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Florida State football recruiting news: Reloading the defense

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Florida State is looking to add 10-13 defensive recruits.

Levonta Taylor
Levonta Taylor
Student Sports

Florida State's 2016 recruiting is going quite well. The Seminoles look to be on track to land another top-five class, with more four- and five-stars signed than two- and three-stars. Florida State currently has 12 commitments, and Tomahawk Nation projects around 23 or 24 signees. Of those, 10-13 are likely to be defensive signees.

In the last month, I've seen most of the best players in Florida, Georgia and Alabama thanks to Nike The Opening Camp Tour stops in Miami, Orlando and Atlanta. This weekend, I'll be in Bradenton for the NFA 7v7 Southeastern Championships. The info on these kids is fresh in my mind.

It's very important to see players in person as it is hard to judge their true size and frame off film, and size and frame are typically the dividing line between very good and elite prospects. Wednesday, I covered Florida State's offensive recruiting. Let's look at the defense.

Defensive line

FSU will bring back 13 defensive linemen in 2016, and attrition of two is reasonable. Look for Florida State to sign four or five including two ends and two tackles. But it's not really that simple.

For instance, Kier Thomas, of Miami Central is labeled as a defensive end on recruiting sites despite checking in at 6'1, 234 at the Miami Nike Camp. The three-star is really an edge rusher type at that size. Thomas is extremely strong for his size, but does not have great length. The best case scenario for him seems like a James Harrison type of player (in style, not in talent) -- a player who plays OLB in a 3-4 but who is not that long, rather winning with leverage and strength.

Another hybrid DE/OLB is Josh Brown, a four-star edge rusher from Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek, at 6'3, 215, though he is tenuously committed at best and is considering a bunch of offers. Brown is extremely quick. The feedback FSU gets from Brown when he visits this spring will be newsworthy.

On the other hand, Panama City Bay High School's Janarius Robinson, at 6'5.5, 255 is definitely a defensive end. Robinson is one of the jewels of the Florida State class and is rated four-stars and as one of the five best ends in the country. He is not yet a great high school player, having played receiver just 15 games ago, but he is an excellent prospect due to his size and athleticism.

And Cedric Wood, of Tallahassee Godby recently discussed playing defensive end rather than tackle despite being 6'3.5, 300. I'm told he'll be playing inside in Tallahassee and not defensive end in any 4-3 sense of the term.

So Florida State needs to land another defensive tackle and another defensive end (not a hybrid end/linebacker type).

The top target at end is Shavar Manuel, of Bradenton's IMG Academy. Manuel is 6'4, 265 and could eventually play at 290, which makes him perfect for the heavier defensive end position and not someone who will be playing standing up. Florida State seems to be in good position for the five-star and he may have even committed on the down low on a recent visit.

At defensive tackle, there is less certainty. Dexter Lawrence of Wake Forest (N.C.) Rolesville is one of the top targets on the board. The five-star is seen as a top-5 defensive tackle nationally, and him being in North Carolina is good for the Seminoles in that FSU simply does not pull elite defensive linemen out of SEC states with any regularity. The Seminoles also have coaches in Brad Lawing and Jay Graham with major ties to North Carolina, and Lawrence will be a top priority.

I spoke with elite Georgia defensive tackles Derrick Brown, Julian Rochester and Antwaun Jackson and while FSU has offered all three, they didn't speak much of the Seminoles and none mentioned FSU among their top schools. If that is going to change FSU will need to get them to visit, but don't get your hopes up.

Linebacker

Six linebackers return for FSU in 2016 and attrition of one or none is reasonable, meaning Florida State will look to take two or three in 2016. And Florida State already has those three and is continuing to recruit more linebackers. Which tells us that it's not confident that it will hold on to all of its commitments.

The least solid of the three would seem to be Tyree Horton, of Highland Community College in Kansas. Horton was offered and committed early to Florida State, but has since added offers from Alabama, Florida, TCU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Auburn and others, and has said glowing things about every one of them.

The most solid seem to be Emmett Rice, of Miami Norland and Jamal Couch, of Phenix City (Ala.) Central. Both are four-star type prospects, with Rice currently holding that rating. Rice checked in at 6'2, 188 at the Miami Nike Camp, and Couch came in at 6'5, 214 at the Atlanta Nike Camp. Couch actually plays tight end and receiver in college, but Florida State wants him as a linebacker and he is on board with the switch, he told me. Rice is extremely athletic but obviously quite skinny, and Couch is inexperienced but might even grow into an OLB/DE hybrid in time.

"It's the physicality and being able to use my aggression towards others," Couch said Sunday when asked about the position switch.

Couch is also trying to recruit teammates like John Broussard, an elite cornerback, to Tallahassee. Couch believes they'll be down this weekend, though most believe Auburn is way out in front for Broussard, Couch is trying his best to bring his teammate to Tallahassee this weekend.

So the question becomes: would Florida State take four or even five linebackers? I think the answer on four is "absolutely" and the answer on "five" is maybe, but only if four and five are really elite players.

One such player is Keion Joyner, of Havelock (N.C.), the No. 1 OLB in the country who plays at the former school of Florida State defensive ends coach Brad Lawing. Again, him not being directly in an SEC state (like Louisiana, Alabama or Georgia) helps out Florida State, though indeed the competition is with LSU, Auburn and perhaps North Carolina. I expect Joyner to visit this spring.

Legacy Devin Bush, Jr. of Hollywood (Fla.) Flanagan is also a top priority and the main competition is Georgia. I feel good about Florida State's chances with the 5'11, 220-pound Bush.

FSU is also very interested in a pair of bigger linebackers in Roswell (Ga.)'s Tre Lamar and Chesapeake (Va.)'s Jaquan Yulee. Both are thumpers against the run measuring in at over 235 pounds entering their senior years.

The lesson here is that FSU needs numbers and it very well could end up in a position where it takes and takes and let's the kids decide if they want to stay in the class.

Defensive back

Florida State returns 12 defensive backs in 2016 and attrition of one or two is reasonable, meaning Florida State will likely be in the market for four or five defensive backs, and more than likely three who can play corner.

Florida State has one defensive back commitment at current in Jamel Cook, of Miami Central. The 6'4.5, 189-pound Cook showed good range at the recent Miami Nike Camp, though he isn't great in man coverage against smaller slot receivers. Based on what I have seen, Cook's four-star rating seems deserved. Cook also seems solid to FSU, as the Seminoles have done extremely well at Miami Central in recent years.

FSU is very high on safety Nigel Warrior, a four-star from Atlanta Westlake, but seems unlikely to be able to beat out the numerous SEC schools vying for his signature.

The picture at cornerback is less concrete.

Florida State missed on five-star cornerback Saivion Smith, of IMG Academy, as he recently committed to LSU. The commitment was really a surprise, but Smith, and especially his dad really like the Tigers. FSU won't stop recruiting him, but this won't be an easy flip.

The other player with an argument for the honor of best corner in the state is Trayvon Mullen, of Pompano Beach (Fla.) Coconut Creek. Mullen is a four-star recruit who should be a five-star in my eyes, with his 6'2 frame, speed and agility. FSU's main competition for Mullen will be LSU, which has a history of pulling elite defensive backs out of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Gators. It's very important for FSU to get Mullen on a visit this spring and then for the summer as well for a camp.

A corner at whom the Seminoles have a better chance of landing is Levonta Taylor, of Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes. Taylor is a lot smaller than the corners Florida State typically recruits (his listed height of 5'10, 170 might be generous), bit he has tremendous skills. Florida State has done a very good job recruiting Virginia (again, a talented Souther, but non-SEC state) under Jimbo Fisher, and promising defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi signed with FSU from Ocean Lakes in the 2014 class. I would have Mullen rated higher than Taylor, and suspect things might end up that way when all is said and done. Taylor decides on April 3 and really enjoyed his recent multi-day visit to Tallahassee. I believe FSU will land his commitment.

Another prospect to keep an eye on is Carlos Becker, of Kissimme Osceola. At 6'1.5, 185, Becker will remind FSU fans of P.J. Williams with his length. FSU was one of his first major offers, and UF, Ohio State, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Louisville and Mississippi State soon followed. Becker is likely underrated based on his film and size and I believe he would be a take for FSU if he wanted to come aboard right now. Becker visited Florida State a few weeks ago and learned about the school, but is not yet ready to commit. He is visiting Florida this week.

Quickly ...Florida State remains in contact with undersized corner Khalil Ladler (5'10) of the IMG Academy. ... It is trying to get in the mix for John Broussard (four-star corner from Phenix City Alabama), who will be visiting this weekend with teammate Jamal Couch, but Auburn is believed to hold a huge lead for Broussard. ... FSU will also continue to pursue Cocoa (Fla.)'s Chauncey Gardner, a four-star UF corner commit who has previously committed to Miami and Florida (yes, twice).