster entering the spring. It also has the benefit of having two established standouts in Patrick and Akers who are capable of being workhorses.
In particular, Akers has a chance to be one of the nation’s premier rushers after eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman last season. Patrick is a 234-pound hammer who was especially tough to handle in short-yardage and the red zone.
That duo combined to rush for 1,760 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging more than 5 yards per carry last season.
However, the Seminoles backfield and their embarrassment of riches doesn’t stop with those two.
Former star 2017 recruits Laborn and White are waiting for an opportunity to break free and Taggart’s up-tempo, spread attack might be a chance for one or both to get into the rotation.
Laborn is a potential do-it-all back who could thrive as a pass-catcher while White has the size and physicality necessary to run in between the tackles.
Rasul has shown flashes of his talent over the last two seasons, and he could be re-energized as a potential home-run threat in this offense given his elite speed.
It remains to be seen what role Vickers, who lined up at fullback last year, would play since that position is expected to be eliminated in Taggart’s offense. Freshmen Sheffield and Grant are versatile backs, but with the depth in front of them, it’s hard to envision them finding many carries this fall.
With that said, Grant — who flipped to the Seminoles from Tennessee on Signing Day earlier this month — drew praise from Taggart during his presser discussing his inaugural class.
Starter: Tre’ McKitty (sophomore)
Next man up: Naseir Upshur (junior)
Others to know: Alexander Marshall (redshirt freshman), Camren McDonald (freshman), Gabe Nabers (junior)
With Ryan Izzo declaring early for the NFL draft and Mavin Saunders opting to transfer to Kansas, tight end figures to be an interesting position for Florida State in spring practice.
The Seminoles will enter the spring with four scholarship bodies at the position and they signed 4-star Long Beach (Calif.) Poly tight end Camren McDonald with the 2018 class earlier this month.
With the switch from former coach Jimbo Fisher’s pro-style offense to Taggart’s up-tempo, spread attack, the role of tight end for Florida State might change a little. Of course, players at that spot will still be required to block in the run game, but they will also be required to be athletic enough to open up the middle of the field as receivers.
The favorite to earn the starting job entering the spring is McKitty. Before opting to sign with the Seminoles, he was committed to Oregon and had contact with Taggart while he was in Eugene.
The 6-foot-5, 237-pound is the prototype for what Taggart is looking for in his tight ends. He’s a capable and willing blocker in the trenches, but he’s also an athletic mismatch as a receiver working against defensive backs or linebackers.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) February 7, 2018
It’s a critical spring for Upshur. With the change in offensive philosophy, finding a role is pivotal for him with the players coming behind him.
Nabers was a fullback that will likely be converted to a tight end in this offense. Projecting his fit remains a mystery at this time.
An intriguing option at the position is Marshall. At 6-8, 233 pounds, Marshall is a rangy target with a frame suitable for adding some weight. If and when he’s proven he can make the adjustment to the physicality of the college level, he could be a contributor in this offense moving forward.
McDonald is more of a receiving option at the position. With limited depth, he could factor into the rotation early if he acclimates himself to the playbook when he arrives on campus.
Starters: Keith Gavin (junior), D.J. Matthews (sophomore), Nyqwan Murray (senior)
Next man up: George Campbell (redshirt junior), Tamorrion Terry (redshirt freshman)
Florida State brings back just five scholarship receivers in 2018, and just two — Murray and Gavin — have more than 10 career receptions.
Campbell is a former top recruit who has been unable to remain healthy, and he will try to bounce back from a core injury that has caused him to miss most of the last two seasons.
Matthews caught his first career touchdown pass in the bowl game and seemed to gain his footing as a return man on special teams. His skill-set as a potential game-breaker in space seems to be a great fit in Taggart’s offense.
Terry is a 6-4, 191-pound freshman who redshirted a year ago that the previous staff was high on when he was brought in as a recruit in the 2017 class.
The lack of depth is primarily why the Seminoles brought in five receivers in the 2018 class.
While it’s normally not a good idea to rely on freshmen, the Seminoles may not have a choice with the receiver unit.
Each member of that group brings something different to the table. Harrison is likely the first choice to make an early impact. The 6-2, 190-pound Seattle native was committed to Taggart when he was at Oregon and he’s a speed demon who can operate in space and make defenders miss, but yet possesses the type of deep speed to keep defenders honest because of his ability to blow by them.
Like Grant, the Seminoles were able to flip Young away from Tennessee on Signing Day and he could be one of the biggest steals of the entire 2018 cycle when all is said and done. Young is an athletic specimen who had 1,562 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns as a senior. He possesses the type of size and speed that translates to the college level.
Thompson is another former Oregon pledge who has the potential be an early standout. The 6-3, 196-pound in-state playmaker with the size and strength necessary to operate as an outside receiver from the moment he arrives on campus.
Both Adams and Helton are speedy playmakers who are also capable of contributing early given the Seminoles lack of depth.
Overall, don’t be surprised if multiple members of the freshmen class are contributing to this unit by the end of the season.
Starters: Josh Ball (LT, junior), Derrick Kelly (RT, redshirt senior)
Next man up: Abdul Bello (LT, redshirt junior), Jauan Williams (RT, redshirt sophomore)
Perhaps the wild-card of the spring will be along the offensive line.
New Seminoles offensive line coach Greg Frey will have his hands full sorting out a roster that has plenty of question marks heading into the season.
That doesn’t mean his unit is devoid of talent.
It simply means no one knows what to expect and how his lineup will look at the beginning and end of spring practice. Chances are they will look totally different and chances are the experimentation phase will be plentiful and last potentially into the fall.
So, with that in mind, take any predictions here or elsewhere with a grain of salt.
Now with that out of the way, the tackle position seems to have one spot in good hands with Ball. The redshirt sophomore took over the left tackle spot in the middle of last season and performed admirably in that role.
Kelly has played guard and tackle at various times in his career as a Seminole. With the absence of any other experienced contributors at tackle, he would make sense to occupy the right tackle spot assuming Ball works on the left side.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) February 7, 2018
The only two other players who have been on campus that have been previously listed as tackles are Bello and Williams. Both players have had problems staying healthy. Williams, in particular, was a part of a stellar 2016 offensive line class that has loads of potential.
If he can stay healthy, he has a chance to compete for a starting spot.
Rounding out the group is a quartet of freshmen. Scott redshirted last season and then the Seminoles signed a trio of linemen in Armstrong, Goss and Neal.
Armstrong is already on campus as an early enrollee. Neal is a prep defensive lineman who will transition to the offensive side of the ball in college. Goss was a late addition to the 2018 class, but he has high upside and the potential to develop into a starter if he continues to make progress.
Starters: Landon Dickerson (LG, junior), Cole Minshew (RG, redshirt junior)
Next man up: Mike Arnold (redshirt sophomore)
Others to know: Christian Meadows (freshman)
Of course, as noted above, Frey could experiment with players at various spots and we could see some players who have logged time at tackle line up at one of the interior spots and vice-versa.
The good news for Frey is that he should have two experienced bodies to turn to at the guard spot.
Dickerson has been as good as advertised when he arrived at Florida State as a touted recruit. However, injuries have cost him time in each of the last two seasons.
— FSU Football (@FSUFootball) February 7, 2018
A torn ACL ended his freshman season while an ankle injury cost him the majority of the 2017 season. It’s still unclear whether he will be cleared for spring practice. If he’s unable to participate, look for Arnold to get more reps.
Minshew started the majority of 2017 at right guard and excelled as a run blocker.
Of the four offensive linemen signed in the 2018 class, only one — Meadows — projects as an interior lineman at this time.
Starter: Alec Eberle (redshirt senior)
Next man up: Baveon Johnson (redshirt sophomore)
Others to know: Andrew Boselli (redshirt sophomore), Corey Martinez (redshirt senior)
Another fascinating battle to watch will play out at center.
Eberle has started the last two seasons and has performed admirably for most of that period.
However, a pair of promising young prospects in Johnson and Boselli may finally be ready to contribute after battling injuries and getting accustomed to life on a college campus.
In particular, Johnson — who was rated as the nation’s top center in the 2016 cycle — is a 6-3, 318-pound mauler who was expected to battle for the starting job last season before an injury knocked him out for the season.
Assuming he’s fully healthy, he should be ready to make another run at the job and potentially give the Seminoles a wider and stronger presence along the interior of the line.
Martinez is another capable and experienced lineman who could contribute at one of the interior spots, but the spring will likely see all eyes on Johnson and Eberle as they battle it out for the starting job.
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