2017 Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Florida State had to say goodbye to one of its most productive players this offseason when DeMarcus Walker departed for the NFL. Walker racked up 26.5 sacks between his junior and senior seasons and was a leader both on and off the field. While the Seminoles will certainly miss his disruptive presence along the defensive line, they have a number of talented players who are more than capable of picking up the slack.

The conversation along the defensive line starts nowhere else than with the return of defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (senior). The former blue-chip recruit could have jumped to the NFL, but he decided to return to Florida State for one more season. At 6-1, 312-pounds, Nnadi is a monster of a man. He is nearly impossible to move and has developed as a pass rusher throughout his career. When he’s healthy, he’s among the best players in the nation. Nnadi’s return is huge for Florida State’s hopes at returning to the national title conversation.

Nnadi’s partner in crime at defensive tackle also returns in Demarcus Christmas (redshirt junior). Christmas is slightly bigger at 6-4, 308-pounds and is a great player in his own right. He doesn’t get the same publicity as some other names on FSU’s defense, but Christmas has been a solid starter for the Seminoles throughout his time in Tallahassee. The pair of Christmas and Nnadi should give the Seminoles the best tandem of defensive tackles in the ACC, if not the nation.

Florida State has a literal army of bodies at defensive tackle behind Nnadi and Christmas. The two primary backups are Walvenski Aime (junior) and Fred Jones (redshirt junior). Aime and Jones played quite a bit last year, and both would start for a majority of teams around the country. This season should see them in similar roles as Florida State prepares them for starting jobs in 2018.

Other names at defensive tackle include Arthur Williams (redshirt junior), Darvin Taylor (redshirt sophomore) and Cedric Wood (redshirt freshman). This summer, Florida State will welcome Top-10 recruit Marvin Wilson (freshman) to campus as well as fellow blue-chip players in Ja’len Parks (freshman) and Cory Durden (freshman).

At defensive end, Josh Sweat (junior) returns for his third, and likely last, year in Tallahassee. The former five-star recruit has begun to show flashes of his pre-injury form, most notably with impressive performances versus Florida and Michigan to close out the season. At 6-5, 250-pounds with room for more weight, Sweat will be a vital part of Florida State’s defensive line this year. Expect him to move around quite a bit, playing everything from the BUCK position to the strong-side defensive end role.

We would be remiss if we did not discuss Brian Burns (sophomore) next. Another former five-star recruit (It seems like we’re repeating that a lot, huh?), Burns burst onto the scene as a freshman with 9.5 sacks, the most in the nation among true freshmen. Listed at 6-5, 218-pounds, Burns has the frame to add 20-30 more pounds. If he can add some good weight this offseason, his role in the defense will be increased.

Two players that could play big roles this year are Janarius Robinson (redshirt freshman) and Keith Bryant (redshirt senior). Robinson redshirted last year due to injury, but has the frame to play major snaps at the strong-side end position. Bryant has been on-and-off injured throughout his career, but has the size at 6-2, 274-pounds that we know Florida State likes at the strong-side end position. Just look back at what DeMarcus Walker and Giorgio Newberry accomplished over the past two years to see the kind of impact Bryant could make, if healthy. Adam Torres (redshirt junior) and Jalen Wilkerson (redshirt sophomore) will likely be reserve players.

Florida State landed a major commitment when they signed Joshua Kaindoh (freshman), a 6-5, 250-pound freak of an athlete who is already on campus. Kaindoh was a Top-10 recruit and has the potential to make an immediate impact as a true freshman. Look for him to push for starting snaps if not this spring, then by the time fall camp rolls around. They also signed Tre Lawson (freshman) who will enroll this summer.

The amount of talent along Florida State’s defensive line is insane. The return of Derrick Nnadi is beyond huge and gives the Seminoles perhaps the best 1-2 punch at defensive tackle in the nation. Combined with a rotation of Sweat, Burns, Kaindoh and Bryant at defensive end, the possibilities are endless for this unit. We didn’t even talk about Derwin James or Matthew Thomas kicking down as pass rushers in third down situations either!

Dakota Moyer

Florida State student and writer for NoleGameday.

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