2016 Spring Preview: Defensive Tackles

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* = early enrollee ^ = junior college transfer Bold indicates a returning starter

UPDATE: On National Signing Day, four-star defensive tackle Shavar Manuel (#TBA) flipped his commitment from Florida to Florida State. Manuel was one of Florida’s highest rated recruits and will now bring his talent to Tallahassee. He has played defensive tackle for the last two seasons at IMG Academy in Bradenton, but was once rated a Top-10 prospect in the nation at defensive end. A storyline to watch for in 2016 is if Jimbo Fisher and the coaching staff keep him at defensive tackle or slide him outside to defensive end.

Throughout Jimbo Fisher’s tenure as head coach, Florida State has enjoyed a period of very good play from the interior of the defensive line. From Everett Dawkins and Amp McCloud to Timmy Jernigan and Eddie Goldman, the Seminoles have had many talented defensive tackles pass through the program in recent years. Next year, Florida State will have to replace three departing seniors. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Derrick Mitchell, and Giorgio Newberry were each key contributors along the interior of the defensive line and their presence will be missed going forward. Newberry especially had a fantastic season as both a defensive end/tackle and, after being invited to the NFL Combine, has a legitimate shot at being drafted. Not bad for a player who bounced around between positions through five years in college.

In 2016, Florida State has a good shot at continuing with elite play from the defensive tackles but to do so will require some players with limited snaps to step up.

Florida State will return a major contributor in junior Derrick Nnadi (#91). A four star recruit out of high school, Nnadi started all 13 games for Florida State last year at defensive tackle and racked up 45 tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks, the most among any defensive tackle on FSU’s roster. The only returning starter at defensive tackle, Nnadi is drawing early looks from NFL scouts and a jump to the pros would not be out of the question with a good junior season. He is easily the best defensive tackle on Florida State’s roster and will be the subject of many double teams in 2016 due to his elite strength and technique at the position.

Another key contributor returning is redshirt sophomore Demarcus Christmas (#90). Heading into spring, Christmas is expected to be the starter alongside Nnadi at defensive tackle. Christmas played in all 13 games last season, making one start versus Clemson, and totaled 19 tackles with 0.5 sacks. A four star recruit out of Bradenton (FL) Manatee, Christmas has great size at 6-4, 301 lbs. and could have a breakout year in 2016.

After Nnadi and Christmas, Florida State has a bunch of unproven underclassmen that will be called upon to play major snaps in 2016. Redshirt sophomore Fred Jones (#55) was only a three star recruit from the 2014 and a player that many considered to be a shoe-in to the class due to the fact that his uncle is Seminole legend Marvin Jones. However, Jones played in 10 games this season and flashed some potential after totaling eight tackles and a sack in limited duty. If Jones continues developing over the summer, he has a great shot to be the first man up at defensive tackle after Nnadi and Christmas.

Fellow redshirt sophomores Arthur Williams (#12) and Adam Torres (#67) are also expected to contribute in 2016, although neither has played much in their two years on campus. Williams played in nine games in 2015, but only made two tackles, and Torres has yet to see the field. Darvin Taylor II (#86) redshirted last season as a true freshman, but will definitely be a part of the competition for backup duties.

Also returning are redshirt senior Justin Shanks (#92) and redshirt junior Keith Bryant (#95). While both came to FSU as highly-rated recruits, neither have lived up to their initial billing and have fallen on the depth chart. Bryant only played in two games in 2015 and Shanks failed to see the field. With so much young talent on the roster, it is likely that both will continue to ride the bench moving forward.

Florida State currently has two defensive tackles committed, both of which are early enrollees and already on campus. Junior college transfer Walvenski Aime (#TBA) has perhaps the best size out of any defensive lineman on the roster at 6-5, 295 lbs. and has the potential to play major snaps in 2016. Getting him in for spring is huge and it’s possible that he will compete with Demarcus Christmas for a starting job this summer. Also enrolled is Cedric Wood (#TBA) who hails from Tallahassee Godby, right down the road from Florida State and the same high school that current FSU linebacker Jacob Pugh attended. Wood will enter a very stacked defensive tackle competition, but you can never count out a freshman that arrives on campus early.

Florida State will be in a good place if Nnadi, Christmas, and a couple other players form a solid rotation. Junior college transfer Walvenski Aime is an intriguing name moving forward, as he has college-ready size and perhaps the highest ceiling out of any lineman on the roster. While there might not be a truly elite player on this line like there was in years past, the depth is very good and encouraging as the Noles head into 2016.

Dakota Moyer

Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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