Projecting the Depth Chart: Defense

The Florida State defense will look very different in 2015. The NoleDigest staff tries to project the depth chart for a very athletic but young group.

Florida State is getting set to start spring practice and, unlike last year, there is plenty of intrigue at quite a few positions. The Seminoles will likely have at least 10, if not 12, players drafted in the upcoming NFL Draft. That means that not only is Florida State losing a lot of depth, they are losing quality starters as well. Here is how the NoleDigest staff believes those holes will be filled by the end of spring practice.

It is difficult to project a defensive depth chart because of how multiple the FSU defense is. For starters, FSU does not run a base even front (four down linemen) with traditional defensive ends responsible primarily for rushing the quarterback. Instead, FSU runs a hybrid odd front that sometimes uses four down linemen and other times as few as one. (This has led to some confusion from fans who don’t understand the scheme and are constantly upset that the defensive ends aren’t producing much of a pass rush.)

Simply using FSU’s released depth chart is not especially helpful either, since the official chart is based on a 3-4 jumbo package (really a 5-2 Okie front) that FSU uses for under 10% of the snaps on a given year.

We’ve tried to give a more realistic picture of the depth chart situation by dividing personnel more into their usual roles. We have divided the defensive line into Nose Tackles (those typically lined up inside the guards), Defensive Tackles (those typically lined up outside the guards but inside the tackles), Defensive Ends (big edge players), and Jacks (hybrid edge players combining the OLB and DE position).

That said, these positions are only an approximation. A few of the NT/DT players can and will play both spots, and we expect FSU to use multiple Jacks on the field quite a bit in 2015 to get quicker on the edge. We also expect to see a NT and two DTs on the field together with a single Jack at times in 2015. (For example: Derrick Mitchell, Derrick Nnadi, Nile Lawrence-Stample, and Lorenzo Featherston or Jacob Pugh as the front four.)

Similarly, FSU runs a base nickel package with a defensive back in the “Star” role taking the place of a traditional strongside linebacker. FSU tries to have a lot of flexibility in the secondary to ensure teams cannot get mismatches against lesser coverage players, something for which the Seminoles didn’t have ideal personnel last season. We’ve done our best to divide the secondary according to role, much like we did with the defensive front.

Defensive Line

Wayne’s DL

1st Team

2nd Team

3rd Team

4th Team

DE

Demarcus Walker

Chris Casher

Rick Leonard

Ro’Derrick Hoskins

DT

Derrick Mitchell

DeMarcus Christmas

Giorgio Newberry

Darvin Taylor

NT

Nile Lawrence-Stample

Derrick Nnadi

Arthur Williams

Keith Bryant

Jack

Jacob Pugh

Lorenzo Featherston

Josh Sweat

Ro’Derrick Hoskins

Wayne: Despite the losses of Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. I believe that Florida State’s defensive line will get better. There will be more players capable of taking snaps than last year, which will result in a better rotation. One of the main problems on Florida State’s defense last season was the lack of rotation at defensive tackle. That should be much better this year with plenty of capable bodies.

Pugh and Featherston will fight it out for one of the defensive end/linebacker positions, but if Demarcus Walker and Chris Casher aren’t careful we could see both of them starting at some point. Derrick Mitchell and Nile Lawrence-Stample are almost certainly going to be the starting defensive tackles, but just like in the 2012 season, Florida State will have a much more talented, albeit inexperienced, second team filled by Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas. Arthur Williams and Keith Bryant are players to watch coming into the spring. Williams is a mountain of a man and, while still raw, may have more upside than anyone. Bryant is on his last leg. If he doesn’t make the jump this spring he may never contribute at Florida State.

Jason’s DL

1st Team

2nd Team

3rd Team

4th Team

DE

Demarcus Walker

Rick Leonard

Chris Casher

DT

Derrick Mitchell

Demarcus Christmas

Giorgio Newberry

Adam Torres

NT

Nile Lawrence-Stample

Derrick Nnadi

Arthur Williams

Keith Bryant

Jack

Lorenzo Featherston

Jacob Pugh

Josh Sweat

Ro’Derrick Hoskins

Jason: FSU will get worse at Goldman and Edwards’ spots but should be better enough at the other two spots and with depth that this group will be better overall than last year’s underachieving group. In many respects, this group is more similar to the 2013 group that rotated six 290+ pound defensive linemen, which enabled the whole group to play at full speed all game.

Lawrence-Stample was very good when he was healthy in 2014 and returns as the anchor on the interior, but he’ll be pushed by Derrick Nnadi, who is ready to take a big step forward in 2015. Don’t be surprised to see that pair on the field together a good bit in 2015. Mitchell will likely finish the spring on top of the depth chart, but don’t be surprised if Christmas, who is the more talented player, actually gets more snaps in 2015. I’ve heard good things about Newberry since the move inside, but he’s going to have to take that final step forward to get time with this group. He’s actually the most capable pass rusher of this group at this point, so he could become a passing down specialist on the interior. Williams, who reminds me a bit of Goldman, is really more of a DT than a NT, but he’s the kind of huge, long body that can play in both spots, so I’ve listed him at NT on this chart to represent his spot in the 6-man rotation.

The defensive end position is still a concern after Walker and Casher struggled in 2014. Casher has plenty of physical talent, but the light bulb has never really come on, and he got pushed around badly at times in 2014. Walker has trouble in space and is really more suited to the 3 or 5 technique with a bit more weight, but there’s no spot for him there with this group. Rick Leonard has the physical talent to win this job, but he needs to take a gigantic step forward to be ready.

The Jack position has some of FSU’s most exciting young talent, and we may see two of these edge guys on the field at the same time quite a bit in 2015. Pugh and Featherston both need another offseason to get more physically prepared, but both have natural pass rush instincts and good length for the edge. Sweat is a freak, but he’s returning from an injury. Hoskins started working on the edge during bowl preparation, and his length and athleticism gives another good option on the edge. If the defensive tackle position winds up as good as we expect, two from this smaller but long group may be the best option on each edge in 2015.

Linebackers

Wayne

1st Team

2nd Team

3rd Team

Mike

Mathew Thomas

Tyrell Lyons

Reggie Northrup

Will

Terrance Smith

Lorenzo Phillips

Delvin Purifoy

Wayne: Mathew Thomas and Terrance Smith will get the bulk of the playing time at these positions in 2015. Reggie Northrup tore his ACL against Oregon, and depending on how he heals, could be done for the 2015 season. Behind the first two there’s not a lot of experience, and no answer this spring. Florida State lost three linebackers in the last six months due to transfer and are extremely thin at the position.

The staff is hoping JUCO linebacker Lorenzo Phillips will be able to come in during the summer and contribute immediately. Delvin Purifoy was out for his entire freshman season with a dislocated ankle and is still not completely healthy. There is no timetable for his return at this point. Sh’Mar Kirby-Lane will not get here until the summer. If Purifoy is not able to participate Florida State will go into the spring with just two healthy linebackers. Florida State may have to move Tyrell Lyons from safety to a linebacker in order to compensate for the lack of bodies at the position. He did play the Louisville game at linebacker so it’s not to far fetched to think he makes the move this spring.

Jason

1st Team

2nd Team

3rd Team

Mike

Matthew Thomas

Delvin Purifoy

Reggie Northrup

Will

Terrance Smith

Lorenzo Phillips

Sh’Mar Kirby-Lane

Jason: Northrup’s ACL tear came in January, so I don’t expect him to contribute meaningfully in 2015. Matthew Thomas, who is arguably FSU’s most talented linebacker, steps into that position, but FSU is fairly thin at this spot. That said, Thomas and Smith are both extremely talented players and fit FSU’s scheme perfectly with their length and quickness.

Linebacker was a huge problem in 2014 once Smith was injured, as FSU couldn’t adequately pattern-match to take away underneath pass routes. That was especially disastrous since FSU didn’t have safeties who could cover well enough to help compensate for that weakness up the middle. If Smith and Thomas stay healthy, things should look more like 2013 in that respect. The starters are outstanding, but if one or both go down as happened in 2014, the position is thin. Purifoy and Phillips have no FBS experience, though both are good fits for what FSU does inside (at least presuming Purifoy can return from a terrible lower leg injury). Nate Andrews will also contribute in the “Money” role on passing downs more like we saw in 2013 now that the safety position is better stocked. Lyons is another “Money” player who can contribute in the box, though he lacks the size to play linebacker full-time.

Secondary

Wayne

1st Team

2nd Team

3rd Team

Field CB

Malique Jackson

Marquez White

Marcus Lewis

Boundary CB

Jalen Ramsey

Ryan Green

Tavarus McFadden

FS

Tyler Hunter

James/Marshall

Calvin Brewton

SS

Derwin James

Trey Marshall

Nate Andrews

Star

Trey Marshall

Derwin James

Jalen Ramsey

Money

Nate Andrews

Lamarcus Brutus

Tyrell Lyons

Wayne: There is so much that can happen at all these roles it was nearly impossible to put this list together. Tyler Hunter and Jalen Ramsey will both be on the field. That much we do know. Hunter will start at free safety, but Ramsey can start at any position in the back seven and still make an impact. Florida State has the problem of replacing two of the best corners in college football with players who have limited or no experience.

If Ramsey starts at corner like i believe it opens up the star position for Trey Marshall and Derwin James. Whoever does not win that job will end up at the strong safety position. Nate Andrews was there last season, but unfortunately he wasn’t quite up to the task and Florida State needs to find an answer there. Andrews will move back to the Money role that he was in for the 2013 season.

I have Malique Jackson winning the other cornerback spot opposite of Ramsey. I have heard great things about this kid's athleticism and that in practice “he just makes plays.” Ryan Green is the wild card here. He’s moving over from running back and if he can pick up the playbook he has the athleticism to make a big impact and compete for a starting spot. Lewis and McFadden were both highly touted recruits this year and will be here in the summer.

Jason

1st Team

2nd Team

3rd Team

Field CB

Malique Jackson

Marquez White

Marcus Lewis

Boundary CB

Jalen Ramsey

Ryan Green

Tavarus McFadden

FS

Tyler Hunter

Lamarcus Brutus

Derwin James

SS

Derwin James

Trey Marshall

Nate Andrews

Star

Trey Marshall

Derwin James

Jalen Ramsey

Money

Nate Andrews

Tyrell Lyons

Jason: This is a fascinating group to watch this spring, and it’s difficult to project exactly how things will shake out. FSU had three NFL-caliber cornerbacks in 2014 but had serious problems at the safety position, which combined with problems at DT and LB meant FSU was weak up the middle at all three spots. That should not be the case in 2015, and I expect the secondary to be marginally better this year than it was last year, thanks to improvement at the safety spot.

Ramsey has been FSU’s best cover CB since arriving on campus, and his versatility gave FSU the chance to move him wherever was needed over the last two seasons. He’ll move outside to CB and audition for a top 10 pick in the next NFL draft, but we’ll see him move all around the secondary depending on opponent and situation. I expect to see him more on the boundary, where his length, physicality, and blitzing ability can be most valuable.

Derwin James’ presence means one of the safety spots gets an immediate upgrade, as he’s the rare true freshman (like Ramsey) who should legitimately be on the field from day one. Based on what we saw from Trey Marshall late in the season, he’s ready to take another spot in 2015. I’m not sure which one will end up replacing Ramsey at the Star position, but Marshall has about two games worth of experience at that spot, so I’ve given him the preliminary edge there. That said, James is a bit more fluid than Marshall and is more natural in coverage, so that could reverse things.

Either way, I expect one of the two at the Star and the other at the SS spot. That puts Nate Andrews, who struggled mightily in coverage at safety, back in his more natural Money role, which makes FSU much better in Dime packages.

Hunter was overly tentative at times in 2014, but I suspect we’ll see that change after making it through a full season healthy. He should be the starter at free safety.

The corner position opposite Ramsey is going to be a war. I was tempted to put Ryan Green at that spot as he’s a terrific athletic fit for the position, but as of now, I’ll give the edge to the two players with some experience there. But between Jackson, White, and Green, FSU should get solid performance from that spot. I’m not sure there will actually be a legit starter determined at that spot until a game or two into the season.

One big plus from this group is that the personnel is very interchangeable. James and Marshall can both play each interior secondary position. Ramsey can play every secondary position. Andrews has experience at safety in addition to Money. That helps immensely against spread offenses that use motion and formation to try to get mismatches—there shouldn’t be many mismatches against this group in 2015.


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