Fall Camp 2017: `Noles to field elite defensive line

Florida State is projected to have one of the top defensive units in all of college football during the 2017-18 season. The Seminoles return star defensive back Derwin James, along with a host of talented defensive backs. The `Noles also have the most depth, talent, and experience at linebacker since the 2013 season. FSU is also projected to return a very good group at defensive line, in fact, they could field the top defensive line in the entire country.

In 2016, FSU finished the year by averaging the most sacks in college football. The `Noles recorded 3.92 sacks per game and had 51 sacks overall. One of the most important defensive leaders and the top pass rusher on the team in DeMarcus Walker is gone after he graduated and was drafted by the Denver Broncos. 41.5 of the `Noles 51 sacks in 2016 were made by members of the defensive line (45 if you count Jacob Pugh as a defensive end/hybrid). With Walker gone, FSU will still return 26.5 sacks among the members of their defensive line. In total, the `Noles return players who made 35 of the 51 sacks the defense recorded last season.

The Seminoles return three starters along the D-Line in 2017. Senior Derrick Nnadi and redshirt junior Demarcus Christmas are back to man the middle. Nnadi made 11 starts at nose guard last season while Christmas started every game at defensive tackle. Nnadi has made 24 starts for the `Noles over the last two seasons. Junior defensive end Josh Sweat is also back in the fold after he made 10 starts last year. Sweat came on as the year progressed.

Nnadi has been a rotational player for Florida State since his freshman season. The rising senior elected not to turn pro early after putting up 49 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks. He was consistent in helping plug up gaps on run plays while also making his mark by getting to the passer with an array of powerful moves. He was selected to the All-ACC First-Team by the coaches for his play. Christmas stepped into the starting role after spending his first two seasons as a key reserve. He finished his first season as a starter by recording 21 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 5 pass breakups. Christmas is much more of a presence inside than a pass rusher. He does a great job of taking on offensive linemen to stop them from creating gaps in the defense. Nnadi and Christmas should be one of the best defensive tackle duos in the nation during the 2017 season.

Sweat started the season slow and underwent surgery to remove a part of his meniscus after injuring it in practice prior to the game against Louisville. He would miss the game against the Cardinals as well as the following game against South Florida. Sweat went on to start 7 of the final 9 games and finished his sophomore season with 41 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks. He is now almost three years removed from a frightening knee injury that almost ended his college career before it started and has to be approaching full health 10 months removed from a meniscus procedure. Sweat will be one of the most dominant ends in college football if he can stay healthy.

The guy likely to start opposite of Sweat? Rising sophomore Brian Burns made a huge impact on the Seminoles pass rush last season. He finished 2016 with 24 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks. Burns finished with the most sacks of any freshman in the entire country. He was a familiar face on passing downs for an FSU team who had some of the most talented pass rushers in the nation. Burns is just 6’5” 220 lbs. so he’ll need to continue putting on good weight that won’t affect his speed. Despite his low weight for a defensive end, Burns is a ferocious pass rusher who isn’t easily bullied in the run game. The `Noles will likely need a bigger defensive end to spell him if the run does start to wear him down.

FSU boasts as much depth behind Nnadi, Christmas, Sweat, and Burns as any team in the entire country.

The Seminoles top reserves inside are juniors Fredrick Jones and Walvenski Aime. Jones made two starts last season in place of Nnadi at nose guard. He finished the season with 15 tackles and 1 tackle for loss. Despite his low amount of statistical production, Jones played well while spelling the starters as a reserve. He’s a decent pass rusher and holds his own against offensive linemen. Aime joined FSU out of JUCO and transitioned well to the next level. He recorded 17 tackles and 1 blocked extra point during his first season in garnet and gold. Aime is a capable backup who can contribute at defensive tackle or nose guard. He should be a key rotational piece as a junior. Florida State also has backups such as redshirt junior Arthur Williams, redshirt junior Adam Torres, and redshirt sophomore Darvin Taylor who have all showed potential at times. They could earn consistent snaps with solid camps.

Coach Haggins will also be boosting the interior of his defensive line with a stellar recruiting class. Redshirt freshman Cedric Wood isn’t a newcomer, but he did redshirt last season. The local Godby High School product showed up to camp in excellent shape last season but just had so much experience in front of him on the defensive front. The former four-star prospect may be ready to play after a year in the `Noles program, he showed flashes in the spring game. Florida State signed the top defensive tackle in the nation in Marvin Wilson and also signed four-star tackles Cory Durden and Ja’len Parks. Wilson projects to instantly compete for playing time in the Seminoles inside rotation and he has already impressed many players within the program. He has the talent, strength, and drive to make an impact from day one. Durden and Parks played together in high school at Newberry High School and showed off the potential to be solid players at the collegiate level. Parks could work himself into a backup role, but it seems more likely that both will redshirt during 2017 and spend a year in FSU’s strength & conditioning program.

The `Noles will play redshirt sophomore Jalen Wilkerson and redshirt freshman Janarius Robinson behind Sweat and Burns. Wilkerson was a tight end when he signed with FSU in 2015 but made the switch to defensive end last season. He’s had a year to adjust to the new position and should be ready to contribute. Robinson redshirted in 2016 after a shoulder injury. The thing that instantly jumps out with him is his body. Robinson looks like a player who is ready to contribute at the collegiate level physically. The main concerns were issues with his technique and he’s now had a year with coach Haggins to work on those deficiencies. Expect him to have some shining moments off the edge if he is healthy.

Florida State signed one of the top-ranked defensive ends in the 2017 class in five-star prospect Joshua Kaindoh. He’s another freshman along the defensive line that most are expecting to make an impact as a freshman. Physically, he’s ready to battle college offensive linemen at 6’7” 250 lbs. and he showed off some of that potential in the `Noles spring game. Kaindoh should be one of the subs behind Burns if he has a solid camp. FSU also signed three-star defensive end Tre Lawson. Lawson is a redshirt candidate who will contribute in practice and in the future.

After the Seminoles struggled on defense in 2016, it’s time to prove that they can turn it around. Potential doesn’t matter unless you go out and fulfill it. This defensive line is as talented as any and expect them to be the head of a top-10 FSU defense in 2017.

One Comment

  1. Donna Blanton

    July 31, 2017 at 12:03 AM

    Awesome Articles!!

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