ACC Spring ’18: Florida State Seminoles

Florida State has always recruited well so it shouldn’t surprise me as much as it has that they have as many good options as they do at QB. Deondre Francois is the presumed favorite after getting QB1 reps for all of 2016 and the 2017 opener where he was injured. He is still rehabbing the left knee injury and is reportedly ahead of schedule. He has gotten to do some 7v7 work, but he won’t be a full-go until this summer. I think this is going to hurt his chances to be the QB1 lock that he is often presumed to be. To make matters worse, he was arrested on a marijuana charge this week. This is now the second incident in the past several months for him. Decision making, maturity, and leadership will now all be questions he will need to answer. Willie Taggart and Walt Bell will bring a totally new offense and culture to FSU and being limited until that close to the season opener is less than ideal. If I felt he had a massive talent or experience edge over the other guys then perhaps I could come around, but I don’t see it with either. James Blackman took over in his stead last season as a true freshman and had his share of ups and downs, but they were mainly downs. It really must have been a shock to him that he was QB1 by Labor Day. FSU had QBs transfer and Bailey Hockman was having a very solid camp before he got hurt, then you throw in Francois’ knee injury against Bama, and before you know it, it’s Blackman’s team. The first TrFR QB to start at FSU since 1985. There were several factors that I believe hindered his ability to succeed last year. The environment at FSU seemed toxic all season, hence the new staff. The offensive line was abysmal at pass blocking and Blackman had the body of a string bean at 6’5” and 176 pounds! Combine those factors and I’m not surprised that he has been written off by many. They went from pre-season #1 to having to panhandle to make a bowl game and that ultimately falls on the QB, right or wrong. Willie Taggart had this to say about him this spring, “He’s making quick, good decisions… He’s become a really good leader and again just continue to be more efficient with the offense and taking what the defense gives us.” Florida State is the only team in a Power Five conference that currently has two QBs that have started 10+ games. That being said, my favorite QB of the bunch, Bailey Hockman, has no starting experience. The southpaw from Metro-Atlanta suffered an injury last fall which was why Blackman has the experience and he doesn’t. Hockman has gotten equal reps with Blackman this spring, but one reason why I think he could end up winning the job is because of his running ability. I was recently made aware that he suffered a stress fracture in his foot so that is something to monitor. Shout out to @AndyFerrisFF for the heads up! None of the QBs will be confused with Cam Newton, but I think Hockman can be the most effective runner of the trio. That is important in Willie Taggart’s offense, although he has shown he will adapt to personnel. For example, Taggart’s QB have run a historical average of 12 times per game while Justin Herbert, a far better passer than runner, ran only five times per game. There will be some CFF value with whoever wins this job but it’s unlikely we know who QB1 will be until closer to the opener against Virginia Tech. Here’s what Tag had to say, “I wouldn’t necessarily say separation (between them), I see those guys are getting better, they’re learning. I think we’ll see a lot of that when we come to training camp. I think those guys will have a better understanding of what we’re doing offensively, and what we expect out of them. As they go through the summertime training with each other, and coming into training camp, I think that’s when we’ll see more separation between each other.” Just through reading reports throughout camp, Blackman feels like the front-runner to me.

The running backs feature a really talented room. Jacques Patrick is the power back that has the most experience. He is a serviceable player but I don’t see him to be as dynamic as several of the younger backs in the room. Cam Akers has the ability to grow into one of the best backs in America. The former wildcat QB was just learning to play the position last season, and it showed at times, but so did his elite athleticism. He finished his TrFR season in 2017 with 194-1024-7 rushing and 16-116-1 receiving. I believe this new offense is going to be great for Akers’ development as well as his productivity. Take a look at his freshman highlights here:

The talent doesn’t stop there for this Seminole backfield. Amir Rasul has been having a very nice camp, and his speed and ability to be a dominant space player bodes well for his potential in this offense. Khalan Laborn is a very talented pass catcher, and he has been making big plays out of the backfield as a receiver. Zaquandre White will likely be involved in the rotation as well this fall. FSU has run into the Alabama and Georgia ‘dilemma’, so much talent at RB it won’t be possible to get everybody the touches their talent merits. This offense should be very ground heavy and can support multiple fantasy relevant backs, but aside from Akers, the majority of these players will likely be more valuable in the NFL than college.

I was a really big fan of the FSU WR group’s potential in 2017. While Auden Tate has moved on, I actually think they are a more impressive group this year. Keith Gavin has been excellent this spring, and I think he will be more heavily involved this season. Nyqwan Murray is a player with loads of ability, but he has been inconsistent, yet productive, in Tallahassee. He suffered a knee injury in camp, but it’s unlikely to keep him out this fall. The other player that is made more in his mold is slot WR, DJ Matthews. A dynamic returner on special teams, Matthews has made some incredible plays in space this spring and is a budding star. One player that I’m extremely excited about is rFR Tamorrion Terry. Here is an excerpt from 247Sports that will help give some perspective on how raw and new to the position that Terry is, “A sizable learning curve is expected for Terry, however. He didn’t really become a featured receiver in high school until Simmons became the head coach before Terry’s junior year and installed a spread offense that would accentuate his top player’s size (6-4) and skill in space. Playing in a small classification, Terry was asked to do everything — he recorded eight sacks as a pass-rush specialist as a junior and was a defensive back as a senior — in addition to playing receiver.” Through the midway point in camp, reports stated that he had scored a receiving TD in every practice this spring. TT has a skill set reminiscent of Randy Moss in the ways that he can burn a defense with his straight-line speed or climb over a defender and win on contested catches. There is unlikely to be a lot of passing volume in this offense and there are so many mouths to feed but Terry is a player that I will be targeting late in CFF drafts and much earlier in Devy drafts. The last player that has been mentioned several times this spring is Ontaria Wilson. I know very little about him but it appears he was a DB and recently converted to WR and is making plays. Willie Taggart had this to say about the 6’0” and 168-pound rFR, “Kid can run and he catches the ball effortlessly. He’s been over there for two days now and it seems like he’s been there for awhile. That’s impressive for a guy that just changed one day. Another example of guys just doing whatever it takes for the football team.” Similar to the RBs, the biggest impact of this position group may be felt in the NFL and perhaps not as much in CFF.

Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders both move on from the TE room. This is an excerpt on the current state of the TEs from GridironNow:

“What makes me believe that tight end productivity should open up at FSU in 2018 are the athletes the Noles have at wide receiver. DJ Matthews, Nyqwan Murray, Tamorrion Terry and Keith Gavin should stress defenses to the point where Tre’ McKitty, Naseir “pop” Upshur and converted fullback Gabe Nabers can take advantage from the tight end spot. Reports from spring practice indicate the tight ends have received more action against a defense that at many times has forced the young quarterbacks into throwing the ball to what should be considered the less “athletic” positions.

“Sophomore tight end Tre’ McKitty looked smooth going through wide receiver drills,” Wayne McGahee wrote in the Tallahassee Democrat. “He worked consistently first through drills and Naseir Upshur worked second.”

Historically, in the Gulf Coast Offense, there hasn’t been a ton of production from the TEs. I look back to last season at Jacob Breeland’s production at Oregon, 18-320-5, and I can say with certainty that he was underutilized. Breeland is an NFL TE and, in my opinion, you gotta feed him more. I’m going to likely avoid FSU TEs in my initial CFF drafts this season and monitor them on the waiver wire if things pick up.

I could write a novella on the FSU defense, but I will attempt to keep in brief. The two players that I most wanted to highlight were EDGE Brian Burns and CB Stanford Samuels III. There will be many more players that will be high picks in the next several NFL draft classes but these are two guys that I really have an affinity for. Burns has always been oozing with potential but he has demonstrated inconsistency that is customary with underclassmen. Now a 19-year-old junior, he has been dominant this spring and is likely well on his way to be a top 50 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. The interior will be patrolled by a ton of talent but Demarcus Christmas will likely be the name that draftniks will want to know for next year. Samuels plays corner for the Noles and he is just one of many talented defenders. FSU did a snake draft to pick teams for the upcoming scrimmage. Samuels is only a TrSO but he was the first non-lineman picked (two captains were linemen!). The offensive line is not healthy at all right now so the captains wisely addressed that area early in the draft (I’m looking at you, Cincinnati Bengals). Every scholarship OL was selected before any RB, WR, or TE was taken. The secondary that Samuels plays in should be a strength of this team in the fall. They will benefit from playing with a blue-chip-laiden DL. Jaiden Woodbey and Levonta Taylor are both very talented DBs with next-level futures. I imagine that the defenses will get the better of the offenses in this scrimmage. The Noles defense could be excellent in 2018.

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