The Case for Deondre Francois

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In a year where Florida State struggled at the quarterback position, Jimbo Fisher’s most talented quarterback was sitting on the sidelines.

Like many true freshman quarterbacks in Jimbo Fisher’s offense, Deondre Francois redshirted in his first year on campus. It wasn’t a surprising move, seeing as he was not an early enrollee and Florida State already had Everett Golson and Sean Maguire as veteran options. However, as quarterback problems plagued the offense as the season moved on, the cries for Francois became more pronounced.

But Jimbo Fisher does not deviate from his plan that often and Francois was relegated to scout team duties. Even in the Peach Bowl, when Maguire fractured his ankle and J.J. Consentino was struggling, Fisher was ready to send out walk-on Lucas Clark rather than burn Francois’ redshirt.

Now is his time, though.

A redshirt freshman, Francois was a four-star recruit from the 2015 class. He impressed at the Under Armour All-American Game in St. Petersburg, Florida and stuck with his commitment to Florida State despite a late push from the Florida Gators. Coming out of high school, it was widely known that Francois had a cannon for an arm and dual-threat abilities, but his accuracy and touch were his main issues.

With a year under the tutelage of Jimbo Fisher, how well has Francois improved?

And is he ready to lead this team to the playoffs?

It was a telling sign when Francois took over first team reps in spring practice.

Around a week into spring ball, Francois overtook Consentino for first team reps. This move was not a surprise, seeing as Consentino has largely struggled during his tenure at Florida State. Until the end of spring, Francois worked exclusively with the first team offense and took the majority of the snaps for the Gold team in the spring game.

It is clear at the moment that Francois is perhaps the most talented option available at quarterback. His arm strength is obviously one of his biggest assets, and the young quarterback has a cannon for an arm. Coming out of high school, he could throw the ball harder and with more velocity than many of his fellow quarterback recruits in the all-star camp cycle.

Francois put that on full display in the spring game. From the first snap, it was obvious that he had the arm strength to make all the throws required from Fisher’s offense. Francois showed this on his first touchdown to Auden Tate, perfectly lofting the ball over the defensive back for a long score. He connected with Izzo earlier in the game for a first down where he threaded the needle between a couple of defenders. If that throw is a half a tick slower, linebacker Josh Brown might intercept it. Even on the balls that were off-target, Francois showed that he has perhaps the strongest arm on the roster.

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Another aspect of his game that he displayed in the spring game was his legs. A dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school, Francois showed that he is capable of tucking the ball and picking up a first down on the ground. He had a couple of long gains in the game, including a 25-yard run where he showed some elusiveness. Francois has also bulked up to 215 lbs., meaning he’s more suited to take the hits that come with being a running quarterback. Obviously, the quarterback run is not a huge part of Fisher’s offense, but it is a great sign that Francois is comfortable with running the ball.

Francois also showed a connection with wide receiver Auden Tate, which is an encouraging sign moving forward. The two connected six times for 100 yards and two touchdowns. With Florida State desperately needing a bigger wide receiver to step up, Francois’ connection with Tate could be a benefit moving forward. On his second touchdown to Tate, Francois perfectly placed the ball where only Tate could get it, away from 6-2 cornerback Tarvarus McFadden.

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It is obvious that the redshirt year helped Francois immensely. He bulked up and has improved upon his accuracy as well. These are all positive signs for a player that is expected to push Sean Maguire for the starting job come fall camp.

While Francois showed impressive traits in the spring game, he also showed some freshman mistakes.

He committed three turnovers in the game: two interceptions and a fumble. On the first one, he threw the ball behind Ryan Izzo in the end zone, which allowed Nate Andrews to make a play on it. This throw needs to be more out in front of Izzo to allow him to get his hands on it. The second one was the ugly one. Francois failed to see Ro’Derrick Hoskins in coverage and threw it right into his chest. While the fumble was overturned by head-coach-turned-referee Jimbo Fisher, it highlighted some ball security issues. Working on limiting these turnovers will be a big factor heading into fall camp for Francois.

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Francois also showed that, while his accuracy has improved, he still needs to work on his touch. The first interception to Izzo is a ball needs to be thrown more in front of the tight end. He also overshot his targets on occasions. Francois has all the arm talent in the world, but still needs to reel it back on occasion. We know Francois can throw the ball all over the field, but how well can he put the ball just out of reach of a linebacker or defensive back in coverage?

The talent is there, but Fisher will have to deal with some freshman mistakes moving forward. Does Francois push the ball downfield and make enough big plays to overcome the turnovers is the question coach Fisher will have to answer.

If there’s one quarterback on the roster that has a real shot of challenging Maguire for the job, it’s Deondre Francois.

While he might not have the prototypical size for a Jimbo Fisher-quarterback, he has all the arm talent in the world and established himself as the No. 1 quarterback in spring practice (albeit a spring practice without Maguire). He is a competitor and became a leader for this team during spring drills. The upside for Francois is immense, but Jimbo Fisher will have to decide whether he can live with the freshman mistakes that Francois will make.

Despite the “freshman” tag, choosing Francois does not mean that Fisher is building for the future. Francois is ready to win now.

And with this team ready to compete for another college football playoff berth, Francois might be the best option.

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