The lion’s share of Florida State’s 2019 recruiting class has been signed, with the Seminoles inking 14 players during the Early Signing Period. So with that important milestone of the recruiting cycle now in the rearview mirror, where does FSU stand? How should we view this latest collection of new ’Noles and the job done by Willie Taggart and his staff? Several of our contributors look back at this ESP:
Q: Was the ESP for the 2019 class a success or failure?
Evan Johnson: I really struggle with this. After all, how many 5-7 teams end up with top-20 classes? It can’t be that many. At the same time, this staff is built to recruit, and this is FSU, so you’d expect a high level of competency. I feel like 10-15 isn’t bad, all things considered, but it isn’t great either. The hope is you get enough of “your guys” who can flip the culture regardless of talent level and recruit over them. This class isn’t going to get you closer to Clemson, but it isn’t getting you drastically further behind. Hey, at least your instate rivals are just as incompetent in recruiting. Positivity!
Juan Montalvo III: There would be a lot of red pen if I were a teacher grading this class. Mistakes in key areas, combined with poor luck despite high aptitude make this a B- class to me. You can’t expect to get an A after the confluence of OC departure and a 5-7 season. But this is Taggart’s first full recruiting season, and the signees delivered during the ESP were quite solid. My personal favorite recruit is Malcolm Ray— this kid is going to be a dog. While 10-15 is not where we want or expect FSU to be to compete for national titles, it helps to continue the roster improving from a locker room perspective, which will allow a proper culture to take hold.
Trey Rowland: If you’re solely looking at the ESP, I’d have to consider it a failure. That doesn’t mean that I consider the entire class a failure at this point, since you still have not signed your most talented DBs. However, on ESP specifically, FSU lost their only QB commit in Sam Howell, lost blue-chip defensive lineman Derick Hunter, lost a battle with Clemson for Will Putnam, and did not sign one offensive tackle from the high school ranks. There were some nice moments, like securing Kalen DeLoach, Dontae Lucas, and Raymond Woodie III, but overall, from what you lost and from the total amount of talent that you brought in, it’s a failure.
Nolethruandthru: I can see both sides of this. FSU flipped a pair of underrated prospects from South Florida in Ray and Brownlee, both of whom I really like, and held on to key guys like DeLoach and Lucas. FSU also lost one of its most important recruits in Sam Howell, and another key target in Will Putnam, overshadowing any good news for many folks. Overall, though it’s difficult to sell a vision after a losing season, I’d say this was a failure based on the supposed recruiting chops of this staff.
Dakota: On one hand, it’s hard to call this class a failure considering this team just went 5-7 on the field. Florida State isn’t exactly a hot name on the recruiting trail. On the other hand, the top end talent in this class just isn’t what you’d expect from the Seminoles. Players like Dontae Lucas and Kalen DeLoach should contribute early, but there aren’t many difference makers in this class. You don’t need the elite talent to get back into contention in the ACC (because you sure as hell aren’t beating Clemson), but you need talent to get back to a respectable bowl game. Also, the two areas of need for this team were quarterback and offensive tackle and FSU failed to sign a player to either of those positions. Time still remains to get a commitment or two before February, but it’s slim pickings. Especially at quarterback.
Q: Does the loss of Howell lay at the feet of Taggart for not being more involved? Or is the more immediate impact of Briles as OC more critical for the program than a blue chip 2019 QB signee who would have enrolled early?
Evan: Howell is a good QB and FSU needs QBs. Howell is not good enough to plan hires around. I don’t feel that that’s sour grapes but an honest assessment. Get the staff hires right and hope that you get enough bounces during the upcoming season(s) for them to work. I don’t like the Briles hire from an overall standpoint, but from a football point of view, it’s a home run. I doubt Howell went to UNC because of Briles but rather because Walt Bell is no longer at FSU.
Juan: I don’t believe Taggart was able to bridge anyone else into the relationship between Bell and Howell. The pair were just that tight. I don’t believe anyone else could have “saved” the connection to Howell. I think Briles may be able to help in recruiting quarterbacks. John Rhys Plumlee, the UGA commit (who I prefer to Howell or any other available 2019 QB), recently followed Briles on twitter. Briles may also pull in D’Eriq King as a grad transfer from Houston. Given the outlook on FSU’s 2019 QB signees, I don’t believe losing Howell will have a great impact, and I expect the QB room to improve from 2018 regardless.
Trey: It mostly lays at the feet of Walt Bell. Bell and Sam Howell’s relationship was the sole thing that made the talented prospect spurn his in-state school of UNC for FSU. However, this does not mean that I absolve Willie Taggart of all responsibility. From the beginning, it was known that Howell was more committed to Bell than the Florida State program. Knowing that, and coupled with the fact that reports have come out that Bell was not going to be a long-term member of the staff, Taggart should have inserted himself in Howell’s recruitment earlier. I won’t deny that Taggart had been focusing on this in the past few months, but ultimately it was not enough. As far as importance to the program, I consider Kendal Briles to be a bigger addition to the team than Howell. Howell is a good QB in a down class for that position; Briles is one of the most brilliant offensive minds in football with a documented history of success. Briles is the more critical piece, in my opinion, since there are still a lot of talented options left for FSU at QB in the high school, transfer, and grad transfer ranks. Ideally, FSU fans would want both from a football perspective, but if I had to choose, I pick Briles.
Nolethruandthru: As we hear more rumors about Bell negatively recruiting FSU on his way to one of the worst DI coaching jobs in the country, I place this at Taggart’s feet for not taking a more active role to counterbalance anything Bell said. Here’s the thing to remember though: this was a down year for high school QBs, and while Howell was the best FSU could do this cycle, he should not be viewed in the same way as top QBs from yesteryears. It is imperative for FSU to land a grad transfer and a high school QB— as Bud has mentioned, keep an eye on John Rhys Plumlee and Lance Legendre.
Dakota: The blame lies on Taggart for not becoming more involved in Howell’s recruitment. After not signing a QB last year, making Howell a major focus of this year’s class should have been Taggart’s biggest priority. Even though Howell is not an elite prospect, he is one of the better players this year and now there is immense pressure on signing an elite player in the 2020 class (assuming no grad transfers). Going two years without a blue-chip quarterback signee is not the best way to ensure the future of your program.
Q: Overall has Taggart been bad or unlucky?
Evan: I probably lean toward bad luck over being bad but there’s certainly room for both to be true. Every coach makes mistakes but when you can’t catch a break every mistake is magnified. I think Taggart has done a good enough job of not letting a decision continue to hurt him due to stubborness or pride, which is common among coaches. He certainly cannot continue to make the hiring faux pas he has already made, and he certainly needs a few bounces going his way.
Juan: Both. Bell, in hindsight, was not the sunshine hire we expected. Murmurs of this began well before the Minuteman left in a minute, man.
Trey: Both. He was given a talented, but highly unbalanced roster that was rife with character issues. However, it seems that Taggart made some pretty poor assistant hires, and chose to stay on elite recruiting prospects for longer than he should have. However, the hand that he was dealt was pretty poor, so I’m unable to distinguish how much of the unfortunate things that have been happening are due to poor luck or bad coaching. I do think this answer will become more apparent in the coming years.
Nolethruandthru: Both. He inherited a talented mess of a roster, that must be taken into account. But he has not delivered on his reputation as a recruiting ace, and he seems to be falling on more excuses when pressed on the issue by media. Excuses will get you to the unemployment line quickly, so it’s time we see Willie deliver on his promise by making necessary staff changes. The 2020 class looks to be very talented and Willie must hit a home run.
Dakota: A little bit of both. Bell bolting for UMass was beyond his control, but at the same time he should have been more involved in Howell’s recruitment. The situation he inherited at Florida State was also a lot worse than initially thought, and he never got off to a great start. Remember the Virginia Tech game, where a lot of recruits were in attendance during a rain-soaked blowout loss? FSU has been fighting an uphill battle all season and the fight will continue through February. This might be a down year for the Seminoles and a top-20 class might be the ceiling, but this staff needs to rebound in 2020. Another class like this next year and we can all but kiss the Taggart era goodbye.