Florida State’s defensive line has the chance to be an elite unit. It’s time for us to take a look at the interior of that unit for the upcoming season, the defensive tackles.
Derrick Nnadi is the anchor of this defensive tackle group. A former four-star, Nnadi has been as good as can be expected at every stage of his career to date.
2015: Started all 13 games at nose guard – was one of just five Seminoles on the defensive side of the ball to start every game…finished his sophomore season with 45 tackles, 2.0 TFLs and two sacks...set a career-high with nine tackles against Syracuse, the most by an FSU interior lineman since Timmy Jernigan also had nine in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game vs. Auburn...recorded six tackles at No. 1 Clemson...registered a sack at Boston College and half-sacks vs. Syracuse and Clemson…finished second on the defensive line in total tackles behind only DeMarcus Walker (58)…made his first career start in the season opener against Texas State and finished with a tackle…helped anchor a top-10 scoring defense for the Seminoles in 2015...earned Defensive Most Improved Player honors following the 2016 spring season. — FSU Media Guide
He isn’t a great pass rusher or an overly impressive athlete, but Nnadi will be the focal point of the interior line this season and, as a result, the Noles around him will be able to operate at their peak. Nnadi — a 6’1, 312-pound junior who was All-ACC in 2015 — will occupy blockers against double teams and allow FSU’s linebackers to run free to the ball. Just as importantly, he’ll allow his running mate Demarcus Christmas to work against single blocks by eating up those double teams and controlling his gap at the point of attack. Nnadi is able to do this by combining great strength and leverage with excellent hand technique.
Nnadi will play the role of a less talented (that’s no slight) Timmy Jernigan to Demarcus Christmas’ Eddie Goldman role, or the Booger McFarland to Christmas’ Warren Sapp if we harken back to the early 2000s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His role isn’t a glamorous one, but it is absolutely a key for Florida State in 2016. If he sees consistent double teams from opposing offensive lines, it will play directly to the strengths of the Seminoles defense.
An Ascending Player
With Nnadi holding things down beside him, the aforementioned Demarcus Christmas has a chance to take the next step as a redshirt sophomore. If he can take that step, then FSU’s D-line could absolutely be in the conversation of best in the country.
With a good blend of power and quickness, Christmas came to FSU in 2014 as a consensus 4-star and a top-10 DT in the nation along with Nnadi. That ranking is nothing to sneeze at, but Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher made it clear he thought more of Christmas coming out of high school than even that rating conveyed.
"If Christmas would have gone to some [more] camps, he would have been the No. 1 or 2 player in the whole country," Fisher said on signing day.
The nature of the 3-technique position makes it tougher for opposing O-lines to double team Christmas, which, in theory, gives him more freedom to get upfield and make plays whether it be against the run or the pass.
Christmas wasn’t a full-time starter in 2015, but he saw action in all 13 of FSU’s games last season. Given his size, length and ability, the table is set for Christmas to show out next to Nnadi this season.
|Justin Shanks||NG||6'2, 344||RSr.||4 stars|
|Derrick Nnadi||NG||6'1, 312||Jr.||4 stars||31.5||2||2|
|Fredrick Jones||NG||6'2, 298||RSo.||3 stars||4.5||1||0|
|Arthur Williams||NG||6'4, 327||RSo.||3 stars|
|Walvenski Aimé||DT||6'4, 289||RSo.||3 stars|
|Demarcus Christmas||DT||6'4, 308||RSo.||4 stars||11.5||0.5||0.5|
|Darvin Taylor II||DT||6'3, 304||RFr.||4 stars|
|Cedric Wood||DT||6'3, 321||Fr.||4 stars|
A Bunch of Big Bodies
While having a pair of top starters at the nose tackle and 3-tech spots is great, it’s of vital importance that you have true two-deep depth on the interior. The next need for FSU is finding reliable depth options to provide cover for injuries and allow for rotation up front to keep those big bodies fresh.
Behind Nnadi at nose, Florida State has 298-pound Fredrick Jones who played in 10 games last season and showed well, in addition to former 3-star Arthur Williams, a 327-pound sophomore. Jones showed his ability as a backup nose last year, playing well in relief of Nnadi, which bodes well for him going forward, especially as a former 2-star who appears to be exceeding expectations. Jones is a technician with solid size and it’s clear he has absorbed all the coaching from defensive tackle coach Odell Haggins. Williams is a huge body who has been slow to develop but did receive playing time later in the 2016 season.
Behind Christmas, Walvenski Aimé provides big potential at 6’4, 295 pounds, with three years of eligibility remaining after a JUCO stint. The Noles beat out Alabama for Aimé’s services, and his versatility proves why he was so sought after — Aimé can play inside at DT or outside at 3-4 defensive end behind DeMarcus Walker. He showed great athleticism in spring for a 290-pound player, and could provide depth at either position for FSU in ’16.
Florida State also has Justin Shanks, who has been hurt throughout his career and didn’t develop when he was healthy. Darvin Taylor II is battling back from a shoulder injury that caused him to redshirt as a freshman. True freshman Cedric Wood has promising talent, but needs to heal up from a foot issue so that he can get in better condition and make full use of practice.