TALLAHASSEE – With only seven seniors in the starting lineup – three on offense and four on defense – it’s not surprising that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher talks often about his “young” football team.
The Seminoles, who entered the midway point of the season 6-0 after a 51-14 thrashing of No. 3 Clemson, only have five more seniors on the second-team offense and defense combined. So of Florida State’s top 44 offensive and defensive players, just 12 will definitely be leaving after this season.
While that sounds extremely promising for the Seminoles in 2014, there is a concern that if Fisher’s team plays as well in the second half of the season as it did in the first, FSU could be hit by a number of early departures by juniors and third-year sophomores.
That’s also part of the reason why Florida State is expected to sign 30 or more prospects during this recruiting cycle, despite losing such a small senior class. The Seminoles started this season well under the 85-scholarship limit because of offseason attrition, and they only signed 21 players in February 2013. So there’s a good chance Fisher will bring in several early enrollees this January – those players can count toward the 2013 class – and then a full crop of 25 prospects in February.
FSU undoubtedly will miss its seven senior starters next fall – there’s wide receiver Kenny Shaw, center Bryan Stork and fullback Chad Abram on offense; and linebackers Telvin Smith and Christian Jones, and defensive backs Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks on defense. That group includes the Seminoles’ second-leading receiver, the leader of their offensive line, and their top four tacklers.
But what’s perhaps more concerning is which underclassmen they could lose to early departures for the NFL draft.
Aside from the seven seniors who definitely will be leaving, 10 of Florida State’s remaining 15 starters on offense and defense are either juniors or draft-eligible sophomores. While most of those players are expected to return, there’s a chance that a handful will attempt to cash in following this season.
Early Entry Potential Is There
Here’s a look at each of those players, and what Florida State fans might expect:
• Junior defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan – The explosive 6-2, 292-pounder might be the most likely of FSU’s underclassmen to bolt early forthe NFL. While he doesn’t have tremendous size for an interior lineman, Jernigan is exceptionally quick and plays with great leverage. Despite facing frequent double-teams, Jernigan ranks seventh on the Seminoles’ defense in tackles (18 through six games) and is tied for second in tackles for loss (4.0). Several early mock drafts have Jernigan going in the first round if he enters the April 2014 draft.
• Junior tailback James Wilder Jr. – Coming into this season, Wilder might have been tied with Jernigan as the most likely to go pro. The son of a former NFL star running back, Wilder made his intentions fairly clear with repeated posts on social media that this would be his last season in Tallahassee. But midway through the 2013 season, that’s looking less and less likely. Wilder already was recovering from a lingering shoulder injury, and then he sustained a concussion against Clemson. Through six games, he is backing up starter Devonta Freeman and averaging just 37.7 yards per game. Wilder has great size and adequate speed to play running back in the NFL, but it’s unlikely he would be a first-round pick at this point.
• Junior tailback Devonta Freeman – After beating out Wilder for the starting job, Freeman has enjoyed his best season yet; the junior from Miami is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and is on pace to be the Seminoles’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Warrick Dunn. Despite that success, it’s difficult to imagine Freeman leaving early. He is solidly built at 5-9, 203 pounds, but he doesn’t possess the top-end speed that would push him into the first round.
• Junior left tackle Cameron Erving – Erving is extremely athletic for his size (6-6, 320) and recently picked the perfect time to play the best game of his career. He silenced Clemson star defensive end Vic Beasley (two tackles, none for loss) during the teams’ highly anticipated showdown, and his name already was showing up in the first round of mock drafts before his breakout performance. He could solidify his status as an early pick with strong showings against Miami, Florida and in the postseason.
• Junior right guard Tre’ Jackson – While interior offensive linemen don’t often attract as much attention as tackles, Jackson could be the Seminoles’ most “NFL ready” lineman. He is extremely quick and powerful, has great size (6-4, 330 pounds), and FSU’s coaches believe he will have a long career as a starter in the NFL. Like Erving, he could solidify his prospects with a strong second half of the season.
• Junior left guard Josue Matias – While he certainly looks the part (6-6, 322 pounds), Matias has not been as consistent at run-blocking or pass-blocking as Jackson. He has been starting since late in his freshman year, but probably isn’t a strong candidate to leave early.
• Junior right tackle Bobby Hart – He has had a bit of an up-and-down career at FSU, but he could be the Seminoles’ most talented offensive lineman. After starting as a 17-year-old freshman in 2011, Hart struggled with consistency and mostly sat the bench in 2012. This fall, he has been extremely improved and at times dominant. With great athleticism for a 6-4, 315-pounder, Hart likely will check to see what the NFL underclassmen advisory committee has to say, but he would benefit greatly for another year under line coach Rick Trickett. He won’t turn 20 until next August.
• Junior wide receiver Rashad Greene – He is on pace to be the Seminoles’ leading receiver for the third straight season, and he certainly has the technique and speed to play at the next level. His lack of size (6-0, 180), however, would probably prevent him from being drafted too high, which could lead him to return in 2014.
• Junior tight end Nick O’Leary – The talented pass-catcher is enjoying his best season yet, thanks in part to freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. He had a three-touchdown game at Pitt, and he caught five passes for 161 yards against Clemson. O’Leary also has greatly improved as a blocker. He certainly will warrant major NFL attention if he tests the NFL waters, but the fact that his family has no need for money could weigh in the Seminoles’ favor.
• Sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin – Although he has two years of eligibility remaining, Benjamin will be very tempted to leave early.He is old for his class (Benjamin will turn 23 in February), and his combination of size and speed undoubtedly will attract NFL scouts. The 6-5, 234-pounder also is a very good blocker, has improved his consistency and already has turned in several highlight-reel touchdown receptions.