Saturday, we ran down Florida State's early losses to the NFL, with four leaving early. Sunday, we take a look at the replacements for everyone who is headed to the league.
Significant decline expected
Defensive tackle (Timmy Jernigan [Underclassman], Jacobbi McDaniel, Demonte McAllister all leave): There is no player on the roster who can replace the awesome defensive tackle. Even if, hypothetically, Eddie Goldman moves over to take Jernigan's spot, the same holds -- there is nobody on the roster who projects to play as well as Goldman at the spot Goldman vacated. Even if one of the younger defensive tackles on the roster were to have a breakout year, they likely wouldn't reach the level of 2013 Goldman, much less 2013 Jernigan. The depth provided by McDaniel and McAllister was a major luxury, even if FSU did not need it in most games. The defensive tackles who are most likely to contribute in addition to Goldman are Nile Lawrence-Stample and... and... and... FSU really needs one of Keith Bryant, Justin Shanks or Derrick Mitchell, all former four-stars, to step up. All are unproven. This is by far the biggest area of concern, and even a successful season will likely be a drop off.
Receiver (Kelvin Benjamin [Underclassman], Kenny Shaw): Benjamin was at times inconsistent, but when he was on, he was unstoppable. And he was on in the biggest of games, and created a lot of single coverage for the other receivers as teams always kept a safety to his side of the field. Florida State does not have a player on its roster who can do what Benjamin did for the Seminoles, but that's true of almost every team in the country. 6'6, 235 doesn't grow on trees. Shaw is one of the best route runners Florida State has ever had, and he took full advantage of the single coverage he received. FSU will mitigate some of the receiver losses by running more and using more 21 and 12 personnel. There is a lot of talent and questions at this spot. Can Christian Green finally step up? What can Jarred Haggins do when healthy? Which of the 2013 freshman trio of Isaiah Jones, Levonte Whitfield and Jesus Wilson will improve the most and earn more reps? Can freshmen Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane (if he commits, as expected) emerge?
Defensive back (Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks): Joyner was one of the best defensive backs in Florida State history. His speed off the edge, strength and instincts were incredible and changed the way offenses faced Florida State. And Brooks was criminally underrated. But I put this group in the "about equal" category because it returns the best cornerback tandem in the country in Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams, a generational safety talent in Jalen Ramsey who could also play corner again some day, safety Nate Andrews who had a very nice freshman season, is getting Tyler Hunter back after Hunter sat out the 2013 year after an injury in game three, and it still has very veteran defensive backups like Nick Waisome, Keelin Smith and Lamarcus Brutus (though I would not blame the latter three if they transferred elsewhere for playing time). This was the best secondary in the country in 2013 and should be again in 2014.
Linebacker (Telvin Smith, Christian Jones): Telvin Smith and Christian Jones were great players for the Seminoles, but few position groups have been recruited as well in the country as FSU has here: two five-stars and five four-stars, plus two more four-stars who play the hybrid end position Jones played. Starter Terrence Smith returns, and Florida State will have considerably more size at the position this year -- every player is as big or bigger than the player he'll be replacing. The battle for Smith's spot will probably be between junior Reggie Northrup and sophomore E.J. Levenberry, while the battle for Jones' spot will likely be between Ukeme Eligwe, Matthew Thomas and Chris Casher, situationally. If Kain Daub makes it in for spring, as is expected, he may make some noise as well. The depth here is very good.
Running back/fullback (Devonta Freeman, James Wilder, Jr, Chad Abram): This unit will undoubtedly be more explosive. Karlos Williams, Mario Pender, Ryan Green and Dalvin Cook form the most explosive backfield not only in the ACC, but in the country. But how will the group do the little things that the 2013 set did so well? Will the blitz pickup again be such that it allows Jameis Winston to bomb the ball down the field? Will the backs hit the correct holes and avoid negatives? How will Freddie Stevenson replace Chad Abram as a blocker at fullback? Will FSU use more multiple tight end sets if Stevenson cannot step up?
Offensive line (Bryan Stork): Stork was an excellent center when healthy, but Florida State does have several players in line for the spot. The favorite is Austin Barron, a senior with experience. Is this the best offensive line in the country? It will feature five senior starters, four of whom will be NFL bound. Behind them will be a senior, a red-shirt junior, two true juniors, and two red-shirt freshmen, and, even in the worst case scenario imaginable in a few weeks for National Signing Day, five new high school players who were rated highly. The depth here is tremendous, and that's something FSU fans have not seen in forever. Florida State has the best guard tandem in the country, and its tackles have improved tremendously over the last two years and should continue to do so again. FSU's 2013 offensive line had ridiculous injury luck, keeping the starters together all year. If this line has similar, it should be better. But that's unlikely, and thus why it is in the "slightly better" category. And that is why the depth is so important.