Florida State University

Grading the Florida State Seminoles entering 2016 season

FSU running back Dalvin Cook
FSU running back Dalvin Cook adiaz@miamiherald.com

Quarterback | B-

Deondre Francois will start Week 1 having never played a down of college football. Coach Jimbo Fisher knows what he will get out of senior Sean Maguire, and it isn’t anything spectacular. Francois is an unknown commodity. He has a great arm and plenty of confidence. The former No. 1-ranked dual-threat QB from IMG Academy played well in the spring game, completing 20 of 33 passes for 246 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. It could be that Fisher and the Seminoles caught a lucky break. It wasn’t long ago that another redshirt freshman — Jameis Winston — took the reins of the Noles’ offense and carried FSU to the 2013 national title.

Running Back | A+

Regardless of who starts under center for FSU, their primary job will be to hand the ball off to Miami Central product Dalvin Cook. He racked up 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns, while averaging a staggering 7.4 yards per rush, despite battling a hamstring injury in 2015. Those numbers will get even better in 2016 and propel him as a Heisman front-runner if the offensive line improves. Sophomore Jacques Patrick provides a nice change of pace to the Seminoles’ rushing attack bulldozing through defenses with his 6-2, 231-pound frame. He ran for 163 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse starting for an injured Cook.

Wide Receiver | B

FSU coaches thought they recruited well at this position, so the lackluster production has been a head-scratcher. The entire receiving corps from last year is back, led by junior Travis Rudolph as well as seniors Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield, but they have got to be more dangerous downfield. Their experience will ease Deondre Francois into the game. The receiving corps lacks a game-changing playmaker, but collectively it should have a larger impact on the game this season. Sophomores Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate emerged as potential weapons this spring. Look out for the 6-5, 225-pound Tate when FSU gets in the red zone.

Tight Ends | C

The tight end position disappeared in 2015, recording only 21 receptions. Blocking became the primary emphasis in an effort to bolster a struggling offensive line. Ryan Izzo can knock people around but never came close to the impact Nick O’Leary had in the passing game. The offense missed a big target that could find space in the middle of the field, and that could be 6-5, 257-pound redshirt sophomore Mavin Saunders if he can improve his understanding of the game. Saunders started playing football his junior year of high school and looked lost on the field at times last season.

Offensive line | C+

The offensive line should improve with everyone back again this season. The starting five seems to be set except for right tackle. Junior Roderick Johnson will again anchor the line at left tackle, with Kareem Are at left guard, Alec Eberle at center, Wilson Bell at right guard and Brock Ruble has been slated at right tacklel. Size and depth aren’t a problem. The average size of the starters is 6-6 and 314 pounds, and the Noles carry 19 linemen on scholarship, including six members of what was considered the best offensive line recruiting class in the nation in 2015.

Defensive Line | A

Senior DeMarcus Walker had a breakout year in 2015 totaling  10 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles. He is back again this year along with sophomore standout Josh Sweat, who has looked great coming off a serious knee injury. Sweat was once the No. 1 overall recruit before the injury. Now fully healthy, opposing quarterbacks might lose sleep worrying what his potential could be. The interior line returns Derrick Nnadi at nose guard, and Demarcus Christmas will replace Nile Lawrence-Stample at defensive tackle. Junior college transfer Wally Aime has drawn rave reviews in camp for his versatility along the line. Although the starting line is formidable, it does lack depth, meaning injuries could cause this unit trouble.

Linebackers | B-

This could be the year Matthew Thomas finally lives up to the hype. The former Booker T. Washington standout was a five-star recruit but missed all of last season after he was declared academically ineligible and battled through shoulder injuries earlier in his career. He could solidify FSU’s defense if he is able to stay on the field. If not, lack of depth will again be an issue at linebacker. Ro’Derrick Hoskins had 52 tackles last season and is the only returning linebacker with experience. Jacob Pugh, who had 32 tackles and three sacks in 2015, will see time at defensive end and linebacker.

Defensive backs | A

The secondary has been a revolving door of NFL talent, and there is more to come. Safety Derwin James is only a sophomore, and he is already receiving praise as one of the best defenders in the country after racking up 91 tackles,  9 1/2 tackles for loss,  4 1/2 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as a freshman. Nate Andrews, Marquez White and Trey Marshall are all returning to form, which means FSU could again have one of the best secondaries in the country. The only question mark is who starts at corner opposite White. The competition is between former five-star prospect Tarvarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis.

Special Teams | C

Roberto Aguayo, one of the most accurate kickers in NCAA history, is gone, but there is another Aguayo ready to fill his shoes. Freshman Ricky Aguayo, Roberto’s younger brother, comes to FSU as the No. 4-ranked kicker in the country. Another freshman, Logan Tyler, has a big leg and will take over punting. There will be some growing pains with a couple of freshman legs. Speedster Kermit Whitfield will return kicks again, but keep an eye on freshman Levonta Taylor on special teams. He was rated the No. 1 corner in the country, but his speed and playmaking can impact the Noles’ return game.