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Takeaway Thursday: Thoughts on FSU’s 2021 recruiting class

Florida State head coach Mike Norvell and his staff have now added 24 new members to its team for next fall since mid-December with the signing of New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr High four-star wide receiver Destyn Hill yesterday. To date the 2021 recruiting class is made up of 17 high school or junior college signees and seven college football veterans signed through the transfer portal. Assuming that all 24 newcomers are on scholarship Norvell and his staff still have one initial scholarship to use between now and the start of next season.

Here are some of my top takeaways from FSU’s 2021 recruiting class.

  1. Norvell and staff can recruit. Let’s assume for the sake of this exercise the recruiting rankings are somewhat scientific and accurate. FSU’s 2021 recruiting class is ranked as the 22nd-best in the country by 247Sports, 27th-best by ESPN and 28th-best by Rivals. (Transfers are not included in 247Sports rankings and Chris Nee, who covers FSU for Noles247, has FSU ranked as high as 16th with the transfers included). Now my belief is you really can’t tell how good a recruiting class is until they been on-campus for three seasons and much like the college football rankings in-season it gets harder to determine the plus-minus factor the further you get away from the top-ranked programs, i.e. the difference between being ranked 25th and 35th or even 40th is razor thin. But I digress. The experts have spoken. And Norvell put this class together under some unprecedented circumstances. Recruiting during a pandemic for the vast majority of programs in football would be challenging but I believe it was even more so for a program with a first-year head coach who had to put together really his first full recruiting class like Norvell has had to do with an NCAA Dead Period that started in mid-March and is still in effect today. That means Norvell and his staff have not met with any of the 24 signees or any other recruit in-person for almost a year. They also put this class together coming off a season where they managed just two wins against FBS programs and forward progress was at times difficult to see. And my 10 years working in football at South Carolina and South Florida tell me they did so with other programs whispering not so positive things about FSU over Zoom and FaceTime based off the lack of wins on Saturday’s the last several seasons under three different coaches. Like most things, time will tell how good this class really is but Norvell and staff put together a very solid class under some very trying conditions. One would have to think they might have flipped a prospect or two under normal circumstances and this class might have been ranked higher. It is what it is but based on this class FSU fans should certainly looking forward to seeing what Norvell can do on the recruiting trail under the traditional recruiting calendar and with clear evidence the program is making forward progress where it matters most, in the win column.

2. FSU did an outstanding job in the transfer portal. McKenzie Milton gives FSU one of the winningest quarterbacks in recent college football history. If healthy, and we think he is, he will be a source of inspiration and leadership in addition to allowing Norvell to expand the offense while at the same time going back to an offensive style of which he is more accustomed. Cornerback Brandon Moore, safety Jammie Robinson, defensive tackle Keir Thomas and defensive end Jermaine Johnson will likely be starters given their backgrounds, experience and where FSU is from a depth and talent standpoint at their respective positions. Running back DJ Williams is just a sophomore but should see plenty of playing time if he doesn’t earn the starting job with the departure of last season’s leading rusher, La’Damian Webb, who FSU lost, ironically enough, in the transfer portal. Cornerback Jarques McClellion will also add valuable experience to a secondary that is full of players who were highly sought after coming out of high school but have struggled on Saturdays regardless of who has coached them the last several seasons. The transfer portal allowed for Novell the opportunity to bring some much-needed experience to the roster and he took advantage of it.

3. Playmakers added at wide receiver. Norvell has talked about his offense being playmaker friendly (really aren’t all offenses?) and the Seminoles signed three wide receivers — Malik McClain, Josh Burrell and Destyn Hill — who all bring either great size, speed or hands and in some cases a combination of those things with them. McClain has outstanding size at 6-4, very good speed and excellent hands and is the most college ready of the three. Burrell has good size at 6-2 and possesses great hands and is a physical and productive runner after the catch. Both McClain and Burrell should benefit from enrolling early and going through spring practice. Hill isn’t as big as McClain or Burrell but has track speed and can stretch the field vertically.

4. Quality not quantity on the offensive line. FSU signed just two offensive lineman in this class Rod Orr (6-7, 296) and Bryson Estes (6-3, 291) but both have huge upsides. Orr has the potential to play very early in his career. He is long, athletic, can bend, run and has great feet. He has all the necessary tools to develop into a three- or four-year starter at left tackle. And if he lives up to his considerable potential it would not surprise me one bit if we are watching him on Sundays in five years. Estes projects as either a guard or center for FSU and while he doesn’t have great size he is certainly big enough. At least at his current size, he is more athletic than some of the other players he will compete against for playing time on the two-deep and could benefit greatly from early enrollment. FSU could still benefit greatly from finding a legitimate starting offensive tackle in the transfer portal this spring. If there is an area they fell short on so far this off-season on offense it was in securing one or two more quality offensive linemen. But the portal will certainly continue to be a busy place once spring practice comes and goes.

5. More depth and versatility at tight end. FSU signed two tight ends with this class in Jackson West and Koby Gross. Norvell and company also get the added bonus of the return of Jordan Wilson, who will be back this season after transferring from UCLA last summer and who missed the 2020 season after tearing his ACL. West is a very good receiver from the tight end spot and is athletic enough to line up in the slot but will need to develop as a blocker. He has the frame to play at 250 and could benefit from early enrollment. Gross is very physical based off limited tape from his one season at Diablo Valley College in California but didn’t play football this past season so he may take a little more time to develop. Wilson, if healthy, will compete to be the starter. He has the size to be to be utilized as a blocker either as a unit tight end or as an H-back/fullback, which should make FSU more effective with its power run-game.

6. Bringing an Edge to the defensive front. While Thomas and Johnson bring immediate help to the defensive front FSU also signed five outstanding products at defensive end and defensive tackle. Patrick Payton (6-5, 205) and George Wilson (6-5, 214) are outstanding edge rushers who are both very long and get off the ball quickly. Both possess the athleticism to play the weakside or FOX defensive end position that requires the ability to get to the quarterback or at time play in coverage out in space. Payton is listed as an outside linebacker but I think he will ultimately end up at defensive end. Shambre Jackson (6-2, 230), Byron Turner (6-3, 237) and Joshua Farmer (6-3, 250) are all listed as strongside defensive ends but all possess the size and versatility to move to either of the defensive tackle spots. Turner has great quickness off the ball. Jackson is extremely physical and productive and Farmer plays with a high motor. I project both Jackson and Farmer as inside players. Farmer is enrolled and will go through spring practice.

7. Light on linebackers. FSU signed just one linebacker in this class in Jordan Eubanks (6-2, 200) who is a true WILL linebacker. He will definitively need a redshirt year to add strength and to be more fundamentally sound but he runs well. I would not be surprised to see FSU add another linebacker through the transfer portal or through a position change in the spring.

8. Shoring up the secondary was primary. FSU signed four high school defensive backs in addition to Robinson, Moore and McClellion. Omarion Cooper (6-0, 170) is an outstanding cover corner who could compete for a spot on the two-deep. Kevin Knowles (5-10, 168) has very good speed and change of direction and projects as either a true corner or slot or nickel corner who will likely need a redshirt safety. Shyheim Brown (6-1, 185) is extremely long, athletic, fast and physical. He was a tackling machine in high school and whose high school coach, former FSU linebacker Brian Allen, says is such an outstanding prospect that he could have played on any of the Dynasty Era teams. Brown is listed as an outside linebacker but both Allen and I agree that he should start out in the secondary. Hunter Washington (5-11, 180) closes on the ball quickly, is very physical and could play a number of positions in the secondary.