Heading into the 2017 season, Florida State only loses one key contributor on the defensive line in NFL bound DE DeMarcus Walker. Returning is a plethora of talent and depth that could be the highlight of Florida State, on either side of the ball.
DE Josh Sweat will return for his junior season after a seven sack season that saw him record the same amount of tackles as his freshman season, 41. Sweat has not shown as much progression as one would hope, however he is still a key contributor heading into the Spring.
Jacob Pugh will also play at the buck spot, a LB/DE hybrid, coming off a very successful season of his own, establishing himself on the Florida State defense. Pugh made 4.5 sacks and forced a fumble in 2016, both career highs, while appearing in 11 games.
The biggest question at defensive end is if sophomore Brian Burns will be able to improve on his unbelievable true freshman season. Despite not starting any games in 2016, Burns compiled 9.5 sacks and 24 tackles in a reserve role, playing in every game.
Jalen Wilkerson, red shirt sophomore, is another option further down the depth chart at defensive end. The Douglas, Ga. native made three tackles in three games played.
Derrick Nnadi announced following the Orange Bowl that he will return to school for his senior year, giving FSU a huge advantage at nose guard. Nnadi made six sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and 49 total tackles and has appeared in more than half of the team’s games each of his first three years.
Backing up Nnadi is Freddie Jones, who appeared in a limited role over 10 games in 2016. Jones has been a very solid backup option, giving FSU no disadvantage while Nnadi is not in the game.
At defensive tackle, Demarcus Christmas, another familiar face, will be entering his redshirt junior season. Although his 21 tackles or two sacks don’t necessarily jump out on a box score, Christmas had an incredible five passes defended, showing the versatility of his 6’4 308 lb. frame.
Walvenski Aime appeared in all 13 games last season for FSU, giving him the experience needed to step in if possible. The junior made 17 tackles and has shown progression over the 2016 season.
Coming into the program, and enrolling early for Spring, is five-star Joshua Kaindoh. Ranked the No. 9 player in the nation and No. 2 weak-side defensive end, Kaindoh is ready to make an immediate impact. Despite all the congestion at defensive end, Florida State has done a great job in the past getting every player an adequate amount of game time snaps. The upcoming spring practice could be his chance to earn some playing time for next season.