Because Florida State is undoubtedly Defensive Back University, it loses defensive backs to the draft on a regular basis.
This year was no different, with Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden departing early for the NFL. The team also lost seniors Trey Marshall and Nate Andrews to graduation, two players who provided starting roles to the team at certain points.
However, defensive back is still the deepest position on the team despite those loses. Over the past four years, Florida State has recruited defensive backs as well as any team in the country, if not better.
It starts with Levonta Taylor, a former five-star recruit and Top-10 player nationally. The junior started all 13 games for the ’Noles last year at field cornerback, displaying good coverage abilities and a knack for making plays on the ball. At 5-10, 181-pounds, he is a shorter player, but proved last year that size isn’t everything. Taylor graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ top college cornerbacks and will certainly look to improve in what could be a money year for him.
With McFadden off to the NFL, the next man up at boundary cornerback appears to be sophomore Stanford Samuels III. The son of FSU star Stanford Samuels Jr., he has great size for the position at 6-2, 184-pounds. Samuels was constantly the first man off the bench at cornerback and played very well in coverage as a true freshman.
But with a new coaching staff, all positions will be open. Two players who will challenge for cornerback reps are juniors Kyle Meyers and Carlos Becker.
Meyers has quietly been one of FSU’s most consistent defensive backs and has played in all 26 games of his career so far. He is primarily the Seminoles’ top option in the slot cornerback role, but can also play outside corner. Becker has missed time with injury, but was a blue-chip recruit with excellent size and athleticism at 6-2, 197-pounds. The battle for the cornerback jobs will be intense this offseason.
The safety position has many options, but less proven ones with the departures of James and Marshall.
The most experienced player at safety is senior A.J. Westbrook, who has started double-digit games in his career in Tallahassee. He is not the most athletic player, but does not make many mistakes. Westbrook has come a long way since stepping in for James against Louisville back in 2016.
Two sophomores who will compete for starting jobs are Hamsah Nasirildeen and Cyrus Fagan. Despite not enrolling early, Nasirildeen saw quite a bit of playing time as a true freshman. Despite being listed at 6-4, 211-pounds, he has great athleticism and was asked to play the slot cornerback role quite a bit. The two should provide great building blocks for the new coaching staff at safety.
One freshman who might see the field earlier rather than later is safety Jaiden Woodbey, a four-star recruit from California whose recruitment to Florida State was well documented. Woodbey has impressed coaches so far in spring and has the athleticism to push for playing time with a new coaching staff.
Senior Calvin Brewton and redshirt freshmen Ontaria Wilson and DeCalon Brooks will be valuable backup options for the Seminoles in the secondary.
The ’Noles signed one of the best defensive back classes in the country this season, but will have to wait until the summer for most of them to enroll. Woodbey is on campus, but Asante Samuel Jr., Anthony Lytton, and Isaiah Bolden will have some catching up to do in fall practice to earn playing time.
Despite losing James and McFadden to the draft, Florida State is well equipped to reload in the secondary. With talented cornerbacks battling for starting jobs and young options at safety, new defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett will be rubbing his hands together like Birdman when he sees the toys he has to play with.