Freshmen could be stars very soon

Florida State fans are about to finally get a look at the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. Which true freshman could be a big contributor immediately? Our Scout.com experts venture a guess.


Scout.com
Incoming freshman tight end Nick O'Leary has all the skills necessary to develop into the kind of passing-game target Florida State hasn't featured in years.

Nick O'Leary

A 6-4 and 230-pound tight end from Palm Beach Gardens (FL) Dwyer High School, O'Leary is the grandson of Jack Nicklaus but has set aside his golf clubs in favor of catching a football.

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The Seminoles haven't sent a tight end to the NFL since 1994, when Lonnie Johnson was selected in Round 2 of the draft by the Bills. The demise of the pass-catching tight end at Florida State started with Johnson, as he didn't fit into the system once eventual Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward proved to be so much more dynamic working out of the shotgun with four wide receivers than under center in more conventional pro-style sets -- Johnson took it like a man and earned high praise for being a captain on special teams. There have been some flashes from names like Melvin Pearsall, plus Brandon Warren gave fans a glimmer of hope as a freshman All-American before leaving Tallahassee after just one season, but O'Leary could very well be a difference maker from the moment he adorns himself in garnet and gold.

Not only can O'Leary catch the ball, but he also pushes people around in the running game and brings a degree of versatility to the table.

"I am not sure FSU has ever had a tight end with the ability Nick O'Leary has," says Chad Simmons, the national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "He has all the tools you look for, and I can't see anything other than an injury keeping him off the field this year. He will be a real weapon in the passing game, and he is a very good blocker as well. Not only could he be used as a tight end, but he could be a very good H-back."

The tight end depth chart currently features Beau Reliford starting and being backed up by Ja'Baris Little and Will Tye, but that trio combined for only 18 receptions a year ago -- 17 of them from Reliford.

Devonta Freeman

A 5-8 and 200-pound running back from Miami (FL) Central High School, Freeman is already on record saying that he is going to win a Heisman Trophy before his collegiate career is finished.

Florida State ran the ball very well this past year, with Chris Thompson (845 yards), Ty Jones (527) and Jermaine Thomas (490) averaging 6.3, 6.1 and 5.7 yards per carry, respectively, and scoring a total of 17 touchdowns on the ground. That being said, none of them has the skills to be the kind of total package than can move the pile between the tackles, turn the corner and get to the outside and also catch the ball consistently out of the backfield. As a matter of fact, Thomas was the starter for most of last season before being sidelined with a knee injury, yet he's currently third on the depth chart behind both Thompson and Jones.

And don't forget Lonnie Pryor, who deserves his touches from the fullback position, but coach Jimbo Fisher told the media at the ACC Football Kickoff that Freeman will get some snaps with the ones in practice.

"The running back position returns the top three rushers, not an ideal situation for a newcomer, but Freeman has a more complete game than any of those players," says Geoff Vogt, a Florida recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "He can be a three-down back and has shown the ability to be the workhorse. He may start slow, but I think he has a chance to be the guy down the stretch."

The funny thing is that Freeman isn't even the freshman tailback some FSU fans are most excited about, not with big-and-bad James Wilder in the conversation.

Karlos Williams

A 6-1 and 205-pound safety -- he's bigger already, by the way -- from Davenport (FL) Ridge Community High School, Williams is arguably the most decorated recruit from Florida State's universally-praised class for 2011.

The free and strong safety spots tend to be flip-flopped in the scheme employed by defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, as his "free" is actually more of an in-the-box player and his "strong" tends to be the center fielder in coverage. When the coaching staff released its most recent depth chart going into summer practice, sophomore cornerback-turned-safety Lamarcus Joyner was atop the strong position, while senior Terrance Parks and junior Nick Moody were listed as co-starters at free. Everybody is high on Joyner, as he has the speed and range to make enemy QBs miserable in the passing game, but the neck-and-neck battle between Parks and Moody could very well open the door for Williams.

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Nobody questions whether or not Williams is physically ready to play big-time college football, but he'll need to quickly digest the playbook and prove to Stoops that he can be trusted -- he's light years ahead of either Parks or Moody talent-wise, but he can't hold a candle to them in the experience department.

"Karlos Williams had the look of a linebacker while he was in high school but glided around the field like a free safety," says Scott Kennedy, the director of scouting for Scout.com. "If he can learn the defense and play disciplined football, Williams has freshman All-American written all over him."

And while Moody did return an interception 96 yards for a touchdown in 2010, he's not nearly the threat Williams is once he gets his hands on the ball.


John Crist is the editor-in-chief of NoleDigest.com, a Heisman Trophy voter and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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