Florida State is arguably DBU when it comes to placing elite defensive backs in the NFL, but before they get to the league, prospects have to cut their teeth in Tallahassee. This fall, a new group will attempt to make their marks in the garnet and gold. Below, our staff breaks down just what they bring to the table.
Asante Samuel, Jr.
Two things jump off the screen when watching Asante Samuel Jr.: his competitive nature and his ability in coverage. Evidence of his passion for the game can be seen throughout his film. Whether it’s him challenging receivers at the line of scrimmage or his contributions on special teams including blocking kicks, returning punts, or blocking for his teammates, Samuel wants to win every snap. Despite his smaller frame, he also does not shy away from contact, playing with a natural brand of physicality that any defensive coach would covet.
In press coverage, Samuel has some of the best technique you will see on a high school prospect’s film. He is patient at the line, smooth with his feet to mirror, and stays square and cuts off the wide receiver while using his hands to disrupt the timing of routes. He is already elite in these areas, and this helps him overcome his lack of long speed and remain in phase with receivers (If you can stay in front of the receiver with patience and an effective use of hands and feet, it is hard for that receiver to run by you). He also shows the quickness and awareness to stay on the receiver’s hip on stop routes like hitches, curls, and comebacks and has a few clips on film effectively playing the backshoulder fade.
Length will be a concern against bigger, longer receivers, but Samuel does a good job playing through receivers’ hands at the catch point and has excellent body control to be able to leave his feet and defend passes at the high point. In the few clips we see of Samuel in off coverage, he plays an open shuffle technique and shows good awareness in reading the QB, handling multiple receivers in his zone and playing the ball in the air.
Samuel will step on campus at Florida State and immediately have some of the best coverage technique on the roster. This makes him a candidate to play outside corner or a nickel role over the slot, and as he gets in the weight room and becomes more familiar with the playbook, expect this recruit to get on the field early for the Seminoles.
A.J. Lytton is a smooth, quick-twitch athlete who excels on offense, defense, and special teams for his high school team. Lytton has excellent speed and reaches top speed quickly and with ease. His movements on film appear to be very fluid and natural, and he has the hips and feet to efficiently transition in his movements and change direction.
On offense, Lytton works primarily in the slot and is seen making plays off of bubble screens and throws over the middle. He tracks the ball well in the air and looks to have very good hands. Lytton is also a playmaker with the ball in his hands, finding ways to get to the end zone with good vision in the open field, lateral quickness, and acceleration to run by defenders. These traits also make him a legit threat as a return man on special teams, something he also did very well in high school.
On defense, Lytton plays mostly off coverage. He plays with two different techniques in off coverage: a “walk-out” backpedal technique and an open-stance shuffle. He executes both very well at times and appears to play with proper depth and understanding of his cushion, allowing him to play tight to short-breaking routes while staying on top of vertical routes. In limited examples on film, we can also see flashes of his ability to “click and close” to drive on short-breaking routes thrown off a 1 or 3 step drop from the QB.
Like Samuel Jr., Lytton does lack some size and length, but he appears to have the ability to overcome that to some extent by tracking the ball effectively and showing the ball skills and body control to adjust to the ball or get up to defend the ball at its high point.
Overall, Lytton is an intriguing prospect who excels in a lot of areas on the football field. He possesses a lot of natural athletic traits that you can’t teach, and as he continues to develop and refine his technique, you start to envision a player who can be a multi-year starter at Florida State.
Jaiden Woodbey possesses good size and appears to be well developed in his lower body. He’s an excellent tackler in the open field and running the alley as a force player. He finishes with physicality and does not allow the ball carrier to fall forward. He shows the ability to play in the box, take on and shed blocks, and be effective vs. the run and vs. screen passes to the perimeter.
Woodbey always seems to be in the right position and makes a ton of plays in coverage. He does not have elite speed or range, but it is above average. He appears to play with good instincts and effectively reads the QB from the deep middle of the field. He also showcases excellent hands and ball skills, which resulted in him grabbing a lot of interceptions as a high school defensive back.
Woodbey is one of the better safeties in the country because he does everything well. His presence and effectiveness vs. the run profiles him more as a strong safety, but his ball skills and instincts in coverage leave open the possibility of him contributing as a free safety or middle-of-the-field player as well.
Isaiah Bolden is a long, rangy defensive back who will play cornerback at Florida State. At 6’2, 175 pounds, Bolden has a frame to add 10-15 pounds and the length and movement skills to excel in coverage out wide. This length will be a major asset for Bolden in press coverage as he uses his hands to disrupt receivers early in the route. Despite being a taller player, he has excellent hips. Bolden showcases the ability to smoothly transition out of a pedal or shuffle to stay on top of fade routes or play the post pattern while staying in phase through the route. He can also quickly sink his hips and get in-and-out of breaks on short to intermediate routes.
Bolden also seems to play the ball well in the air and is a real threat to score if he picks it off. His ability with the ball in his hands makes him a candidate to be an effective return man on special teams at the next level. Bolden also loves to hit. He has no problem coming up and making a tackle and has bad intentions when he does so. Put all of this together, and you have a very intriguing defensive back recruit with a ton of traits and potential. Florida State continues to stockpile in the secondary with talents like Bolden.