In the coming weeks, the Osceola staff will take a look at each Florida State position group. Next up: Defensive ends.
2021 stats: Jermaine Johnson (70 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 12 sacks), Keir Thomas (42 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks), Derrick McLendon (16 tackles, 3.5 sacks), Quashon Fuller (8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack).
2022 projected defensive ends: McLendon, Fuller, Patrick Payton, George Wilson Jr., Byron Turner Jr. Leonard Warner has graduated after not playing in 2021 due to injury but announced his plans to play for FSU in 2022 on Tuesday. Walk-on Dante Anderson will also enroll early.
Departures: Jermaine Johnson is moving on to the NFL and will play in the Senior Bowl in February. Keir Thomas played his sixth year at FSU. Josh Griffis entered the transfer portal and landed at Jackson State. Marcus Cushnie has also entered the transfer portal.
State of the DE room: In progress. It shouldn’t even be viewed as “looking to fill the shoes” of Johnson, who was the ACC’s defensive player of the year, or Thomas, who had a productive second half of the season. Outside of Jared Verse (more on him below) it’s going to be tough to find an impactful pass rusher with experience. FSU’s coaching staff has done well developing McLendon and Fuller, who each saw reps as backups in 2021. Payton has shown glimpses of his talent in practice and could be set to make a jump in year 2 at FSU. Wilson has gradually added weight and could be a factor. Anderson appears to be a steal, a Homestead prospect who is likely a walk-on but could earn a scholarship based on how he practices in the spring and in preseason.
The new guy: Aaron Hester is the son of Ron Hester, who began his FSU career as a tight end before moving to linebacker for the 1980-81 seasons. The 6-foot-1, 237-pound Hester is viewed as one of the top 35 defensive ends in the class of 2022. He had 26 quarterback hurries, 14 tackles for loss and five sacks last fall. Hester will enroll early and could be in line for early playing time.
Shopping in the transfer portal: Definitely. The FSU coaches have been in pursuit of Albany’s Jared Verse, who made a visit to Tallahassee in December but has not yet made a decision. Verse had 14.5 sacks in the spring and fall season at Albany, and he reportedly has more than 30 offers. Verse is clearly the top prize with uncertainty as to who else may be available, although the portal has been active and should continue to be busy as all of the other bowl games wrap up.
Final thoughts: The bar was set low when guys like Johnson and Thomas came in and they’ve set quite the standard not just during the 2021 season but with the younger players in the group. How we feel about the personnel in this segment group will change based on Verse’s decision as well as the development of younger ends in the spring.