Florida State Seminoles: kelvin benjamin

ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
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Seven ACC teams will play their spring games this weekend, and eight will officially close spring practices in the coming days, as Pitt has opted to have a more fan-friendly event instead of an actual spring game on Sunday before closing practice on Tuesday.

For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN

Where: Death Valley

One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).

FLORIDA STATE

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.

LOUISVILLE

When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.

MIAMI

When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Sun Life Stadium

One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.

NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Kenan Stadium

One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.com and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.

NC STATE

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.

VIRGINIA

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.

PITT (No spring game)

When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
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Lots of injuries, not a lot of quarterbacks ...
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Most coaches keep practices behind closed doors. They don’t want any important information finding its way to opponents.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, however, graciously tipped his hand Wednesday when asked about what new formations and which underclassman receivers could mitigate the departure of potential first-round NFL draft pick Kelvin Benjamin, all 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds of him.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield isn't going to do the same things Kelvin Benjamin did in the Florida State passing game, but his speed could be every bit as dangerous to defenses.
“I’ll stack Bobo (Jesus Wilson) and Kermit (Levonte Whitfield) on top of each other,” quipped Fisher, clearly armed in anticipation of a question on his receivers’ height. Wilson stands 5-foot-9 and Whitfield is 5-7.

The humor could be a deflection as Fisher masks any possible concerns about replacing Benjamin, who at Tuesday’s pro day showcased a rare catching radius and leaping ability that no player on the Seminoles’ current roster has illustrated. Senior Rashad Greene's presence is vital, as he led the team with 76 catches last season, but no other returning receiver had more than 13 catches in 2013, which leaves mostly a unit with little to no in-game seasoning.

But while Benjamin’s size and strength combination won’t be replaced by anyone on the roster in its current form, his Tallahassee exit doesn’t necessarily mean a step in the wrong direction for the Seminoles offense. Whitfield and Wilson are small packages of instant offense. Whitfield initially trumpeted his speed for Florida State fans with touchdowns of 31 and 74 yards the first two times he rushed the ball, and then for a national audience with a 100-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

“You can jump or you can run there -- there are two different avenues [to catch the ball],” Fisher said. “Bobo and Kermit, those guys get the ball short and it’s hard to get them on the ground.”

Quarterback Jameis Winston knows receivers like Benjamin do not come around often, but he said neither do players with the acceleration and speed of Whitfield and Wilson.

“Kermit and Bobo, they’re going to catch the ball and you’re not going to tackle them,” Winston said. “Bobo is as electric as Kermit, but Kermit is special. And those guys can jump, and I’m pretty sure they can dunk.”

Expecting the talented but inexperienced Whitfield, Wilson, Jarred Haggins and 6-4 sophomore Isaiah Jones to quickly jell with Winston in the passing game is oversimplifying an issue that requires a quarterback and receiver to connect on an innate level. Official practice time is in short supply this spring in Tallahassee as Winston bounces between football and baseball, which will cost him Saturday’s practice.

Yet as foolish as it would be to assume Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t be missed, at this point it would be equally ill-advised to doubt any aspect of the team Winston touches.

“We trust all the guys we got. That’s why we come to Florida State, to win championships, and we've got great players,” Winston said. “It’s going to be a fast adjustment with timing, and we’re going to get this thing rolling.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Kelvin Benjamin has sat on the fringe of the first round of NFL mock drafts since he declared early. The powerfully built receiver passed the eye test at the combine, but an ordinary 40-yard dash time left some front offices questioning Benjamin’s first-round credentials. Those still apprehensive about his speed were hoping Benjamin would alleviate concerns at Florida State’s pro day Tuesday.

That didn’t happen. Benjamin decided not to run. He asked NFL teams to look at his body of work -- and body, all 6-foot-5, 240 pounds of it -- as proof he is a surefire first-round talent.

Following a dominant pro-day performance in position drills, undoubtedly far more teams are willing to overlook his 4.61 time in Indianapolis.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Gregory BullFSU's Kelvin Benjamin might not be the fastest WR, but as Jimbo Fisher said, "You don't want to play against that guy."
“I really wish he ran, but he has such a unique skill set with his ball skills and catch radius,” one NFC scout said.

While running routes, Benjamin showcased his ability to catch the football at its highest point and make the types of catches most NFL receivers can't. On one throw toward the boundary, NFL coaches cleared as the ball’s flight plan descended toward a coaching cluster. Benjamin hauled in the pass -- easily -- and on the next throw he reached behind to catch an underthrown and off-target toss.

And for those who still question his speed?

“I can open up that stride and stride all day,” he said. “You got a guy who can run 4.3, he’s going to get tired and not keep up with the stride all day.”

Noles coach Jimbo Fisher will be terse with NFL coaches asking if Benjamin is worth a first-round payday.

"You don't want to play against him. That's the ultimate thing,” he said. “I'm telling you this: You don't want to play against that guy. He changes the game.”

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will likely be the first former Florida State player taken, and both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay project him to the Cowboys at No. 16. Jernigan weighed in at 305 pounds Tuesday, six pounds heavier than at the combine. Most of the questions he was hearing about his stock surrounded his height (6-1) and sub-300-pound playing weight.

“I feel like they definitely wanted to see how well I could move, weighing a little bit heavier than I did at the combine and how well I could move agility-wise and how powerful I was,” Jernigan said. “I feel like I did a pretty good job showing that.”

NFL coaches intently watched the secondary drills, as Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks are both potential second-round picks. Brooks built upon his strong performance at the combine, excelling in position drills.

Joyner is rated higher than Brooks, but there is some trepidation among NFL scouts. Joyner struggled securing catches and one scout noted the need to be able to finish making the play on the ball. He said Joyner showed that in his film, but an NFC North scout chimed in that he is more worried about Joyner’s height. He measured in at just above 5-8.

“It’s a big concern,” the NFC North scout said. “You don’t see too many 5-8 corners.”

The biggest surprise among the defensive backs, and possibly the entire pro day was the attendance of Greg Reid. A three-year starter at cornerback for Florida State, Reid was dismissed from the team before his senior season. He enrolled at Division II Valdosta State but a torn ACL cost him his senior season. Instead of returning in 2013, he declared for the NFL draft but was not selected.

A few scouts buzzed that Reid, who can be signed by a team at any time, was the best defensive back participating.

“I was pleased to come out and show NFL coaches how I was doing and how far I’ve came,” Reid said. “I’m healthy and everything is going in the right track.”
Kelvin Benjamin, Timmy Jernigan and a host of other former Florida State players will work out for NFL coaches and personnel departments, and ESPN will have live coverage of the Seminoles' pro day.

Beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, fans can use this link to access WatchESPN's online stream.

ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have Benjamin and Jernigan as first-round picks in their latest mock drafts. Kiper and McShay both have Jernigan going No. 16 to Dallas, while Benjamin is projected as a late first-round selection. Kiper has Benjamin going No. 26 to Cleveland and McShay slots Benjamin two spots later to Carolina.

Lamarcus Joyner is on the cusp of being a first-round pick and will make his final push on Tuesday. Terrence Brooks is coming off a stellar combine performance and is talked about as a late second-round selection, and Devonta Freeman and Telvin Smith are possibilities for the third round.

In 2013, a record 11 former Florida State players were drafted.
Florida State set an NFL draft record in 2013 with 11 players selected during the seven rounds. The Seminoles will push for that number again, and they will be off to a good start after Day 1 of the draft, according to one ESPN NFL draft expert.

Todd McShay released his Mock Draft 3.0 Insider on Thursday, offering his predictions for the first round of the draft, which will begin May 8. For the fourth time in the past five classes, at least one Florida State prospect will be taken in the first round, McShay believes.

It is an Insider post, so only subscribers will be able to get to see McShay's full mock. We will not spoil the surprise, but it should be no shock that to FSU fans that Timmy Jernigan and Kelvin Benjamin find themselves in the first round. As to where those two land, you will have to be a subscriber to see that.

Both Jernigan and Benjamin declared early for the NFL after their junior seasons. Jernigan totaled 63 tackles, a strong number for an interior defensive lineman, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Benjamin hauled in 54 catches for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Regarding Jernigan, McShay writes that "He is very strong and quick versus the run ... and Jernigan could come in and make an impact."

As for Benjamin, McShay has him pegged with a second-round grade but "he's tempting because of his size and catch radius ... [and] he'd be a great red-zone weapon."
It is officially time for Florida State to put its 2013 championship season behind it and begin pursuit of a second consecutive national title as spring practice is just two weeks away.

While many of the Seminoles’ top players will return to Doak Campbell Stadium this fall, graduation, early departures and transfers have left coach Jimbo Fisher searching for answers at a handful of positions. There is talent and depth across the board, but the FSU staff is hoping key replacements emerge this spring before being thrust into pivotal roles in the fall.

[+] EnlargeDoak Campbell, Christian Green
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesSeminoles wideout Christian Green caught 13 passes for 157 yards in 2013.
This week we look at five key position battles for the Seminoles this spring, and Wednesday we break down the competition to replace Kelvin Benjamin at receiver. The backup quarterback battle was dissected Monday, and Tuesday we examined the depth chart at running back.

Position: Receiver (Z)
Replacing: Kelvin Benjamin
Candidates: Jesus Wilson, Christian Green, Jarred Haggins and Isaiah Jones

A potential first-round pick, it will be tough for Florida State to replace the size and speed combination of Benjamin. While the Noles have a few playmakers at receiver, they lack another option with similar physical tools (6-foot-5, 234 pounds) coupled with the consistent production (54 receptions, 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns) of Benjamin. When Florida State needed a play late in the VIZIO BCS National Championship, it looked to Benjamin to outmuscle and outjump the Auburn defense in the red zone.

Green, at 6-2, and 200 pounds, has a physical presence about him, but the senior took a step back in 2013. If there is a player on the roster this spring who could be the next Benjamin, it could be the sophomore Jones. The 6-4, 200-pound receiver played sparingly as a freshman but was a top-20 receiver nationally coming out of high school. Like Benjamin, Jones is not a burner but is a “big guy who has a noticeable second gear,” his RecruitingNation scouting report states.

The “Z” receiver in the offense is usually not a player with the type of physical gifts Benjamin possesses, however, which could make it somewhat easier to replace him. The Z receiver, or flanker, is generally lined up off the line of scrimmage, which makes for an easier release off the line of scrimmage by avoiding a jam from the cornerback. Benjamin’s backup in 2013 was Wilson, a 5-9, 177-pound freshman. Haggins is 6-0 and 193 pounds, and he is coming off a knee injury that cost him all of 2013.

In all likelihood, Fisher will have a player at the top of the depth chart by the end of the spring, but the receiver position opposite Rashad Greene will not be settled until August. No program might have signed a better receiver class this past February than Florida State, which landed three ESPN 300 prospects at the position.

Among them is Ermon Lane, the No. 2 receiver in the country. When the 6-2, 196-pound Lane enrolls this summer, he will immediately become one of the names to watch in preseason camp. Fellow ESPN 300 receivers Travis Rudolph (6-1, 188) and Ja'Von Harrison (6-1, 190) have similar builds and high school credentials.

FSU instant impacts: The receivers

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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This week, we’ll dig into the Class of 2014 to project which of the newest group of Seminoles project to make an instant impact on the field this season.

We’ve already looked at DT Demarcus Christmas.

Next up: Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph and Ja'Von Harrison.

[+] EnlargeErmon Lane
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsErmon Lane, the nation's No. 2 receiver, leads a trio of ESPN 300 pass catchers who signed with FSU.
The players: Florida State’s haul at wide receiver on signing day was a boon for Jameis Winston and the offense. Lane, Rudolph and Harrison are all ESPN 300 players, all with good speed, size and high school pedigree. Lane was the No. 2 receiver in the nation this year, and while he’s already big (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) he has room to grow. Rudolph was ESPN’s No. 6 receiver after racking up 1,237 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at West Palm Beach (Fla.) Cardinal Newman. FSU swiped Harrison from Virginia Tech on signing day to complete the trifecta. At 6-2, 190, Harrison could benefit from some added bulk, but his versatility (he played defensive back and returned punts in high school) make him a good candidate to get on the field early at FSU.

The need: Winston benefited from a small but veteran group of receivers in 2013, connecting routinely with Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw -- all of whom finished with at least 930 yards and 50 catches. In 2014, however, Greene is the only holdover of the group. Shaw was a wizard in the slot, averaging better than 17 yards per catch. Benjamin was a rare mix of size (6-5) and speed who was adept at grabbing jump balls and turning them into big plays.

The competition: FSU has two returning veteran receivers, but neither has done much in the past two seasons. Redshirt senior Jarred Haggins missed all of 2013 with a knee injury, and it remains to be seen how much he’ll participate in spring drills. Christian Green showed plenty of promise with 26 catches as a redshirt freshman in 2011, but he has just 16 receptions in the past two years combined. The real depth might come from last year’s signing class, led by speedster Kermit Whitfield. Tight end Nick O'Leary also figures to carry a larger load in the passing game in 2014.

The prediction: The expectations are immense for all three new members of FSU’s receiving corps, but it’s worth remembering that receivers often take time to develop, and there will be only so many balls to go around. Odds are at least one member of the trio finds a sizable role this season, while the others get their feet wet and, ideally, show good progress as the season continues. That’s how Fisher played it with last season's trio of receivers, but the needs figure to be bigger and the talent level better for this year’s incoming freshmen. None project to match Benjamin’s big-play ability, but if Lane, Rudolph and Harrison can combine to offer something close in Year 1, FSU will be pleased.

FSU room to improve: Wide receiver

February, 12, 2014
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The celebration of a BCS championship victory is in the rearview mirror for Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and Co. have already turned their attention toward adding another trophy in 2014. So as Florida State preps for spring practice, we’re digging into the biggest questions, position battles and storylines facing the defending national champs.

This week, we’ll look at the five position groups with the biggest question marks looming in advance of spring practice.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield will be called upon to be more than a dynamic kick returner in 2014.
Previously, we reviewed the running backs and linebackers.

Next up: Receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.).

Greene’s decision to return for his senior season was crucial for Florida State. He has led the Seminoles in receiving each of his three years in Tallahassee, and he was Winston’s most reliable target in 2013, catching 76 passes (second most in school history) for 1,128 yards. The problem is, there’s not much in the way of established talent surrounding Greene. Whitfield figures to be a suitable replacement for Kenny Shaw in the slot, and he showed ample gamebreaking ability in the return game in 2013. Finding someone to step in for the departed Kelvin Benjamin, however, remains a far bigger question mark.

Strength in numbers: Jarred Haggins (RS Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.), Isaiah Jones (So.).

Haggins’ return at least provides some veteran depth for a group that has little in the way of experience, but coming off a season-ending knee injury, Haggins hasn’t caught a pass since the 2012 ACC title game. Wilson and Jones each got a taste of action last season, but both have plenty of growing still to do.

New on the scene: Travis Rudolph (Fr.), Ermon Lane (Fr.), Ja'Von Harrison (Fr.).

Florida State might have landed the best recruiting class at wide receiver in the nation, with Rudolph, Lane and Harrison all making the ESPN 300. It wouldn’t be a shock if all three freshmen make an instant impact, and given the lack of depth at the position currently on the roster, all will surely get a chance to prove they deserve playing time.

What to watch: FSU fans won’t get a glimpse of the super trio of freshmen until fall camp, which puts the spring focus squarely on last year’s class. It’s not uncommon for a receiver to make a big leap developmentally from Year 1 to Year 2, and Wilson and Jones certainly have the talent to do so. Whitfield is electric, but it remains to be seen if he can use his world-class speed as well at receiver as he did in the return game. Green is an intriguing figure this spring, too. After a solid 2011 season, he’s all but disappeared from the offense the past two years, and he could find himself behind the youngsters on the depth chart in 2014, too, if he doesn’t turn in a solid spring.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the speech he delivered to some 30,000 Florida State fans at the team’s championship celebration at Doak Campbell Stadium last weekend, Jimbo Fisher touched on two primary themes.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher says the benefits of winning a national title is only beginning for Florida State on the recruiting trail.
First, he was grateful. He thanked the fans and the players and the coaches, but most importantly, the senior class. Those were the kids who believed in a recruiting pitch four years ago that was little more than grandiose promises designed to overshadow a 7-6 record and a rookie coaching staff. It was a tough sell, but Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, Kenny Shaw and others bought in anyway.

Beyond that, however, Fisher talked about the promise of the future. Four years after Joyner and Smith and Shaw inked their names to a letter of intent at Florida State, the Seminoles now have a national championship trophy, and Fisher has a recruiting pitch that can both underscore the present and showcase a far more vivid plan for the future.

“We want to build a program,” Fisher said. “We’re not worried about a team; we’re building a program. And I think we can be very good again.”

Fisher did an exceptional job selling Florida State to recruits even when there wasn’t much to sell. His 2010 class was ranked sixth by ESPN. In 2011, FSU was tops, and in 2012, the Seminoles ranked second. Last year’s class was ranked No. 9, but immediately produced a trio of impact players on a national championship team.

Now, with that trophy providing an easy sales tool, Florida State heads into national signing day with the No. 3 class in the country and a chance to snag a few more big names before it’s over.

The wins aren’t the only catalyst for such strong classes. When Fisher took over in 2010, the Seminoles had a dearth of NFL talent, but last year, a record 11 Seminoles were drafted. As many as a dozen more could be selected this year. That has allowed recruits to see a clear path to the NFL, but it also has opened up opportunities for immediate playing time.

Last year, 14 of FSU’s 21 signees saw action, with three getting starting nods throughout the season. There figures to be even more room for new recruits this season.

With Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin departing, FSU’s receiving corps lacks much experience, but Florida State remains in on four receivers in the ESPN 300, including Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla.) and Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman).

The same is true on the offensive line, where all five projected 2014 starters are set to graduate at year’s end. The line has been one of the few areas FSU has struggled to land top recruits in past seasons, but the Seminoles already have commitments from six linemen heading into signing day.

But even in areas with ample competition, FSU is making headway. Fisher has commitments from two ESPN 300 quarterbacks, despite having the Heisman winner at the position already. He has been able to land that talent with a far different sales pitch today than the one he offered five years ago.

Florida State is no longer a place where recruits can come to rebuild a once-mighty program. It’s a place where the program can build recruits into stars.

“It’s way different,” Shaw said. “This year, it’s like, if you don’t want to be a part of this organization, it’s either you don’t want to compete or you don’t want to be a champion. We’ve set the bar to the limit.”

Of course, with the 2014 class waiting only for its finishing touches, Fisher isn’t easing up on his sales pitch.

The benefits of a national championship on the recruiting trail, he said, are only beginning.

“A lot of these relationships were built before the championship was won,” Fisher said. “It definitely helped cement where we’re going, where the program is going. But you’ll see this even more in the future.”

FSU depth chart breakdown: Offense

January, 24, 2014
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A lot has changed for Florida State in the few weeks since Jimbo Fisher hoisted that crystal trophy above his head in Pasadena, Calif. Stars have departed, several incoming freshmen have arrived and the Seminoles are already at work with an eye toward repeating in 2014.

With that in mind, we’re taking a quick run through the depth chart to see where Florida State stands in advance of spring practice. Up first, the offense.

Quarterback

Projected starter: Jameis Winston (RS-So.)
Backups: Sean Maguire (RS-So.) and John Franklin III (RS-Fr.)

[+] EnlargeWinston Sacked
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKeeping Jameis Winston upright will be a key for Florida State, especially with Jacob Coker transferring.
Storylines: Winston plans to play baseball again this spring, which means at least some concerns about injury. Jacob Coker is transferring, leaving Maguire as Winston’s top backup. He had only limited playing time in 2013 and will need to continue to improve this spring. Franklin has great athleticism, but questions linger about whether he’ll stick at QB for the long haul.

Status: A
Returning the Heisman winner makes life easy for FSU’s offense, but Winston’s health will be watched closely.

Offensive line

Projected starters: Cameron Erving (RS-Sr.), Tre Jackson (Sr.), Austin Barron (Sr.), Josue Matias (Sr.), Bobby Hart (Sr.)
Backups: Sterling Lovelady (Sr.), Ira Denson (RS-Fr.), Ruben Carter (RS-Jr.), Wilson Bell (RS-Fr.), Ryan Hoefeld (RS-Fr.), Kareem Are (Fr.), Stephen Gabbard (Fr.)

Storylines: Barron steps in for Stork in the only noteworthy departure from the line. Barron has starting experience, and if he wins the job, FSU will have five senior starters -- meaning lofty expectations for the unit. Erving and Bell played well on the edges last year, but both could make further strides. The improvement for youngsters such as Bell, Hoefeld and Are will be crucial for both depth in 2014 and managing a massive overhaul in 2015.

Status: A
The starting lineup might be the best in the country, but developing depth for the future will be crucial this spring.

Running backs/Fullbacks

Projected starters: Karlos Williams (Sr.) and Freddie Stevenson (So.)
Backups: Mario Pender (RS-So.), Ryan Green (So.), Dalvin Cook (Fr.), Cameron Ponder (Sr.)

Storylines: Williams was a revelation in his first season as a tailback, but for all his success, 70 of his 91 carries came in late-game, blowout situations. Pender returns after sitting out two years because of injuries and academics, but he provides ample speed and a knowledge of the system. Green showed flashes of potential as a freshman but must improve his blocking and decision-making this spring. Cook could be the wild card. He’s an immense talent, and by enrolling early, he’ll have a leg up on getting touches in the fall.

Status: B
With a ton of talent, this group could easily turn this grade to an A by the end of the spring.

Wide receivers

Projected starters: Rashad Greene (Sr.), Christian Green (RS-Sr.), Kermit Whitfield (So.)
Backups: Isaiah Jones (So.), Jarred Haggins (RS-Sr.), Jesus Wilson (So.)

Storylines: FSU must replace Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, who accounted for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 touchdowns between them. The current group, aside from Greene, has combined for just 34 catches, 441 yards and no touchdowns in the past two seasons. After a solid 2011 season, Green has virtually disappeared and must show he’s still capable of making an impact. Haggins returns from a knee injury and figures to be limited in spring practice, but he could provide a solid veteran influence. Whitfield is a budding star thanks to his blazing speed, but FSU will need to see marked improvement from both Jones and Wilson in order to make up for the depth this unit lost.

Status: C+
Without any established depth behind Greene, this is the one area of the offense where Florida State has a lot of work to do this spring.

Tight end

Projected starter: Nick O’Leary (Sr.)
Backups: Kevin Haplea (RS-Sr.), Giorgio Newberry (RS-Jr.), Jeremy Kerr (RS-Fr.)

Storylines: O’Leary had a breakthrough 2013, but with two of FSU’s top three receivers gone, he figures to see even more looks this year. Haplea returns from a knee injury that cost him all of 2013 and will likely take it slow entering spring practice. Newberry’s stint at tight end after moving from defensive end wasn’t entirely smooth, and he’s been vocal that he’s not enamored with staying at the position.

Status: A
O’Leary figures to be among the top tight ends in the country this season, and getting the veteran Haplea back for blocking situations adds to the unit’s depth and versatility.
The news was hardly a surprise, but Florida State nevertheless could breathe an immense sigh of relief when Rashad Greene announced he’d be back for his senior season in 2014. There are more talented, more highly regarded players from the Seminoles’ national championship team departing for the NFL, but perhaps no one on the current FSU roster was more crucial in 2014 than Greene. He was practically irreplaceable.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsRashad Green had a team-high 76 catches in 2013, including 9 in the national title game.
The run-up to the start of the 2013 season was a disaster for Florida State’s receiver group. Greg Dent was expected to blossom into a consistent threat, but instead spent the year awaiting a trial for sexual assault. Willie Haulstead figured to return from more than two years saddled with the lingering effects of a concussion, but academics ended his season before it began. Jarred Haggins was poised for a far bigger role, but a knee injury relegated him to the sidelines.

What was left for Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense was essentially a three-man show: Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw. Of Winston’s 384 pass attempts in 2013, he targeted his big three receivers 279 times (73 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The tight rotation actually proved to be a benefit. Greene, Benjamin and Shaw all enjoyed breakout seasons, with the former two topping 1,000 yards for the season. But as Florida State looks to 2014, the lack of established depth at the position means a massive rebuilding project must begin, with Greene providing the foundation.

Shaw is graduating. Benjamin departed early for the NFL. Winston’s top three targets out of the backfield all moved on as well. Aside from Greene, the current Florida State roster accounts for just 44 of Winston’s completions, the bulk of those to tight end Nick O’Leary.

So as the enthusiasm builds for a repeat performance by the Seminoles’ high-flying offense thanks to the return of the Heisman Trophy winner and four-fifths of his offensive line, the obvious question is: Who will be catching all of those throws?

Greene’s 76 catches last season were the second-most in Florida State history. It seems likely that number will increase in 2014. Even with tempting options in Shaw, O’Leary and Benjamin, Winston targeted Greene on more than 30 percent of his throws last year.

Greene was fond of telling the story of Florida State’s receivers meeting last summer to discuss the new quarterback running the offense. It would be up to them, Greene said, to make Winston comfortable, to do their jobs so well it made his job easy. In 2014, Greene’s role will be similar, except he’ll now be mentoring a young group of receivers around him, too.

Kermit Whitfield is electric with the ball in his hands, one of college football’s fastest players. He figures to be a nice fit to replace Shaw as the team’s top slot receiver, but he caught just five passes in 2013 -- none from Winston.

Benjamin’s loss provides an even bigger hole. Receivers who are 6-foot-5, 235 pounds and can run and jump effortlessly are rare gems. Still, tall receivers have been a cornerstone of Florida State’s offense, from Greg Carr to Rodney Smith to Benjamin. The last time the Seminoles didn’t have a receiver taller than 6-4 record at least 30 catches and 400 yards was 2005. That role in 2014 figures to fall to 6-4 Isaiah Jones, who caught just two passes for 31 yards as a freshman last season. And while he offers height similar to Benjamin, he checks in almost 40 pounds lighter and is hardly the same matchup nightmare as his predecessor.

Teammates raved about Jesus Wilson’s work on the practice field in 2013, and he’ll get his share of reps, too. Christian Green will be back again, but after a solid freshman campaign in 2011, he’s all but disappeared in the past two seasons. Haggins returns from the knee injury, too, but since Oct. 13, 2012, his combined stat line looks like this: 1 catch, 1 yard.

All of that is simply to underscore the importance of Greene in FSU’s 2014 passing game. His fellow receivers have potential, but Greene is the established weapon. And while the losses of Shaw and Benjamin are big, it’s worth remembering that Winston’s favorite weapon remains.

On third down last season, Winston targeted Greene 27 times -- nearly twice as often as any other receiver on the team. His 18 third-down catches doubled the next closest receiver, and all 18 went for first downs. Winston’s other returning star, O’Leary, converted 8 of 9 third-down targets, too.

In the red zone in 2013, Greene was again Winston’s top target (14 throws) and receiver (eight catches), and he and O’Leary accounted for nearly half of Winston’s red-zone targets.

In short, few receivers made more catches when it mattered most. Fifty of Greene’s receptions went for a first down, tied for third among ACC receivers. And no player on Florida State’s offense has been as consistent. Greene has led the team in receiving in each of his first three seasons in Tallahassee. He needs 41 more catches and 1,133 more yards in 2014 to match FSU’s career receiving marks.

Of course, as good as Greene has been, the onus will still fall to his emerging teammates to draw the attention of safeties away from him and provide Winston with a wider variety of weapons at his disposal. That development remains a work in progress for the next seven months, but Greene’s ability to handle double coverage, to make the big plays when it matters most, to set the standard for game day on the practice field during the week -- that makes the jobs of everyone around him much easier.

For an offense that returns so many stars in 2014, Greene will again be the cornerstone.

The ACC has lost 10 players who have decided to forgo their final seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. It’s not a mass exodus, but their departures definitely leave some holes. Florida State is losing some talent, but Clemson arguably has the biggest shoes to fill, as the Tigers are losing their top two receivers from 2013, including All-American Sammy Watkins. With spring football around the corner, there will be plenty of competition throughout the league, but based on what we know now, here is the best guess at who the replacements will be for each of the ACC’s early entrees:

Leaving: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Jones
AP Photo/Phil SearsIsaiah Jones (right) caught only two passes as a freshman, but Kelvin Benjamin's departure means he'll have to play a bigger role.
The replacement: Isaiah Jones. He is 6-foot-4, but he lacks Benjamin's physical strength (he weighs about 35 pounds less). Christian Green also could be an answer after playing sparingly the past two seasons. He's 6-foot-2 and known for his speed. He had 26 catches for 450 yards as a freshman in 2011 but has just 16 catches for 190 yards in the two seasons since. As far as a true red zone target and receiver who can win the jump balls, tight end Nick O'Leary will likely get the bulk of the throws that went to Benjamin in 2013.

Leaving: North Carolina C Russell Bodine

The replacement: Lucas Crowley. As a freshman, Crowley made his collegiate debut against rival NC State. He played 11 snaps and graded out at 90 percent. An encouraging sign for UNC fans should be Crowley’s performance against Pitt, where he played a respectable game opposite All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He played 66 snaps at center in that game and had five knockdowns.

Leaving: Clemson DB Bashaud Breeland

The replacement: Garry Peters. He was one of Clemson’s rising stars at cornerback in 2012, but an injury last season set him back. He still played in 10 games and enters this fall with 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, 12 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 33 games (five starts) in his career.

Leaving: Clemson WR Martavis Bryant

The replacement: Mike Williams. The true freshman played in all 13 games and started three, finishing 2013 with 20 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. His first career start came against Wake Forest, and Williams had a 14-yard touchdown. As a prep, he was rated the No. 3 player in South Carolina by ESPN.com. Williams has a lot of potential, and the Tigers will need him to reach it quickly.

Leaving: North Carolina TE Eric Ebron

The replacement: Jack Tabb. He played in 10 games at tight end and on special teams, and he also saw some time at linebacker. He finished with six catches for 116 yards and 10 tackles. UNC also signed two tight ends in the 2014 class, including one, Brandon Fritts, who enrolled in January. The other, Avery Edwards, is regarded as the top TE in North Carolina.

Leaving: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman

The replacement: Ryan Green. He played in all 12 games (no starts), and finished with 163 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries. He showed some explosiveness in his limited playing time, as six of his carries went for 10 yards or more. His blocking and ability to take advantage of open holes still need to improve.

Leaving: Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan

The replacement: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He played in 13 games and started six alongside Jernigan at defensive tackle. He finished the season with 15 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He also had two quarterback hurries. He made his first career start against Pitt and had a season-high three tackles against both Boston College and Maryland. He had one tackle in the national championship game.

Leaving: Syracuse RB Jerome Smith

The replacement: Prince-Tyson Gulley. He was granted a fifth season of eligibility and as of now is expected to play this fall. Gulley qualified for a medical hardship waiver because he broke his collarbone in 2011 and played just four games. He was third on the team in rushing in 2013 and finished with 456 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries. He also had 15 catches and one receiving touchdown.

Leaving: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins

The replacement: Charone Peake. Watkins was one of a kind, and his record-setting production nearly impossible to duplicate, but Peake is the next man up. He was the Tigers’ second-leading receiver before he tore his ACL during a simple non-contact drill in practice on Sept. 10. Prior to the injury, Peake had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, second only to Watkins in both receptions and yards. In 2012, Peake had 25 receptions for 172 yards and two scores.

Leaving: Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.

The replacement: Karlos Williams. He moved from safety to tailback in Week 2 and finished his first season at the position with 91 carries for 730 yards. His 8.02 yards-per-carry average was sixth in the nation. His 11 rushing touchdowns tied for seventh in the ACC. No running back from an automatic-qualifier conference school scored more routinely than Williams, who scored once every 8.3 carries.
No. 22: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

Previous ranking: NR

Making the case for Benjamin: He gave defenses headaches all season, and there was no better example than leading up to the ACC title game, when Duke coach David Cutcliffe conceded that the Blue Devils didn’t have anyone who matched up against the Noles’ 6-foot-5, 234 pound receiver. Cutcliffe was right, as Benjamin racked up 119 yards and two touchdowns against the Coastal Division champs. He started all 14 games and finished second on the team with 1,011 receiving yards and an ACC-best 15 touchdown receptions. One of his most memorable performances came against rival Florida, when he single-handedly outgained the Gators' offense (193 total yards) with 212 yards and three touchdowns.

He finished third in the ACC in yards-per-catch (18.7), and he forever will be remembered for his touchdown catch that gave the Noles a 34-31 win over Auburn in the VIZIO National Championship. With 13 seconds remaining, Benjamin’s 2-yard touchdown reception gave Florida State the lead and its first national title since 1999.

The countdown
  • No. 25 Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
  • No. 24 Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech
  • No. 23 Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt

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