Freshman Forecast: Part IV

All this week, takes a look at the incoming freshmen for Florida State and predicts what to expect from each member of the class of 2012. Today, will Mario Pender get his touches?

Mario Pender

The Skinny: A 6-0, 210-pound tailback formerly of Cape Coral (FL) Island Coast High School, Pender is simply a raw athlete with generous amounts of power and speed despite never being a big fan of the weight room or the track.

The Competition: Sure, Florida State has a handful of scholarship ball carriers on the team already, but Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson are both dealing with back injuries and James Wilder spent the majority of the offseason on the wrong side of the legal system. With coach Jimbo Fisher forced to employ fullbacks Lonnie Pryor and Debrale Smiley at the tailback spot during spring drills, the window of opportunity is wide open for Pender to get his fair share of touches right away.

The Projection: While Freeman, Thompson and Wilder are all capable running backs and worthy of being the bell cow at the FBS level, Pender appears to be the total package. Freeman didn't show a lot of wiggle as a freshman, Thompson has a tough time as a between-the-tackles option because of his slight stature and Wilder learned the hard way that he can't just bowl over collegiate tacklers like he did in high school. Even though Pender looked rather pedestrian in the annual spring game, he's sure to pop here and there in Year 1.

Justin Shanks

The Skinny: A 6-4, 320-pound defensive tackle coming to town from Prattville (AL) High School, Shanks heads to Tallahassee in the shadow of fellow D-tackle signee Eddie Goldman, who has an extra star next to his name, but he certainly appears to be a tremendous talent himself.

The Competition: Shanks has the build to be a hole-plugging nose tackle at the next level, which is a position now occupied by Anthony McCloud and Timmy Jernigan. Next on that list is Demonte McAllister, who is coming off a tremendous performance in the spring, so Shanks has his work cut out for him as a freshman if he wants to see the field.

The Projection: Jernigan changed everything for FSU's defense with his ability to be a playmaker at what traditionally is not a playmaking position, so it's fair to speculate that he could be even more productive sliding over one gap and lining up as a three-technique tackle. That won't happen in 2012, not with Everett Dawkins one of the senior leaders of this team, but it could be a possibility come 2013. McCloud is also a senior and departs after this coming season, meaning Garnet and Gold fans probably have to wait a year before getting more from Shanks.

P.J. Williams

The Skinny: A 6-1, 180-pound defensive back via Ocala (FL) Vanguard High School, Williams is yet another hybrid defender that could ultimately end up at cornerback or safety depending on where he fits best.

The Competition: If he's a corner then he'll do battle with classmates Ronald Darby and Colin Blake and 2011 signees Keelin Smith and Nick Waisome, and his tape shows clear evidence that he has the instincts to play the position. But if he's a safety then current backups like Tyler Hunter and Lamarcus Brutus are in his way, plus he will have to work on his tackling and toughness if he wants to get noticed.

The Projection: Florida State appears to be in great shape these days at safety, so there is less of a chance for Williams to make an impact there fresh out of high school. Corner, on the other hand, remains relatively cloudy behind starters Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes -- even more so following Reid's recent arrest that is dominating the headlines. It's a safe bet Williams is going to be handed a redshirt, unless he ends up being indispensible on special teams.

Jameis Winston

The Skinny: A 6-4, 190-pound quarterback hailing from Hueytown (AL) High School, Winston is the most celebrated signal-calling signee the program has brought in since Dan Kendra in 1995.

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The Competition: If Winston sees any action as a freshman, then something went horribly wrong for the Seminoles in 2012. E.J. Manuel is a fifth-year senior, Clint Trickett proved to be more than reliable as a No. 2 a season ago and Jacob Coker has quite a bit of potential himself.

The Projection: In a picture-perfect world, Winston redshirts this year, dives head first into Fisher's playbook and decides to set aside his promising future in baseball to focus solely on football. With Manuel in the final act of his career, Winston can conceivably compete with Trickett and Coker for the starting job come 2013. He's the prototype at the game's most important position, so thinking about his upside is nothing short of intoxicating for the fan base.

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

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