Florida State football kicks off on Labor day at Pitt. Tomahawk Nation previews the season up until that date by analyzing every player and other key issues facing the 2013 Seminoles.
No. 32 | James Wilder Jr. | 6'2, 226 | Junior | Running Back
Background via Florida State
A dynamic, five-star athlete, who was considered the best overall athlete in the country after playing both running back and linebacker at Tampa Plant High School...led Plant to the 5A state title game...selected to the U.S. Army All-American team as a senior and participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, where he scored the winning touchdown for the East...rushed for 1,597 yards and 22 touchdowns, and had 75 tackles and eight sacks as a senior...selected All-USA first team defense by USA Today...ranked as the No. 2 running back and No. 11 player nationally by Rivals.com...ranked as the No. 3 outside linebacker and the No. 29 overall player by Scout.com...rated the No. 29 player on the ESPN 150 and the No. 4 overall athlete in the nation...No. 7 on the Sporting News Top 100 for 2011...rated a five-star prospect by both Rivals.com and Scout.com...Tampa Tribune's All-Hillsborough County First Team as a senior...No. 1 on Bill Buchalter's 2011 Florida Top 100 for the Orlando Sentinel...No. 7 on Mobile Press-Register Super Southeast 120...member of the Florida Times-Union's Super 75 where he was rated as the No. 1 overall athlete...2010 U.S. Air Force All-American...second team defense by MaxPreps...No. 2 on Tom Lemming's MaxPreps.com Top 100...as a junior helped Plant to a 5A state title after rushing for 1,004 yards (7.49 per carry) and 15 touchdowns, while registering 136 tackles (66 solo) and 19 sacks on defense...earned First Team All-State honors for 5A classification as a junior...as a sophomore, registered 145 total tackles with 62 solo and 15 sacks and was selected All-Hillsborough County First Team, FSWA Second Team 5A All-State and All-Suncoast Second Team...son of former Buccaneers running back James Wilder...born April 14, 1992.
James Wilder Jr. is a running back. The calls for his seemingly eventual move to linebacker have stopped. Whispers may appear after a strong tackle in pursuit on an interception or special teams, but they remain whispers. James Wilder Jr. has followed his father's footsteps and grown into his role as a running back.
Wilder had a strong sophomore campaign. He proved to be a versatile back, catching out of the backfield, running stretch plays, and reliving his YouTube-star status shedding defenders running downhill. Wilder split carries with Devonta Freeman as Chris Thompson's backup, and both stepped up to share the #1 role after Thompson's season ending ACL injury.
With Thompson's departure to the NFL, the junior duo step into the spotlight. They were a part of an explosive 2012 run game based on stretch running. With Thompson's departure, and the departure of a quarterback best suited to shotgun snaps, a shift to downhill running appears to be coming. Both Freeman and Wilder are better suited to this style.
Wilder splashed with large plays in nationally televised games. Strong runs against Clemson, Florida, and Georgia Tech helped display his strengths as a runner. His 35 yard, multiple-tackle breaking run against Clemson helped recall his former YouTube fame. He had success running stretch plays from shotgun, power from shotgun, and running downhill from the I formation.
Importantly, and perhaps because of his athleticism and power, Wilder did not have a big dropoff in production against FBS teams with winning records (36 carries for 189 yards, an average of 5.25, compared to 58 carries for 320 yards, averaging 5.52, against teams without winning records).
The 2013 run game will likely look different than the 2012 running game. Florida State's base run in 2012 was outside zone from shotgun, often run with two backs in the "Pony" split back formation. The two back sets with Thompson and Lonnie Pryor gave FSU an opportunity to attack both edges, and helped these stretch runs become a dangerous attack. Play action and rollouts were basic counter plays FSU used to keep opponents off balance, and this set of plays were very effective, yielding a top 25 offense and one of the most efficient run games in the country.
The loss of Thompson and Pryor, along with shotgun-friendly Manuel, will likely yield a different looking offense. Wilder and Freeman have displayed strong ability to run downhill. The first 8 games of 2012 featured stretch running, and after Chris Thompson's ACL injury, the final 6 games showed an evolving run game. Power, Trap and Inside Zone were featured more often, and this trend will likely continue into 2013. While the run game did see a dropoff post-Thompson, that was more due to the insane level at which Thompson was playing, and less to any lack of adjustment.
This will help Wilder. Some of Wilder's best runs in 2012 came from handoffs behind power in shotgun. While his YouTube-friendly 35-yard run against Clemson came off outside zone from the I formation, an arguably more impressive run was his 16 yard run behind a pulling Matias with multiple broken tackles against an elite Florida defense (see 0:43 in Wilder's season highlights). Wilder shook multiple defenders from one of the top 5 defenses in the country.
Wilder is not simply a downhill runner, however. He proved adept running outside zone from shotgun at times. He was also a strong pass catcher out of the backfield, and should be looked to more this year as an outlet for red-shirt freshman QB Jameis Winston. This could help FSU continue using the "Pony" formation with two split backs in the shotgun formation. When paired with a stretch-play friendly back like Mario Pender or Ryan Green, Wilder could be part of a dynamic shotgun run game like Thompson and Pryor were a year ago.
Wilder is not perfect, however. While he has solid top-end speed, he lacks acceleration; meaning that he builds to his top speed. There were times when he was not quick enough to the hole on some stretch plays. And there were still more times when he lacked the vision to see the hole developing. And while his abilities often make up for his upright running style, he sometimes can run too tall. FSU has to make sure its play calls put Wilder in the best position to succeed, given his strengths and weaknesses.
And there's still another issue: consistency.
Wilder is a versatile back, and to keep himself on the field, he simply must show more consistency. His 2012 campaign was a drastic improvement over his freshman year, but he must continue to improve to see his reps increase. Many Florida State fans will remember his great run on fourth down against Virginia Tech to gain a first down, breaking multiple tackles, but will forget that he missed the correct hole, which was sealed off for an easy run.
His offseason testing shows a faster back at 233 pounds than his 2012 playing weight of 226 (source: his Twitter). His combination of size and power already has many NFL scouts salivating. Florida State fans are waiting for him to put it all together more often.
Given his experience and abilities, and Jimbo Fisher's tendency to go with the "hot hand", a substantial increase in carries is not expected over the amount that he received after Thompson went down (10/game). There is not likely to be a true #1 back, and if carries are split similar to 2012, 140-160 carries may go to Wilder in 2013, barring injury. This means it is unlikely Wilder becomes the first FSU back since Warrick Dunn to rush for 1000 yards, though it is not completely out of the question.
Addendum from Bud Elliott: It should be noted that the national media will often bring up Wilder's legal issues. They exist, and should be acknowledged, with the note that they are extremely minor. Wilder pled no contest to resisting arrest without violence after trying to prevent an officer from arresting his girlfriend, who is also his daughter's mother. He blew a .01 at the subsequent probation work day, a result within the margin of error for a breathalyzer which could easily have resulted from taking Nyquil or other sleep aid containing alcohol the night before, and rather than fighting the result, instead spent the rest of the week in jail to finish his probation. This was done so that Wilder would not miss his finals. Wilder was also charged with failing to appear in court over a ticket for driving on a suspended license.
None of this suggests that Wilder is some sort of criminal mastermind, and there is no violence in the above. He's a kid without a lot of guidance, fighting to make it as a student, father and football player.