Florida State University

Grading the Florida State Seminoles entering 2018 season

Florida State running back Cam Akers (3) carries past Southern Mississippi linebacker Darian Yancey (22) in the first half of the Independence Bowl NCAA college football game in Shreveport, La., Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017.
Florida State running back Cam Akers (3) carries past Southern Mississippi linebacker Darian Yancey (22) in the first half of the Independence Bowl NCAA college football game in Shreveport, La., Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. AP

A position-by-position breakdown of the Florida State Seminoles football team ahead of the 2018 season.

Quarterback | B+

James Blackmon (6-5, 180) stepped into the starting role when Deondre Francois (6-1, 210) went down with a season-ending injury against Alabama and finished third in the country among freshmen in passing yards (2,230), tossing 19 touchdowns and completing 58.2 percent of his passes against 11 interceptions. New coach Willie Taggart went through fall camp without making a decision on the starting job, letting Blackmon, Francois and redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman (6-2, 200) battle it out leading up to the season opener. No matter who wins the job, FSU’s offense will play a lot faster and spread defenses out under Taggart, who went 6-1 and whose offense at Oregon last season averaged 52 points a game when starter Justin Herbert was healthy.

Running back | A

Cam Akers (5-11, 212) broke Dalvin Cook’s freshman rushing record at FSU last season with 1,024 yards and seven touchdowns on 194 carries. Senior Jacques Patrick (6-3, 233) is rated the eighth-best draft eligible running back in the country according to CBS Sports. That’s as solid a 1-2 punch in college football as there is. The depth behind them is provided by speedy junior Amir Rasul (5-11, 206) and talented redshirt freshmen Khalan Laborn (5-11, 205) and Zaquandre White (6-0, 210).

Receivers | B

Senior Nyqwan Murray (5-11, 192) led FSU is receiving last season with 40 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns. If juniors Keith Gavin (6-3, 217) and George Campbell (6-4, 207) can step up their level of play and live up to their expectations this coming season this unit could be a lot better. Campbell, a five star recruit, has just nine career catches for 164 yards in his career and Gavin, a four-star recruit, had 27 catches for 278 yards in 2017. Talented redshirt freshman Tamorrion Terry (6-4, 197) could be a breakout star.

Tight tends | C+

After basically phasing out the tight end position once Nick O’Leary walked out the door in 2014, Taggart is expected to give sophomore Tre’ McKitty (6-5, 245) a lot more work than he got last season (1 catch, 23 yards). Junior Naseir Upshur (6-2, 235) was a four-star recruit and has yet to make a catch in college. There’s more inexperienced depth behind them, but players who were highly touted coming out of high school.

Offensive line | B

Fifth-year seniors Alec Eberle (6-4, 295) and Derrick Kelly II (6-5, 320) are among four returning starters back, but there’s not much beyond that. Eberle has made 32 consecutive starts at center dating back to the 2015 season and Kelly has made 19 career starts and will begin the season at left guard. Redshirt junior Cole Minshew (6-5, 329) has made 16 career starts and enters his second year as a starter at right guard. Redshirt sophomore Landon Dickerson (6-6, 308) has started a combined 11 games each of the last two seasons at left guard before ACL and ankle injuries in his right leg ended both of his first two seasons with the team. He’s been moved to right tackle. Starting left tackle Jauan Williams, a 6-7, 295-pound redshirt sophomore, has never played a down.

Defensive line | A-

Defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins is the only coach on the staff who isn’t new. He’s got one of the nation’s best to work with in senior DeMarcus Christmas (6-4, 308), who is rated the 10th best defensive tackle draft eligible prospects in the country by CBS. Sophomore Marvin Wilson (6-5, 317) is coming back from a torn MCL in his left knee in the spring, but will form a nasty combination up front with Christmas once he’s fully healthy. At defensive end, junior Brian Burns (6-5, 235) is rated the third-best draft-eligible defensive end in the country. He’s racked up 14 sacks his first two seasons at FSU and has plenty of talent beside him in Josh Kaindoh (6-7, 256), redshirt junior Walvenski Aimer (6-5, 270) and Janarius Robinson (6-5, 259).

Linebackers | C+

Three starters are gone and this is clearly the area of most concern for FSU entering the season. Junior middle linebacker Dontavious Jackson (6-3, 228) has the most experience on the team with three career starts and 37 tackles. Redshirt junior Adonis Thomas (6-4, 233) made two starts last season, has 12 career tackles and is expected to start at strongside linebacker. Five-star freshman safety Jaiden Woodbey (6-3, 215) and redshirt freshman linebacker DeCalon Brooks (5-10, 211) have been running with the first team at the Star position.

Defensive backs | B+

The Seminoles might take a step back in the secondary after losing All-American safety Derwin James (17th overall pick) and All-ACC second team cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, who left school early and went undrafted before signing with the San Francisco 49ers. Junior cornerback Levonta Taylor (5-10, 181) still provides star power (according to Pro Football Focus he spent 398 snaps in coverage a season ago and only allowed an NCAA-best 13 receptions). Junior Kyle Meyers (6-0, 175) has played plenty in his first two years in the slot and now takes on a bigger role. At safety, senior A.J. Westbrook (6-0, 190) returns after starting five games in 2017 and compiling 40 tackles and seven pass breakups. Sophomore Stanford Samuels (6-2, 182) played quite a bit of corner last season, but is now at field safety mostly.

Special Teams | A

Junior Ricky Aguayo was 18 of 21 on field goals and made a long of 51 yards last season, earning himself a spot on the Groza Award preseason watch list. Punter Logan Tyler finished fourth in the ACC in punting with an average of 43.2 yards per punt as a sophomore, but often out-kicked his coverage. Sophomore D.J. Matthews (5-10, 150) showed flashes as a punt returner with 138 yards worth of returns on five punts versus Delaware State. Rasul and Laborn will handle kickoffs.

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