The recipe for national titles begins with bringing in more four- and five-star prospects than not. Florida State has done this under Jimbo Fisher, and only six programs have signed a higher ratio of blue chip talent than the Seminoles over the last four classes.
While we've been discussing specific prospects, we've not done a big overview in a while. So with 91 days until National Signing Day, here it is.
It continues this year, as 13 of Florida State's 20 commitments are rated four-stars or better. And FSU is cleaning up in-state, with nine blue chip commits, compared to Miami's five and Florida's zero. This is shaping up to be another top-five class, and could finish No. 2 behind Alabama if things break right. And FSU seems to have a very strong group of current commits trying to get other elite preps to join them in Tallahassee, often using the #Tribe15 hashtag on social media.
FSU loses 13 seniors to graduation, and could lose 6-10 underclassmen off the roster to the NFL draft or other opportunities. Florida State can sign up to 27 players in the 2014 class, though 25 is a more likely number. Given that Florida State may be losing 25 percent of its 2014 roster to turnover, having players enroll in January and go through spring practice is an important goal in what looks to be a bit of a rebuilding 2015 campaign.
Let's look at what FSU needs at each position, what it already has, and who it might target to fill those remaining needs.
Florida State signed J.J. Cosentino in 2014, a strong-arm pro-style passer. Florida State is slated to return two quarterbacks in 2015, assuming Jameis Winston heads to the NFL, meaning that it needed to take two in this class. This is a rather poor year for quarterbacks East of the Mississippi and FSU struck out on its top QB targets out West.
So the Seminoles elected to combat the issue by using quantity. FSU currently has three quarterback recruits: De'Andre Johnson, Deondre Francois and Kai Locksley. I addressed the situation in Will Florida State really sign three quarterbacks? Very little has changed since then, though Texas and Maryland are still interested in Locksley, though it's not all that likely that any of the three flip.
Florida State signed seven skill players in 2014, including two excellent running backs, a terrific trio of receivers, and two very promising tight ends. Florida State will return 15 skill players in 2015. Assuming attrition of one, it will need to bring in five to seven skill players. Within that, it will need at least two backs, three receivers and one tight end.
RB: Florida State currently has two four-star running backs committed in Jacques Patrick (Orlando Timber Creek) and Johnny Frazier (North Carolina). Together, they are the best tandem of running back commitments in the country, according to the 247sports composite ratings, though it should be noted that this is a down year for the position and that there are no obvious five-star backs so far. Patrick is very solid to the Seminoles, but Frazier is very openly flirting with Tennessee and N.C. State and it's very questionable if FSU will be able to hold on to him. Obviously, FSU is a better program than either of those two, but prospects value different things in their recruitment.
There's a reason FSU is keeping contact with Miami four-star commit Jordan Scarlett, of St. Thomas Aquinas. If Frasier leaves, expect the Seminoles to crank up the heat even more to try and flip him. I don't know where FSU would go if it loses Frasier and cannot flip Scarlett. It's possible they could pocket the scholarship and roll with Mario Pender, Ryan Green, Dalvin Cook, Jacques Patrick and Freddie Stevenson (TB/FB) for 2015.
WR: Florida State has three receivers committed in George Campbell (Tarpon Springs East Lake), Nyqwan Murray (Orlando Oak Ridge) and Auden Tate (Tampa Wharton). I feel that all three are four-star caliber players, and Campbell, if he continues to improve his catching, could be a fringe five-star type. His athleticism is already there. Tate compares to a Willie Haulstead big body type, and Murray compares to BoBo Wilson or Kenny Shaw with his ability to work in the slot.
While not publicly committed, strong sources all consider Miami Central WR Da'Vante Phillips to be committed and he'll announce at one of the all-star games in January. Phillips is not a burner but has very strong hands, is very physical and will be a major weapon in the red zone. FSU will continue to try to flip Calvin Ridley, of Pompano Beach Monarch. Ridley is committed to Alabama, and the Alabama folks with whom I speak feel he is solid to them. Even if FSU cannot flip Ridley; adding Phillips to the four would be an excellent haul. Given the early emergence of Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph as freshmen, it will be interesting to see what happens with Isaiah Jones, who is academically ineligible for 2014 but who will have three years of eligibility remaining. But that's more of a question for the 2016 class.
TE: Florida State loses Nick O'Leary and Kevin Haplea, and returns three other scholarship tight ends. FSU would like to carry five on scholarship if possible, and has a commitment from Jalen Wilkerson (Coffee County, Georgia). Wilkerson is athletic, but is unlikely to be an instant-impact player. Tight end is a tough position to learn as a freshman due to the blocking and route running requirements. I don't think FSU is in on any other big tight ends at the moment, but I wouldn't rule out FSU moving on a tight end who emerges as a senior.
Of course, there is the consideration of keeping the tight end depth chart attractive for 2016, as FSU is in great position for Isaac Nauta, who is moving to Florida and will be attending the IMG Academy in Bradenton. Nauta is the best tight end in the country at this early juncture.
Florida State cleaned up along the offensive line on National Signing Day, bringing in seven fantastic offensive linemen. FSU will return 10 offensive linemen in 2015, plus attrition of one or none. Teams typically want to carry 15-18 offensive linemen, but FSU may want to space it out a bit between years, so four to six seems about right.
FSU has three commits listed right now in Abdul Bello (Montverde Academy), Cole Minshew (Georgia Coffee County) and David Robbins (Glenelg, MD). Bello is extremely athletic but raw, Minshew is an absolute steal that Georgia has to be kicking itself over not offering earlier, and Robbins is a promising prospect at center or guard.
A source also told me over the summer that FSU still planned to stick with Ethan Frith, who delayed his enrollment to have shoulder surgery so that he wouldn't lose a year of eligibility due to injury. Frith told me he still plans to be at FSU and that his surgery went well. We'll see if that still happens.
FSU is still pursuing Jalen Merrick, of New Smyrna Beach. Merrick projects as a guard, though he could play right tackle. FSU is battling Florida and Arkansas for Merrick. Any way you slice it FSU's two-year haul on the offensive line is great.
FSU signed a monster class of defensive linemen, seven in all on National Signing Day 2014. Florida State will return 16 defensive linemen in 2015. Assuming attrition of four, it needs to bring in at least four in the 2015 class.
Florida State has two commitments on the defensive line, in JUCO D.J. Jones, and Darvin Taylor (Virginia). Taylor is very solid, but FSU will have to fight any number of SEC schools to keep Jones' commitment. Another defensive tackle, like Neville Gallimore, of Ontario (CN), would be nice, but don't expect FSU to just grab a random body. The DT crop in the state this year is terrible.
Defensive end is where the focus is right now. FSU is still whale hunting with five-star ends Josh Sweat, CeCe Jefferson, Terry Beckner, and Byron Cowart, though FSU's chances with the four are somewhat questionable, though FSU is at least in the running. It probably helps FSU's chances with Sweat that the Hokies are collapsing and hot seat questions are again swirling around Frank Beamer. FSU is also in on Shelton Johnson, a developmental pass rusher out of Delray Beach Atlantic, and seems to have a good shot at him as well.
Don't expect FSU to reach too far if it strikes out on the big four, because it's already in place to have the best set of defensive ends recruits in the 2016 class.
FSU signed a great linebacker class on National Signing Day 2014 and will return 9 linebackers in 2015. Assuming no attrition, it will need to bring in at least two linebackers, and it's done so in Brian Bell, of Valdosta (Ga.) and Sh'Mar Kilby-Lane, of Hallandale (Fla.). This is a solid pair of linebackers and given the lack of linebacker talent in the state, this is not the year to reach for an extra player.
FSU needs to hit a home run in the defensive backfield in this class.
Florida State signed a pair of talented defensive backs in 2014. FSU will return 12 defensive backs, but attrition of three should be expected, meaning FSU needs to take at least five in its 2015 class.
Right now, FSU has four in Derwin James (Haines City), Tarvarus McFadden (American Heritage), Calvin Brewton (Miami Central) and A.J. Westbrook (Daytona Mainland). James is far and away the best safety in the country, and McFadden is one of the top five cornerbacks in the country. Brewton and Westbrook are nice, versatile pieces as well.
McFadden is still visiting Georgia and LSU and FSU will have to fight tooth and nail to keep his commitment, especially from Georgia who can offer tons of playing time.
FSU is still pursuing corners Minkah Fitzpatrick, of New Jersey, who is currently committed to Alabama, and Davante Davis, of Miami Booker T. Washington, who is also being pursued by Florida, Miami, Georgia and others. Then there is the Texas trio of Kris Boyd, Kendall Sheffield and Holton Hill. I think Boyd is the most likely of the trio.
Keeping McFadden in the fold and landing one of Fitzpatrick, Davis, Hill, Sheffield or Boyd would be a home run for the Seminoles.