Assessing Florida State's Defensive Line Depth And A Look At How It Happened

Year Player
Redshirt Senior Markus White
Redshirt Junior Jamar Jackson
Junior Moses McCray (done for year w/ ACL injury)
Redshirt Sophomore

Toshmon Stevens, Everett Dawkins, Anthony "Amp" McCloud


Brandon Jenkins, Jacobbi McDaniel

Redshirt Freshman

Dan Hicks, Demonte McAllister

True freshman

Darius Cummings, Bjoern Werner, Cam Erving

With yesterday's news that reserve defensive tackle Moses McCray will miss the season with a torn ACL, it is time to take a look at FSU's defensive line situation.  I've covered this topic before but didn't have a chart that shows what I wanted to show today, so there are new charts.  First up is a breakdown of the defensive line by year. 

The chart at right shows Florida State's issue.  There are currently only 13 defensive linemen on Florida State's roster.  Only 3 of those 13 are upperclassmen.  That's pretty pathetic.  And McCray is one of those 3 and he is missing the season.  Another of the three is Jamar Jackson, a player who never regained form after an injury early in his career.  The bottom line is this:  Florida State has only a single upperclassman who will contribute this season on the defensive line. 

FSU has a good amount of talent on the defensive line, but it is all young.  That's not a good thing.  To see how it got to this point, we'll take a look at each class.  But first, remember that a team usually wants to carry about 16 defensive linemen.  That means 3-deep at each position with potentially up to 4 freshmen redshirting (or nobody redshirting and a 4-deep).  FSU has 13 this year because Damien Jacobs didn't make it in.  But as I said, 10 of the 13 are underclassmen.  That means the 'Noles will have very good depth in the coming years.

Inside, we look at how recruiting really makes its mark 3 or 4 years after players sign.

Players in Bold are on team

Name Stars Size Note
Justin Mincey 4 6'4" 275 Mincey had struggles with academics and injuries throughout his career but did finish his 4 years
Doug "Budd" Thacker 4 6'4" 270 Thacker came in as a defensive end and developed into a defensive tackle.  Not a very good one, but a defensive tackle.  Thacker should have probably played defensive end, but in no circumstances was he ever starter quality at a major college program.  Thacker did not redshirt and used his 4 years of eligibility.  
Kevin McNiel (DE) 4 6'3" 260 McNiel was really promising, but then was involved in a car crash and then elected to forego an entire year of eligibility instead of missing 3 games back in the 2007 academic scandal.  At times McNiel was a pretty good defensive end.  McNiel used up his eligibility.
Paul Griffin 4 (JUCO) 6'1" 280 Griffin was a highly rated JUCO player who tore up his knee but did complete his eilgibility.  
Ryan McMahon  3 6'2" 280 McMahon moved to center and started for 3 years.  He is in contention for all-conference honors this season.  

I included the 2006 class because you would expect at least someone from the 2006 class to contribute to the 2010 team by way of taking a redshirt in 2009.  Looking at this list, however, I can't dock FSU for its 2006 defensive line recruiting.  These guys started a lot of games and all of them completed their entire eligibility, even if none were superstars.

Brian Coulter (DE) 4 (JUCO) 6'4" 255 Coulter never had grades to get in to FSU.  
Jamar Jackson (DE)  4 6'4" 245 Jackson blew his knee early on in his promising FSU career and he has never been the same.  Jackson is considered a non-factor and is a candidate to leave after this season now that he has 4 years in the program and an opportunity to get his degree.  

However,  FSU really messed up in 2007 when it signed only two defensive linemen.  Both were ends, at a time during which FSU needed at least one nose guard or tackle.  Then only one of the two qualify.  Between 2006 and 2007, FSU brought in only 5 high-school defensive line recruits.  One moved to offensive line.  One tore up a knee early in his career and has never been the same.  But even if the injury and position change hadn't occured, 6 high-school players in two years is not enough.  Jackson is the only member of this group left on the roster and he isn't expected to play at all and was never the same after his knee injury.

Name Stars Size Note
Markus White (DE) 5 (JUCO) 6'5" 270 White has battled a knee injury in his time at FSU but will be a two-year starter when this season is over.  He is a Senior.  
Moses McCray 4 6'2" 310 McCray has suffered from an enlarged heart, dislocated elbow, a torn ACL, shoulder injuries, and a hip injury.  McCray will miss this year with a torn ACL.  He will redshirt this season.  One has to wonder if he isn't destined for a medical hardship DQ.
Everett Dawkins 4 6'2" 283 Dawkins has gained almost 40 lbs since arriving on campus and is currently FSU's starter.  He redshirted in 2008 and played some quality minutes last year.  Dawkins is a redshirt sophomore.
Toshmon Stevens (DE) 3 6'5" 242 Stevens is a guy who was really robbed of the opportunity to develop until now due to the lack of a quality weight program.  He is finally north of 240 lbs and will be an edge pass-rusher this season as a redshirt sophomore.
Anthony Hill 3 6'2" 280 Hill had issues making it into school and was not wanted at a later date.  

2008 is the first class that began to address the problem.  FSU signed 5 players (4 HS & 1 JUCO).  1 didn't make it in and there's some issue as to whether FSU actually wanted Hill in the end.  All 4 who made it into school are still with the team.  2 are starters, while Stevens will play a backup role.  McCray is done for the season.  Additionally, FSU signed and placed Amp McCloud in a JUCO in 2008 and he's now included in the 2010 class, below.

Name Stars Size Note
Jaccobi McDaniel 5 6'0" 297 McDaniel was the top DT recruit in the country.  He played well for a true freshman and looks to be FSU's top nose guard this season and is expected to have a big sophomore year.  
Demonte McAllister 4 6'3" 282 McAllister battled injury and some other issues in his first season, but gained an amazing 22 lbs in the off-season program while retaining his quickness.  McAllister redshirted last year.
Brandon Jenkins (DE) 4 6'3" 250 Jenkins is a very promising defensive end who is primed for a big season as a starter on the right side.
Dan Hicks (DE) 2 6'4" 260 Hicks was extremely raw coming out of high school and redshirted last season, but is now 260 lbs and will provide depth behind starter Markus White.

FSU continued solid defensive line recruiting in 2009 and looks to have hit a home run.  This group includes three really talented players in McDaniel, McAllister and Jenkins.  McDaniel and Jenkins are starters and are expected to be at least all-conference performers before their careers are over.  And McAllister might be the most talented defensive lineman of the group, having put on 24 lbs since last season after getting some medical and behavioral stuff figured out. 

Name Stars Size Note
Darius Cummings 4 6'2" 289 Cummings blew up in the off-season program and answered the question of whether he would be an end or a tackle.  
Anthomy "Amp" McCloud 3 6'3" 303 FSU placed McCloud in a JUCO and he is now an important backup for the 'Noles at nose guard.  McCloud is a redshirt sophomore.  McCloud was a 2* recruit out of high school, but was considered by many to be a better player than 4* Brandon Thompson, who committed to Clemson.  His recruiting ranking was largely due to grades.  He was a 3* coming out of JUCO.
Damien Jacobs 3 6'3" 294 Jacobs was really close to qualifying and it looks like he will head to JUCO, but only for a single season.
Bjeorn Werner 3 6'4" 282 Werner is expected to get immediate playing time at defensive end and looked good in the first public practice.  He is 20 years old and not the typical college freshman.
Cam Erving 3 6'5" 295 Erving is athletic but extremely raw and somewhat new to the game.  

Finally, going into recruiting season, FSU probably needed to sign 6 defensive linemen.  It only signed 5.  Some would argue that is a failure because FSU needed the bodies.  Still others would say it was prudent not to reach for an additional body late in the game if that wasn't an FSU-caliber player.  Both arguments make sense, but I tend to lean toward the latter because anyone FSU was going to grab as a reach late in the game would not have helped the Noles this season.  And it is this season in which FSU needs the help.  So taking a marginal kid didn't make a lot of sense if he was going to take the spot of a more talented 2011 kid.  The 'Noles should be fairly loaded in 2011 because they are returning 11 of 13 defensive linemen. 

The lesson is that poor recruiting doesn't really hurt a team until two, three, and four years later.  The failure of 2007 was a major issue for the 2009 and will also impact the 2010 team.


But as for this year, specifically at defensive tackle, things are not as dire as some 'Nole fans would make it seem.  This FSU defensive line will not be great.  It might not even be "very good".  But is is certainly better than what FSU trotted out there last season.  Guys like Stewart, Thacker, Mincey, and a one-armed McCray (elbow dislocation last year) would not even crack FSU's starting lineup this year.  Here is how I would rate the defensive linemen from last year and this year:

2009 2010
McDaniel 6'0" 297
Dawkins 6'3" 283
McCloud 6'2" 303
McDaniel 6'0" 287
McAllister 6'3" 282
Dawkins 6'3" 258
McCray 6'2 301 (played w/ dislocated elbow)
Mincey 6'5" 270(lacked off-season training due to academics, played in few games)
Cummings 6'2" 289
Stewart 6'1" 270
Thacker 6'3" 270
Erving 6'5" 295

Stewart and Thacker were just not very good players last year, while Mincey and McCray could not stay healthy.  McDaniel and Dawkins had not yet made the physical and maturation leap that they made this off-season.  I project that 4 of the the top 5 players from either year will be on this squad, including the top 3.  Even without McCray, I project this group of 6 to be a lot better than last year's group of 6.

If you look at the positions on a snap-basis, the situation is pretty clear.  At nose guard, you need to fill about 800 snaps for a 12-game season.  Figure McDaniel plays 450, McCloud 330, and Erving 20.  Erving won't be able to redshirt this season.  And at 3-technique (defensive tackle), 800 snaps are also needed.  Here you can figure Dawkins will give 420 snaps, McAllister 300, and the freshman Cummings pitches in with 80. 

FSU is not in an ideal position of depth at defensive tackle, but if the top 4 guys stay healthy, the 'Noles defensive interior has a chance to be pretty good a year before most figured it would be ready.  Cummings has a real chance to be a quality 5th man, and Erving will likely be used in mop-up duty or emergency situations.  Additionally, don't be surprised to see FSU play more 3-man line at times this season, particularly with a lead.

And the current recruiting class is setting up nicely as well, with FSU currently holding commitments from two of the top 10 defensive tackle prospects in the country.  I expect FSU to take 5 or potentially 6 defensive linemen this cycle (depending on Moses' recovery), and that should get FSU back to championship-caliber depth in 2011.

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