Heading into the upcoming 2014 College Football season, there is a lot of hype surrounding the reigning National Champions. Of course, it all begins with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who everyone in Tallahassee is praying can keep his head on straight and stay out of trouble for even a couple of months. Assuming he does, this Florida State team is loaded with talent at every position on the field.
The defense this year features two of the best cornerbacks in the league in Ronald Darby along withdefensive pre-season all ACC selection P.J. Williams. Anchoring that secondary is returning safety Jalen Ramsey, and Tyler Hunter who everyone is getting excited to see after he started the season last year but had to miss the last 11 games due to a neck injury. The D-Line and LB’s for Florida State are no less intimidating, as FSU is bringing back DE Mario Edwards who also is a pre-season all ACC selection, LB Terrence Smith, DT Eddie Goldman, and LB Matthew Thomas who’s season was also cut short due to an injury last year. Factor in the list of impressive names not mentioned and the highly praised incoming freshman, it seems as if the Florida State defense will pick up right where it left off last year.
Florida State’s offense will be no less of a nightmare to defenses than it was last year, as Florida State has 6 (!) offensive pre-season all ACC selections including QB Jameis Winston, his favorite target WR Rashad Greene, TE Nick O’Leary, last years breakout running back Karlos Williams, and two linemen in T Cameron Erving and G Tre’ Jackson. Seriously, is there a weakness on this team?
I would point to the question marks surrounding the wide receiving core besides Rashad Greene. Two of the Seminoles top three receivers from last year are no longer on the team as Kelvin Benjamin was picked in the 1st round of the NFL draft and Kenny Shaw has graduated. It is a great thing that Greene is here for another year because if he weren’t returning, the wide receivers would be an area of concern for the Seminoles. Not because there isn’t an immense amount of wide receiver talent on the Seminoles roster, but because every option has very limited playing experience in the NCAA. There are two seniors who have high hopes for this year, Jarred ‘Scooter’ Haggins and Christian Green. Haggins has been riddled with injuries and was forced to miss the entire 2013 season due a kneecap fracture that occurred last summer. Now healthy, Haggins is looking to prove that he can become a key contributor and has been praised by coach Jimbo Fisher so far this summer to make him say, “Scooter to me is running better than he ever has, he played a lot of ball before he got hurt. You feel good there.” However, even with this high praise from the coach, Christian Green might be the more promising of the two, considering that Green played every game last year and has been a contributor on the field every year since he has been at Florida State. Simply put, Green is due for a breakout season, and with his knowledge of the offense and playbook from playing for years, he has an advantage over most of the competing wide receivers.
Time to talk about Kermit and the other sophomores looking to impress. The now sophomore Kermit Whitfield, famously returned a kickoff 100 yards in the BCS Championship game last year with five minutes left, in which he showed off the amazing speed that he possesses. Although Kermit is only 5’7”, he has the ability to be a key playmaker on offense if he and the coaching staff can utilize his abilities, which could be as easy as throwing him a few screen passes to the weak side. Another sophomore with the ability to make an impact is 6’4”, 200lb Isaiah Jones. Isaiah is a prototypical perimeter receiver, he attacks the ball in the air and once the ball is in his hands he is a handful to get to the ground. He had a few receptions last year but also missed the 2nd half of the season with a foot injury. Sophomore receiver Jesus Wilson had a great chance to vie for a spot in the receiving rotation, but unfortunately got arrested two weeks ago and has since been suspended indefinitely.
Now we get to the wild cards. Florida State recruited three dominant wide receivers based on their high school resume, and will look for them to help catch some of Jameis’ passes. Incoming freshman Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane were both ranked as top 5 WR recruits in the nation last year, and based off of their performances at the 2014 Under Armour All-American game, they should be fun to watch for the coming years. Travis Rudolph is sort of the same mold as Rashad Greene, a very quick, agile, slot-sized receiver who looks like a running back once he gets the ball in his hands. He has the skill set to become an instant factor from day one, but based on the similarity between him and Greene, I don’t expect him to make an enormous impact this year. Ermon Lane is an interesting prospect. He’s a big receiver and uses his size to fend off defenders very well.With the ball in his hands, Lane likes to be physical because of his size advantage, but also takes advantage of defenders who overcompensate for his size by being unorthodoxly elusive for his size. He is a player that I can see making an impact simply because he is another perimeter receiver, who can free up Rashad Greene in the slot by being a constant threat to make a catch downfield and take it to the house. The third freshman receiver may actually have the highest ceiling out of these three, despite not being as highly recruited as Lane and Rudolph.
His name is Ja’Von Harrison and he is an athletic freak. He played receiver and cornerback in high school, and his agility leaps right at you whenever you watch him play. He can jump over someone for a lobbed ball, he has the vision to flip the field with the ball, and can just as easily juke you sideways, as he can go through you. The only real knock on Ja’Von is that he doesn’t have elite, breakaway speed, which is an issue, but he certainly isn’t slow. It becomes increasingly obvious that the wide receiver position at Florida State will be taken care of for the next couple years with these three freshmen, but it remains to be seen which one can translate directly to the college level and make an impact right away.
So, who will step up and seize the number two and three receiver spots for the Seminoles? As much as I like every one of the incoming freshman receivers, it is hard and almost unfair to expect one of them to become a playmaker for the offense right from the start. Hopefully one can step up after they spend some time learning and become familiar with the offense, and can make an impact mid-season. I am led to believe this is Travis Rudolph based off of his explosive playmaking ability, but I wouldn’t bank on it. To me, the two most likely people of this list to make the most impact this season are senior Christian Green, and sophomore Isaiah Jones. These two players are already familiar with the playbook, which will be invaluable with a quarterback like Jameis Winston who picks apart a defense with timing and accuracy. They both have the most experience playing at a college level, and couple that with the fact that they can both play on the outside of the field, I expect to be seeing a lot of Isaiah Jones and Christian Green this season.