In an bit of an interesting conundrum, the offense, despite having 11 returning starters, has more questions that the defense does in my mind. The Noles return just six starters on the defense, but this year’s defense is expected to be better than last years and many project it might be among the nation’s best.
The Noles defense got a huge boost with a commitment before signing day, but it came from a Junior and not an incoming freshman. Demarcus Walker (6’4″ 280) was widely expected to forgo his senior season and opt for the NFL draft and when he chose to come back to Tallahassee for his final year the Noles defense got that much better. Walker will be one of the top defensive ends in college football this season and has become one of the vocal leaders of the defense and the team overall.
Behind Walker, there are questions, particularly with the move of Rick Leonard to offensive tackle. Adam Torres (6’2″ 281), a redshirt sophomore, enters the fall at number two on the depth chart. Coming in as a defensive tackle, Torres moved out to the end position in spring.
Also competing for the backup role is redshirt junior Keith Bryant (6’2″ 274). Bryant is another former defensive tackle that moved to the end role in the offseason. Bryant was a heralded recruit out of high school that hasn’t been able to garner significant playing time in his time thus far. He’s dropped 20+ pounds and drew praise for his efforts and resurgence in the offseason before suffering an injury that kept him out of spring practice.
Redshirt sophomore Demarcus Christmas (6’4″ 308) takes over at the defensive tackle role after backing up Nile Lawerence-Stample last season. In the backup role Christmas delivered all year long and is primed to live up to his billing out of high school and be the next great defensive tackle at Florida State.
Wally Aime (6’5″ 300), a sophomore JUCO transfer, arrives in Tallahassee this year physically ready to contribute. One of the top JUCO defensive tackles for the 2016 recruiting cycle, Aime enrolled in January and participated in spring and quickly moved into the number two role.
Darvin Taylor II (6’3″ 304) is a redshirt freshman that spent last season on the scout team after being a 4 star recruit and top 20 defensive tackle nationally out of high school.
Derrick Nnadi (6’1″ 312) heads into his junior season ready to breakout into a star. He started every game in 2015 and had a very good year. A strong interior player with violent hands, Nnadi was named Defensive Most Improved during spring which certainly bodes well for the Noles defense.
Fred Jones (6’3″ 298), a redshirt sophomore, played in 10 games last season and comes into the fall backing up Nnadi. Impressive for a guy who many thought was offered a scholarship mainly due to his heritage (family of Fred Jones and Marvin Jones) seeing as he was a lightly recruited 2 star athlete out of high school. The coaches saw something in him at camp and offered him and he’s impressed enough to see time as a redshirt freshman and now is a player being counted on to provide depth at the position.
Arthur Williams (6’4″ 327) is another player the coaches saw something in out of high school despite not being a blue chip recruit. Williams is massive and athletic and saw time last season in 9 games. He’ll push Jones for snaps in a backup role.
Josh Sweatt (6’5″ 250) is ready to be unleashed in his sophomore season. He broke onto the scene last year and quickly established himself as a starter despite blowing out his knee just a year earlier and not having a full offseason in a college program. A freak athlete with great instincts, Sweatt has put on some good weight and could become a household name nationally by season’s end.
Jacob Pugh (6’4″ 229), a junior, is a versatile player on the defense that can play a traditional linebacker role (as he came out of high school) or he can put his hand on the ground and play in a pass rushing position. He played in all 13 games last season and is an experienced backup at the position.
A pair of talented true freshman may try to work their way onto the field as well. Janarius Robinson (6’5″ 249) enrolled early this January, but missed all of spring with an injury. He’s got great size and is an explosive rusher off the edge. Brian Burns (6’5″ 218) was actually rated just a touch higher out of high school but probably needs the college offseason to get bigger and stronger before seeing a lot of meaningful snaps.
Redshirt junior Ro’Derrick Hoskins (6’2″ 240) will start at Sam this season after playing in 12 games last year and starting six. Hoskins was one of the top linebackers for FSU before battling injuries that slowed him. Jimbo Fisher consistently has pointed out his play and the Noles will rely on his experience this season.
Delvin Purifoy (6’2″ 246) has struggled returning from injury as a freshman. He missed all of 2014 recovering and was still well below 100 percent in 2015 and only saw time on the scout team. Finally healthy, the redshirt sophomore, will hopefully live up to his lofty rating out of high school.
Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane (6’2″ 219) is a sophomore that played in 11 games last season as a true freshman, mostly on special teams. A blue chip U.S. Army All-American in high school, Kilby-Lane had a good spring and will challenge for field time.
One of the most anticipated players to watch this season, Matthew Thomas (6’3″ 227) finally looks to be past injuries and troubles that have kept him off the field. Thomas was an all-world recruit out of high school and the redshirt junior has shown flashes of his ability at times. Finally healthy and seemingly matured, Thomas’ play could determine if this is a really good defense or a great defense among the nations best.
True freshman Josh Brown (6’3″ 216) had an impressive spring as a true freshman and proved he’s ready to contribute as a youngster this season. The blue chip high school athlete will be counted on to play meaningful snaps.
For the defense, this is the battle of the fall as two true sophomores will work to replace Jalen Ramsey at this spot. Either way this one falls, I think both athletes will see significant time and the Noles will be in great shape with either.
Tavares McFadden (6’2″ 198) played in seven games as a true freshman last season after coming out of high school as one of the top corners and a consensus 5 star recruit. McFadden has all the tools as a corner, size, speed, good hips, and the confidence required in such a demanding role.
Marcus Lewis (6’1″ 190) played in four games as a true freshman. A bit of an overlooked player from the 2015 recruiting class due to the hype surrounding McFadden and Derwin James, Lewis was himself a 4 star blue chip recruit. Like McFadden, he is a prototype corner with his size and speed.
Senior Marquez White (6’0″ 184), was one of the most under-appreciated players for the Seminoles last season. He became a lock down corner as a junior and was a threat to leave early for the NFL draft. White decided he wasn’t done and that’s a great thing for the 2016 Nole defense.
Malique Jackson (6’0″ 170), a junior, has served on special teams and as a reserve defensive back his first two years on campus. He enters the fall as the number two guy at the field corner spot, but will have to hold off a trio of talented freshman.
Levonta Taylor (5’10” 169) was the number one corner in the nation out of high school in 2016. If he makes an impact as a freshman, it will most likely be in special teams, but he could see some time on defense in a reserve role. Carlos Becker III (6’2″ 183) and Kyle Meyers (6’0″ 168) are two other talented incoming freshman.
Trey Marshall (6’0″ 210), a junior, was sorely missed when he was lost for the year midway through the 2015 season. Marshall is a great fit for the role with outstanding closing speed reminiscent of Lamarcus Joyner, good coverage skills and a nose for physical play. A healthy Marshall solidifies a weakness from the second half of 2015.
A.J. Westbrook (6’0″ 186), a sophomore, enters the fall number two at the star position. Westbrook missed the first handful of games as a freshman before playing on special teams and as a reserve defensive back for the last six games of the year.
Also look for Marcus Lewis to put some time at the Star position if he doesn’t win the Boundry Cornerback spot.
Derwin James (6’3″ 211) enters his sophomore season having lived up to the immense hype as a freshman last year. He led the team in tackles and was named a Freshman All-American despite not starting the first five games of the year. He’s an athletic freak and is a big reason that the Nole defense is expected to be so good in 2016.
A.J. Westbrook is also listed at number two at the free safety position.
Nate Andrews (6’0″ 214) enters his senior season again in the strong safety spot. Andrews brings vast experience and a good nose for the ball. He’s much stronger against the run than he is the pass. His top position is probably in the Money position in Florida State’s dime package where she plays in a middle linebacker role.
Calvin Brewton (6’0″ 186) is a sophomore that could push Andrews for the starting spot this fall. Brewton is another member of the outstanding 2015 DB class that Florida State signed. He played in four games last year on special teams.