2021 Recruiting Analysis: FSU on Defense

Florida State coach Mike Norvell has signed 16 players to scholarships this week. Norvell started off the week with the signing of UCF graduate transfer quarterback McKenzie Milton on Monday and finished off the first day of the NCAA’s Early Signing Period with a rush — literally and figuratively.

There was a heavy emphasis on filling some needs on defense at least thus far in the 2021 recruiting class. The Seminoles inked 10 defenders on Wednesday for FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller’s unit next season.

“It was really exciting, just the opportunity to go through this process for the first time and develop relationships with these guys and know the people that we’re able to bring in here to Florida State,” said Fuller of the defensive signees. “We don’t have any questions about who each of these individuals are and just knowing the people, the families, having some background with these individuals, just makes it that much more exciting because we feel like we know who we’re going to get.”

One thing that has been missing this season for the FSU defense has been the pass rush and Norvell and Fuller addressed this need with the signing of five players who will likely end up at either defensive end or one of the two interior defensive tackle spots. Here is a closer look at each of those players:

DE George Wilson: 6-5, 215-Virginia Beach (Va.) Green Run High School

Wilson looks to be the most natural and gifted athlete out of the five signees up front for the Seminoles. The four-star prospect is extremely quick off the ball, runs extremely well, covers a lot of ground and has above average change of direction for his size on the limited amount of highlight tape I have seen. He has the frame to add enough size and could end up at strong side defensive end and is athletic enough to line up at the weak side if he shows the ability to play in coverage from time to time. He is a raw talent but has tremendous upside and if he can learn to play with better fundamentals, and digest a college playbook, he could contribute early.

Fuller on Wilson: “We knew going in to this recruiting class, we needed to get more athletic guys on edge on defense, especially defensive end. So we identified George early but because of the COVID and not being able to get him on campus, we lost the initial, we weren’t able to develop the relationship we thought. Then things changed here over the last month and a half with George. He reached out to us. We developed the relationship necessary and he’s somebody that we are extremely excited about. He immediately makes us more athletic as an edge of the defense as a pass rusher, as an edge setter.”

DE/OLB Patrick Payton: 6-5, 215-Miami (Fla.) Northwestern High School

Payton is another gifted athlete with a long frame who runs well and is full of potential as an edge rusher. He projects as a weakside defensive end but will likely need a redshirt season if possible in order to strengthen his body and add some weight. I am not sure he can carry as much weight as Wilson but that judgement is being made off film. Tremendous upside. My only concern is if he can’t put on enough weight to play end does he possess the versatility to play outside linebacker.

Fuller on Payton: “Patrick is the requisite length and athleticism. And I think we’re actually going to probably start him at Fox on line of scrimmage. Patrick is somebody we had some relationship with some of the coaches down there. We wanted to see his development, especially in his senior year and I mean every time he took the field he was picking balls off, sacking the quarterback, scooping scores with fumbles. He impacted the game in every way his senior year in a shortened season. With him and George Wilson, those two types of guys that we put on the edge, Shambre, Josh, Byron, I think we absolutely made ourselves super athletic, and we love the playmaking ability.”

DE-Byron Turner Jr.: 6-4, 237-New Orleans (La.) St. Augustine High School

Turner has an extremely quick first step off the ball, has long arms and is a very physical player. He lined up at both end and tackle in high school and was productive in both spots. He has the frame to put on substantial weight and while I project as a strong side defensive end it would not surprise me if he ended up playing some as a three-technique defensive tackle.

Fuller on Turner: “Byron’s a true defensive end. The thing about him is you talk about violence and aggressiveness. When he tackles people, he literally tries to put them through the ground. He’s extremely violent, he’s long. YAC (David Johnson) did a great job recruiting him, had a relationship with a family. So it was a high need position, and his length and aggressiveness jumps out right away. And he’s got a great fit in our defensive scheme.”

DE/DT-Joshua Farmer: 6-3, 250-pounds-Havana (Fla.) Gadsden County High School

Farmer was the first commitment Norvell took for the 2021 class and the Seminoles held on to him despite a late push by UCF that had his signing with FSU in a state of limbo for a couple of hours yesterday. He played for former FSU defensive back Corey Fuller in high school so you know he can take tough coaching. Farmer is physical and has continued to add size and strength to his body from his junior to senior year of high school. He projects as an interior defensive lineman to me and might be a guy that provides depth early in his career because of his physical maturation.

Fuller on Farmer: “Josh was actually our first commitment. Josh was somebody that we had seen on film that we were excited about. Got coached by a former Seminole, Corey Fuller, so he came really highly regarded. We watched Josh on film, he showed up to campus on our first Junior Day, and right away his length, and just his frame jumped out. So that matched up with the film right away. So we offered him at that point. He was our first commitment to jump in. He’s been great the whole way. He’s an extremely hard worker, the work he’s put in and just his skill. We think he’ll start out at end, possibly go into a three-technique (tackle) and we think he’s got a great future here.”

DE/DT-Shambre Jackson: 6-4, 255-Orlando (Fla.) Boone High School

Jackson is another big-bodied defensive prospect who might have the frame to add substantial weight and could be versatile enough to line up at either strong side defensive end or as a three-technique tackle. He is athletic, physical and his maturation physically may allow him to provide depth early in his career.

Fuller on Jackson: “I think he’s one of the better athletes at defensive tackle in the country. He showed up here in the summer with his mom, and was a really a disruptive force out there. And he’s got progressively better. He’s somebody we worked really hard to establish a relationship with early. Got him to commit here over the summer. And he stuck with us the whole way. And we think he’s got major impact. He’s got a great frame, great athleticism and he’s a violent player.”

Norvell and Fuller signed just one linebacker today and will likely need to sign another one between now and February with and emphasis on signing a middle linebacker. The need at linebacker could grow depending on who is left on the roster at the three linebacker spots once the season is over:

OLB Jordan Eubanks: 6-2, 215-Denton (Tex.) Guyer High School

Eubanks played both safety and linebacker in high school and projects as a WILL or weakside linebacker. He will likely need a redshirt season to get familiar with the correct fundamentals and nuances of playing outside linebacker at the major college level.

Fuller on Eubanks: “We had some relationships with the high school coaches down there and Jordan was somebody we had ranked really higher early in the process. He played more safety at Guyer but we see that transition and down as an outside linebacker because of his length. He’s a really natural tackler, plays really good in this space, plays violent at the point of attack. Again anytime you can take a long safety that’s physical, it really is going to fit in to how we want to play defense here at Florida State linebacker.”

The Seminoles added to their talented but young secondary with the signing of four players in the secondary and are likely done with high school prospects, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see FSU take a veteran defensive back through the transfer portal:

FS/ATH Shyheim Brown: 6-1, 185-Lake City (Fla.) Columbia High School

Brown was a prospect I thought would be rated a lot higher based off his highlight tape. He is long, fast and physical. Brown is a sure tackler in space and makes up for a lot of his teammates’ mistakes because of his tackling ability and his great speed. He is very athletic and has very good ball skills. Brown comes from a traditionally strong program, which is coached by former FSU linebacker Brian Allen (Timmy Jernigan and Trey Marshall also came from Columbia to FSU). Some recruiting services have him listed as an outside linebacker prospect but I project him as a safety.

Fuller on Brown: “You know you love those cornerbacks on defense if they’re physical enough. That’s the thing with him and coming from a ‘Nole with Coach (Brian) Allen, who said, ‘Listen, if there’s a player that could have played for us back in the day, Shyheim is one.’ And so right away that got our attention. We turn the film and he makes plays all over the field, whether it’s defense, offense kick game, blitzing, coverage. So I think Shyheim has a chance to play safety, outside backer, see what his frame takes. But he is an absolute playmaker and real hard worker and tough player.”

CB/S Hunter Washington: 6-0, 180-Katy (Tx.) High School

A versatile athlete who can play just about anywhere in the secondary. He has the size and physicality to line up at safety but is athletic enough to play corner. Because of that versatility we project Washington as a nickel or slot corner who can play close to the ball.

Fuller on Washington: “Hunter is somebody that we’re going to start him at corner. I think he’s got enough ball skill and enough talent in space to play safety as well. Super competitive. He was somebody Marcus Woodson had a relationship with when he arrived at Florida State, so we have the initial relationship there. Hunter is a playmaker. He does things at all different spots in the secondary, has a really good knowledge of the game and plays with great angles. I think Hunter will bring a lot to our football programs.”

CB Kevin Knowles: 5-11, 175- Hollywood (Fla). McArthur High School

Knowles is an outstanding prospect at cornerback. He has great range and closes on the ball very quickly. Knowles has great ball skills, is physical and changes directions and runs very well. Another prospect that may have the chance to compete for early playing time and provide depth in the secondary.

Fuller on Knowles:  “Kevin is the ultimate nickel-corner-type athlete. He’s got exceptional feet. He’s aggressive. He plays with great instincts. You throw the ball on offense, he scores. He is everything we’re looking for in a Seminole as far as who he is as a kid, his work ethic, his quickness, his toughness, his pad level. I think he brings everything we’re looking forward to DB here at Florida State.”

CB Omarion Cooper: 6-1, 180-Lehigh Acres (Fla.) High School

Another big get for Norvell and Fuller in the secondary. Cooper was one of the top corners in Florida this year. He has great feet, does a good job of keeping wide receivers in front of him, plays with good technique and possess elite recovery speed. Cooper is highly productive and instinctive. He should have a chance to provide depth to one of the two corner spots given the relative youth returning next season in the secondary.

Fuller on Cooper: “Coached by a former Seminole in James Chaney down there at Lehigh, right away we identified Duke (his nickname). He’s a 6-1 corner that has really good feet, length. Chaney says he’s one of the most competitive kids he’s ever coached. And you see that show up time and time again. Very willing tackler but has above the line ball skills, really good tackle skills and his footwork from the junior film, there was workouts going on his senior year, Duke was somebody that we really coveted for a long time.”

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