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.
It continues this year, as 13 of Florida State's 20 commitments are rated four-stars or better. FSU is cleaning up in-state, with nine blue chip commits, by far the most in-state. This is shaping up to be another top-five class, and could finish as high as No. 2 (behind Alabama) if things break right. The Noles 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, although 25 is a more likely number. Given that Florida State may be losing 25 percent of its 2014 roster, having players enroll in January and go through spring practice is an important goal in what looks to be a 2015 campaign filled with new faces. FSU currently has six of those.
Let's look at what FSU needs at each position, what it already has, and who it might target to fill those remaining needs. As you'll see, FSU is in a bit of a numbers bind and will have to turn away some talented prospects. There are about 13 players being considered for the last five or so spots.
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.
The Seminoles elected to combat the issue via 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. Florida, having lost dual-threat QB Sheriron Jones to Tennessee, is coming after Deondre Francois. Francois has the best physical tools of FSU's QB commitments, and this will be something to watch, as the Gators need a QB. Texas and Maryland are still interested in Locksley, but it's not all that likely that any of the three flip.
The other detail here is that FSU secured a commitment from 2016 QB Malik Henry, one of the best in the country. Will that knowledge weigh on the minds of any of the 2015 players? We'll have to wait and see.
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 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, although it should be noted that this is a down year for the position and there are no obvious five-star backs. Patrick is very solid to the Seminoles and is enrolling early, but Frasier is openly flirting with Tennessee, NC State, Duke, Alabama etc., and it's questionable if FSU will be able to retain him. Obviously, FSU is a better program than most of those, but prospects value different things in their recruitment, like distance and playing time.
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. However, that doesn't mean FSU can automatically flip Scarlett if Frasier bolts. I recently interviewed Scarlett after the state title game.
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) and Jon Vickers (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 believe 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. Campbell and Murray are very solid, and Tate is hearing from Florida and others.
While not publicly committed, strong sources consider Miami Central WR Da'Vante Phillips to be committed. He'll announce at one of the all-star games in January. Phillips is not a burner, but he has very strong hands, is very physical and will be a major red zone weapon. It is worth noting that Phillips took a visit to Miami recently.
FSU will continue to try and flip Calvin Ridley (Pompano Beach Monarch). Ridley is committed to Alabama, and the Alabama folks I speak to feel he is solid to them, although he did take a visit to Florida State on December 12th.
Even if FSU cannot flip Ridley, adding Phillips to the three committed would be an excellent haul.
TE: Florida State loses Nick O'Leary and Kevin Haplea, but returns three other scholarship tight ends. FSU would like to carry five on scholarship, if possible. The Noles have 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 blocking and route running requirements.
FSU won't take a second tight end in this class, as the Seminoles just landed Isaac Nauta, who is moving to Florida and will be attending the IMG Academy in Bradenton. Nauta is currently the best tight end prospect in the class of '16 and is a freak.
Florida State cleaned up along the offensive line on National Signing Day, bringing in seven fantastic offensive linemen. They'll return 10 offensive linemen in 2015, along with 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: 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 for 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 his surgery went well.
FSU is still pursuing Jalen Merrick, of New Smyrna Beach. Merrick projects as a guard, although he could play right tackle. FSU is battling Florida and Arkansas for his services (Alabama and LSU, too, somewhat), and he may visit Alabama. Any way you slice it, FSU's two-year haul on the offensive line is great. Merrick was over the moon during his last visit, and he returned for the Florida game. He is an early enrollee, as well.
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: end Josh Sweat, and tackle Darvin Taylor (Virginia). Sweat is an early enrollee, and Taylor is very solid to the Seminoles. If healthy, Sweat is the best pass rusher in the 2015 class, but he suffered a serious knee injury during his senior season and will need a lot of treatment once on campus at Florida State. This could obviously affect his ability to make an instant impact in Tallahassee.
Another defensive tackle, such as Neville Gallimore, of Ontario (CN), would be nice, but I don't expect FSU to grab a random body. Gallimore has visited FSU, and the Seminoles are battling Oklahoma, Auburn and Ohio State. The DT crop in the state this year is terrible. Defensive lineman Terry Beckner, Jr. (discussed below), is also very capable of sliding inside and may eventually end up at tackle.
FSU is still hard after 5-stars Byron Cowart, Terry Beckner, and CeCe Jefferson. Cowart will be tough to pull away from Florida, and FSU will also battle Alabama and Auburn for his signature. Beckner is a Missouri-FSU-Ohio State battle at the moment.
FSU is also interested in Shelton Johnson, a developmental pass rusher out of Delray Beach Atlantic. They seem to have a good shot at him, as well. Johnson visited Tallahassee with his mother earlier this fall, and I expect the Seminoles to land the long pass rusher if they want him.
One thing I do not expect is for FSU to take two non-elite defensive ends in addition to the stud they already have in Sweat. That's because 2016 defensive end recruiting is going extremely well with Janarius Robinson and Josh Brown already committed.
FSU signed a great linebacker class on National Signing Day 2014 and will return eight 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. LSU is trying to flip SKL, however, so that is something to watch.
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 committed: 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.
As of now, everyone in the defensive back class seems solidly committed. James and Brewton are early enrollees, but the others may take some official visits.
FSU is still pursuing corners Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama commit), and Davante Davis of Miami Booker T. Washington, who is also being pursued by Florida, Miami, Georgia and others. Of these, Davis seems like the much more likely option.
Then there are Texas corners Kris Boyd and Holton Hill. I thought Boyd was a player for which FSU had a great shot, but that changed this weekend, as multiple Texas reporters now think Boyd will sign with the Longhorns, and he and his brother threw up the "Hook'em Horns" symbol. FSU still has a shot with Hill, but is battling Texas, Texas A&M, and Baylor.
Finally, it appears FSU is not done courting Iman Marshall, of California, who will visit after being encouraged to do so by 2016 QB commit Malik Henry, also of California. USC is the team to beat there, and the Trojans would be my pick if pressed.
Keeping McFadden in the fold and landing Fitzpatrick, Davis, Hill, Boyd, or Marshall would be a home run for the Seminoles. If the Noles were able to add two of those five, it would be a grand slam.