<
>
Insider

Ranking FSU's biggest impact freshmen

6/4/2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's Rankings Week at NoleNation, and each day we'll be counting down the top teams, players and matchups of the 2013 season. Next up, a look at FSU's top 10 freshmen likely to make a major impact.

1. QB Jameis Winston: No surprise here, but Winston could end up being the single most significant piece to FSU's puzzle in 2013.

While he still hasn't officially won the job of starting quarterback, that seems a foregone conclusion at this point. The bigger question is how he'll handle the role. His first test won't be easy -- a road date at Pitt -- but he'll have some time to get his feet wet before the Miami and Clemson games that are likely to dictate the Seminoles' place in the ACC race. Will Winston be the potential Heisman candidate so many have predicted, or will he go through the typical freshman struggles? Time will tell, but Florida State has a lot riding on the hope that he'll pick things up quickly.

2. K Roberto Aguayo: He won't get the same spotlight as Winston for obvious reasons, but Aguayo has some big shoes to fill in 2013. He'll replace four-year starter Dustin Hopkins as the team's placekicker, and few have done the job better than Hopkins did. Aguayo has the leg to blossom into one of the ACC's best, but he'll still need to prove he can handle the pressure that comes along with the gig.

3. DE Chris Casher: It's been two years since Casher played any significant reps on a football field, but he didn't show much rust during spring practice. With the defensive end depth chart still in a state of flux, Casher's combination of speed and strength make him an intriguing possibility. Add new DC Jeremy Pruitt's scheme that asks his ends to drop into coverage on occasion, and Casher becomes an even better fit. He'll get his shot at a full-time job, but it's still up in the air whether he'll be able to win one.

4. LB Ukeme Eligwe: It's tough to know exactly what to expect at the linebacker position this fall, with two veterans -- Telvin Smith and Christian Jones -- expected to do most of the heavy lifting and a huge contingent of youngsters looking to solidify bigger roles. While there's ample competition among that group, Eligwe's talent is tough to ignore. He could find regular reps teaming with Smith in the middle, setting up an even bigger role in 2014.

5. RB Mario Pender: With two veteran running backs already splitting carries atop the depth chart, there's no safe bet on how many touches Pender will get this season, but he clearly has a skill set FSU can utilize. James Wilder Jr. has the size, and Devonta Freeman is a better all-around back, but Pender brings a home-run potential to the offense that was missing after Chris Thompson went down with a knee injury last season. He needs to improve his pass protection and there remain questions about his work between the tackles, but Pender's top-end speed is too big a weapon to be ignored.

6. WR Levonte Whitfield: The first true freshman on this list, Whitfield may not have a defined role yet, but he's got the potential to be so effective in a number of areas that it's hard to fathom he won't be a productive player right off the bat. Blessed with world-class speed, Whitfield has a bright future as a slot receiver, but he may get his first taste of action on special teams (where he could be the starting punt returner) and on trick plays on offense.

7. LB Freddie Stevenson: One of five linebackers signed as part of the Class of 2013, Stevenson got a jump on the competition by enrolling early. He's still green, but the freshman earned rave reviews from Smith and others, and the head start this spring could put him in line for regular reps during the season. At the very least, he figures to be a special teams maven in 2013 before getting a shot at a bigger slice of the pie in 2014.

8. OL Ira Denson: In a perfect world, Florida State would love to redshirt a few offensive linemen, but the lack of depth at the position likely makes that impossible. Of the three incoming freshmen, however, Denson appears to be the most game ready. He's got the size (6-4, 317) and experience to get some early work on the interior, but line coach Rick Trickett may use him at tackle, too -- a much bigger area of need.

9. DE Demarcus Walker: Prior to the spring, Walker might have been pegged among the most likely freshmen to see significant work for FSU, but his 2013 season is a bit cloudier after an NCAA investigation into his eligibility kept him on the sidelines throughout spring practice. It wasn't a complete waste, as Walker was able to get accustomed to life at FSU, but his place in the DE pecking order isn't as high as it might have otherwise been.

10. CB Colin Blake: It's a crowded depth chart at cornerback, particularly with senior Lamarcus Joyner's move to the position this spring, but Blake figures to get a few looks. At 6-3, he's got the size to be a physical presence, and although he's battled injuries since arriving on campus last year, Jimbo Fisher has routinely sung his praises. He'll be battling a crowd that includes highly-touted recruit Jalen Ramsey for playing time, but Blake warrants a place in the mix.