Recruiting: Transition 2018 class reflects 2020 challenges for FSU

The news seemingly kept flowing in, almost daily, on social media. Opt outs, transfers and decisions that impact the current Florida State roster as well as that for 2021 and beyond.

It’s hard not to be a fan and wonder, “Who’s next?” As well as “Why is this happening?”

Coach Mike Norvell is right: The calendar has turned to December and players are thinking about their plans for the coming weeks and the year ahead. FSU would typically be done with the regular season, taking a break for final exams and then moving into bowl preparation. Players may be thinking about whether they would return in 2021 and asking the NFL Draft Advisory Committee for input on their decision.

Instead, FSU is 2-6 after three game postponements and now the rescheduling of games with Duke and Wake Forest. The season had built-in bye weeks and safeguards but has dragged on. And for FSU players who have been on campus since June without going home during the bye weeks or postponements, it’s understandable they are thinking about what’s next.

Among those this week who were taking evaluation of their future were Jaiden Lars-Woodbey. He will graduate as a redshirt sophomore, having returned to the field following a major leg injury in 2019. With a degree in international affairs, Lars-Woodbey is able to pick his new home and will have two years of football eligibility remaining. 

Lars-Woodbey was one of the crown jewels of the 2018 signing class, ignored by Jimbo Fisher but offered just days after Willie Taggart arrived in Dec. 2017. Following a quick courtship, Lars-Woodbey signed.

But as is the unfortunate reality of transition signing classes — part Fisher, part Taggart — the 2018 group has delivered some productive players but not the depth of talent that has led to success on the field. The class of 21 players has included a lockdown corner (Asante Samuel Jr.), a versatile defensive leader (Amari Gainer), productive interior linemen (Robert Cooper and Dennis Briggs) and an improving tight end (Camren McDonald). 

There has also been an unfortunately high number of departures, from Lars-Woodbey to A.J. Lytton, Tre’Shaun Harrison, Xavier Peters, Malcolm Lamar, Isaiah Bolden, D’Marcus Adams and Jamarcus Chatman and Anthony Grant. Linemen Christian Meadows and Christian Armstrong are no longer playing after taking medical hardships. Yes, it’s now 11 players who have departed, not counting Samuel Jr. as he leaves via the NFL Draft.

It’s wrong to make a blanket statement about a class. There will always be signees who do not develop. This one just has a high rate of those who did not stay, more than 50 percent. Some receivers like Jordan Young and Warren Thompson may still emerge as productive options down the road. Keyshawn Helton will almost certainly be a better receiver the more confidence he has in his surgically repaired knee. Chaz Neal and Jalen Goss may not be starters on the offensive line but could build depth as backups at offensive tackle.

Why is this instructional? 

Studying past classes can help media and fans understand the relationship between the prospects who signed and success on the field. There is a direct correlation. Think back to Fisher’s 2010 class and signees like Lamarcus Joyner, Christian Jones, Kenny Shaw, Telvin Smith, Terrence Brooks, Bjoern Werner, Mike Harris and Cameron Erving. There were departures and players who never developed but there were the eight above in particular who were long-term building blocks and were big pieces of the 2013 national championship team.

Brooks, Werner, Harris and Erving were three-stars, too. Developing under-the-radar prospects is what Fisher and his staff did. That has also been a successful formula for Norvell at Memphis and expect that to be a storyline with the 2021 class and FSU.

As good as these eight were, let’s not forget the promising prospects who did not work out in that class: Jeff Luc, Darious Cummings and Will Tye transferred, while Christian Green, Daniel Foose and Greg Dent were among those who just didn’t work out. It’s also good to remind that Fisher was head-coach-in-waiting, which allowed him to recruit a number of prospects to hit the ground running in January 2010.

FSU’s 2018 class has delivered productive defensive players and McDonald has steadily improved as a blocker in his first year as a starter. Helton’s stats (42 catches, 534 yards and six touchdowns) would reflect he has been the best value from the class among offensive players despite missing time due to knee surgery. And it’s worth mentioning that he was the lowest-rated prospect from the class. But FSU has gotten little from the other receivers as well as the four linemen who were signed in the group. And there was no quarterback signee, in part due to the coaching transition.

It should come as little surprise that FSU has struggled on offense the past few years. These players, who should be emerging and potentially starting by the 2020 season, aren’t and in many cases are no longer on the roster. Coaches have had few answers at receiver with no consistent options. And the line has depended on true or redshirt freshmen as well as graduate transfer Devontay Love-Taylor.

In fairness, this group has been hit by coaching change mid-career. Those who have stayed have had multiple position coaches, with the exception of defensive tackle and longtime assistant Odell Haggins. The coronavirus pandemic also took away valuable on-field time in the spring and forced coaches to adjust practice routines in preseason camp. Chemistry from player to coach as well as player to player has been impacted, too. 

Compounding (lack of) returns

As a side note, but a significant one, the high turnover as part of the 2017 class has compounded the roster issues. Of the 23 to enroll, there were nine departures: Khalan Laborn, D.J. Matthews, Cyrus Fagan, ZaQuandre White, Bailey Hockman, Cory Durden, Tre’ McKitty, Alexander Marshall and Tre’ Lawson. Ja’len Parks was medically disqualified. 

The 2017 class brought star power with Cam Akers, Marvin Wilson, Joshua Kaindoh, Khalan Laborn and Stanford Samuels III, but where FSU has been successful through the years is by signing productive middle-of-the-class prospects who deliver, too. Those who have stayed have endured three head coaches in four years.

What’s next?

The Osceola isn’t the first site covering FSU to take a look at the 2018 class but it’s a timely reflection following Lars-Woodbey’s decision. As we have stated a few times, the transfer portal will be a two-way street this offseason but could become an interstate with the pending NCAA decision that will allow a player to take a one-time transfer in a four-year window beginning in January. If that measure passes, and it is expected to, the offseason will be extremely busy. FSU athletics director David Coburn has compared it to free agency. There will be opportunities for Norvell to build but also likely further departures from this 2018 class.

Later this weekend, Charles Fishbein will take a closer look at FSU’s 2021 signing class, which features 15 commitments and is ranked 31st nationally. Fishbein will take a look at needs and the transfer portal options.

Comment on this story on the Osceola’s message board