Grading the FSU Seminoles: position by position

08/28/2014 2:00 PM

08/27/2014 11:36 PM

Herald correspondent Tim Linafelt grades the Florida State football team by position:

Quarterback

It’s a little hard to believe, but Jameis Winston is only a third-year sophomore. Winston, the reigning Heisman winner, became college football’s signature player in 2013 thanks to his eye-popping statistics (4,057 passing yards, 44 total touchdowns) and a highlight reel worthy of the gaudy numbers. He’ll be missing a few of his favorite targets from last year, but Winston has a habit of elevating those around him. Backup Sean Maguire, also a third-year sophomore, is a capable if unspectacular replacement. Grade: A+

Running Back

Here’s how loaded FSU’s roster is: The Seminoles return a running back who had more than 700 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last year despite spending much of the season as a third-stringer. That would be senior Karlos Williams, who will be entering his first year as a starter and only his second year playing the position. Williams had the benefit of learning on the job from veterans Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. Freeman and Wilder are both gone, which means Williams will have to bear a heavier load while also mentoring newcomers Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook. Grade: B.

Wide Receiver

Senior Rashad Greene is an All-American candidate who is set to claim several FSU career receiving records. Beyond Greene, though, the Seminoles have some questions to answer. The departed Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw accounted for about half of FSU’s receiving production last year, so there are holes to fill. Fifth-year seniors Jarred Haggins and Christian Green will be fighting off a strong challenge from a talented group of underclassmen. Sophomores Levonte Whitfield and Jesus Wilson and freshmen Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane have all received plenty of action in fall camp. Grade: B-

Tight end

Nick O’Leary became one of Winston’s go-to receivers over the course of last season. The Palm Beach Gardens native is back for his senior season and is a good bet to see even more targets while FSU sorts out its receiving corps. Blocking specialist Kevin Haplea also has returned to the team after missing last season with a knee injury. Grade: A.

Offensive line

Florida State features perhaps the nation’s best front five. The Seminoles return four starters from last year, all of whom garnered All-ACC honors. And the fifth, center Austin Barron, is a senior who has five games of starting experience. All-American left tackle Cameron Erving headlines the group. A former defensive tackle, Erving switched sides before the 2012 season and passed on potential millions in pro football to return for his senior year. Guards Tre’ Jackson and Josue Matias both project as high draft picks, too. And right tackle Bobby Hart can boost his stock in a big way with a strong senior campaign. Grade: A+

Defensive line

Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. might be one of the most dominant players in the country. At 6-3, 294 pounds, he’s more than a handful for opposing linemen, and he also has an unusual amount of speed and quickness for a man his size. Several around FSU credit Edwards’ performance in the BCS National Championship Game as a big reason the Seminoles came back to beat Auburn. Outside of Edwards, though, things are a little murky. FSU lost all-world defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to the NFL Draft, and while there are plenty of candidates to fill the void, asking anyone to step into Jernigan’s shoes is a tall order. Grade: B.

Linebackers

Fourth-year junior Terrance Smith was one of FSU’s pleasant surprises in 2013. As a first-year starter, Smith racked up 59 tackles and two sacks. He is the Seminoles’ top returning tackler. Much like Williams, he’ll need to provide veteran leadership for an inexperienced position group. E.J. Levenberry, Reggie Northrup and Markus Eligwe are all in line for action this season. Grade: B.

Defensive backs

Despite losing two key players from a pass defense that ranked first in the nation, Florida State’s 2014 secondary has a chance to be even better than the one that preceded it. In P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, FSU boasts perhaps college football’s finest cornerback duo. Sophomore Jalen Ramsey is a star in the making. He’ll be a do-everything player, moving between safety and cornerback as situations dictate. Sophomore safety Nate Andrews had the most interceptions (four) on the team that had the most in the country (26). And Tyler Hunter, a full-time starter in 2012, is back after a neck injury ended his 2013 season. With so much talent, expect FSU to field five- and six-DB sets more often than not. Grade: A+

Special teams

Roberto Aguayo converted a sterling 95.5 percent of his field goals (21 of 22) and was a perfect 94 for 94 on extra points on his way to earning the Lou Groza Award. Aguayo has a chance to become just the second two-time Groza winner and first since FSU’s Sebastian Janikowski did it in 1998 and ’99. Punting, however, has been a bit of an issue for the Seminoles. Junior Cason Beatty, a two-year starter, has struggled to find consistency and has sometimes put his coverage team in a bad spot. The good news for FSU, though, is that it punted so rarely in 2013 that Beatty’s 41.1 yards-per-punt average didn’t qualify for national leaderboards. If it had, he would have ranked outside of the top 50. Grade: B.

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