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FSU, Linebackers and Recruiting: A Look at the Potential LB Board for the Noles

Five games into the 2020 season, Florida State’s defense has shown a need for athletic, rangy linebackers that are comfortable both filling gaps as well as dropping into coverage. Branden Jennings’ decommitment means Mike Norvell and his staff have to go back to the board to evaluate recruits to help lift the talent at linebacker. In this article, we take a look at where FSU can go from here.

The Branden Jennings decommitent came as a surprise to Florida State, and it leaves a hole in terms of getting an immediate contributor at linebacker in the 2021 class. There are some young pieces in Stephen Dix Jr. and D.J. Lundy, but FSU has to find players this cycle with the ability to come in and help right away.

FSU has two current linebacker commitments in Guyer (TX) athlete Jordan Eubanks and longtime commitment Dequaveon Fuller from Lehigh, FL. While this year doesn’t count towards player’s eligibility, you have to expect there to be some changes at linebacker next season. That’s why FSU needs to bring in two, maybe three, more linebackers this class.

Let’s take a look at what’s out there, realistically, for FSU. While it would be great flipping a Terrence Lewis or getting a Xavian Sorey, it’s not going to happen. FSU is going to have to look at all levels and more than likely hit the JUCO and transfer portal ranks hard.

High School:

2021 isn’t a great year for linebackers, and there aren’t a lot of uncommitted prospects out there at this time. FSU will need to look to flip guys once visits are allowed – this isn’t a small task. This staff can evaluate with the best of them – which is good with the lack of in-person evals this cycle will have. Looking at the states looking to emerge as the focus of this staff, we will look at Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

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Florida:

  • Patrick Payton – 6’5” 205, Miami – Northwestern, Committed to Nebraska: Over the past 6 weeks FSU has emerged as one of the teams working hard to flip Payton. He’s arguably the best high school target on the board for FSU, which means he’ll be a primary target moving forward.
  • Sam Ofurie – 6’1” 240, IMG Academy, Uncommitted: Ofurie is originally from Salem, MA, and he has offers from Syracuse, Michigan, Boston College, and Wisconsin. He’s an inside linebacker who enjoys contact.
  • Ja’Corey Hammett – 6’3” 205, Miami – Northwestern, Committed to West Virginia: When Northwestern has handfuls of high level recruits like they do this year, it’s often the lower rated players that emerge in college. Hammett is an intriguing athlete at linebacker with the ability to get after the passer. He had 11 sacks last year.
  • Gavin Barthiel – 6’2” 205, Lakeland – Lake Gibson, Committed to Georgia Tech: Over at UnconqueredTalk, our recruit rankings think highly of Gavin. He has 31 offers, and he is one of the best in Florida this year.
  • Zachary Lovett – 6’2” 210, Rockledge, Committed to Missouri: Lovett made an unofficial visit to FSU in March before the pandemic hit. An offer from FSU would more than likely put FSU in the game. As a junior Lovett had 93 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks. 
  • Deshawn Alleyne – 6’ 210, Port Saint Lucie – St. Lucie West Centennial, Uncommitted: Alleyne is severely under the radar, and he is another linebacker we like at UnconqueredTalk. He has some high major offers, and is also a standout wrestler. Last year he had 127 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks. 
  • Isaiah Finnnie – 6’1” 205, Hollywood – McArthur, Committed to Marshall – Finnie is one of those sleeper recruits that leaves Florida and ends up an NFL draft pick. Plays well in space and comes up and pops the ball carrier. 

Georgia:

  • Martez Thrower – 6’1” 210, Rochelle- Wilcox County, Committed to Kentucky: I’m a big fan of Mark Stoops defense, as you know he’s going to find linebackers that can move and get after it.
  • Trevin Wallace – 6’2” 225, Jessup – Wayne County, Committed to Boston College: Wallace is a big kid that can RUN. He plays running back, receiver, lines up against the slot on defense, can rush the passer, and comes with purpose. He’s exactly what FSU is looking for. 
  • Ese Dubre – 6’2” 220, Powder Springs – McEachern, Uncommitted: Dubre is similar to current FSU linebacker D.J. Lundy. He placed 4th at the state wrestling tournament last year, and he is a physical presence. 
  • Jaylin Alderman – 6’1” 215, Valdosta, Committed to Louisville: Whenever possible you want recruits from Valdosta. They are hard-nosed, gritty players. Jaylin triggers really well, doesn’t take any false steps, and fills holes quickly. 

Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee:

  • Kolbe Cage – 6’ 205, New Orleans – Holy Cross, Committed to Arizona: Cage is someone I’ve liked for a while. He’s a swiss army knife that can play all over the field. Like current commitment Eubanks, Cage is a linebacker with defensive back skills.
  • Kolbe Fields – 6’1” 205, Metairie – Archbishop Rummel, Committed to Memphis: Memphis has two of the most athletic linebackers from Louisiana committed to their class. Fields was a MaxPreps first team All-State player last year, and he has played all three spots at linebacker in high school. He’s an outside linebacker in college with both coverage and pass rush ability. 
  • Dalton Hughes – 6’4 205, Tupelo, Committed to South Alabama: Hughes is worth a look due to what he’s shown on film – always in the right place, really explosive off the edge as a pass rusher, uses his hands really well getting off the blocks and he just makes plays.
  • Damon Owens – 6’1 203, Brentwood – Ravenwood, Uncommitted: Owens has eight offers, all from P5 schools. Owens is good at moving in tight spaces, and moves sideline to sideline really quickly. 

The JUCO ranks have a few linebackers that FSU may pursue, and the transfer portal will more than likely be much different than it is now after the season.  Here’s where FSU can start.

JUCO and Portal:

  • Navonteque Strong – 6’1 230, Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, Committed to Mississippi State: FSU recently offered Strong. Originally from Forest, MS, Strong is one of the best JUCO linebackers in the country. He’s coming off a season where he had 104 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Strong is the immediate help FSU will be looking for. 
  • DeShawn Page – 6’2” 215, E. Mississippi CC, Committed to Texas Tech: Page originally signed with Marshall coming out of high school. In 2018 he was the 5A Mr. Football in Tennessee. 
  • Joko Willis – 6’3” 215, Independence CC, Committed to Kentucky: Originally from Legrange, GA, Willis is another immediate contributor at FSU. As I said earlier, Stoops recruits linebackers very well; Willis is in the Telvin Smith mold. Long, athletic, and fast.
  • Jaquan Yulee – 6’1” 248, In Transfer Portal from Marshall: Former 4-star linebacker from Chesapeake, VA. Yulee has in-game experience at the college level.
  • Osman Savage – 6’2” 225, In Transfer Portal from Michigan: Another former 4-star linebacker looking for a new start. The Baltimore, MD native will have a lot of suitors and playing time is key for his next stop.
  • Andrew Johnson – 6’2” 222, In Transfer Portal from Oregon: Johnson is from Tifton, GA. FSU can sell closeness to home with a shot at competing for early playing time. 
  • Chinedu Ogbonna – 6’2” 225, In Transfer Portal from UMass: The Marietta, GA native is a third year player that will more than likely play immediately at his next stop. He’s amassed 112 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks in his time at UMass.

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