What’s Next for FSU Defense in the 2023 Recruiting Cycle?

Photo courtesy of Florida State athletics

Florida State just put together another top-25 recruiting class. In what some might consider head coach Mike Norvell’s first real class, the Seminoles finished 21st, according to the 247Sports Composite ranking.

In this piece, we’ll look at the defensive side of the ball and what’s in store for 2023:

Recent Recruiting Efforts

Here’s a look back at who FSU signed in 2022:

  • Sam McCall, 4-star DB
  • Azareye’h Thomas, 4-star DB
  • Daniel Lyons, 3-star DT
  • Bishop Thomas, 3-star DT
  • Aaron Hester, 3-star DE
  • Omar Graham Jr., 3-star LB

Fast forward to the 2023 recruiting cycle, the Seminoles are currently ranked 16th in the 247Sports Composite rankings with two talented defenders in the fold:

  • Keith Sampson Jr, 4-star DT
  • Lamont Green Jr., 4-star DE

Defensive Ends

Florida State has only secured the commitment of four-star pass rusher Lamont Green Jr. from Gulliver Prep in Miami. As it seems right now, the coaching staff likely want to add one or two more capable options to solidify the position group. The Seminoles currently have nine defensive ends on their roster:

  • Leonard Warner III, RS Sr.
  • Dennis Briggs Jr., RS Jr. (hybrid DE/DT)
  • Derrick McLendon II, RS Soph.
  • Jared Verse, RS Soph.
  • Patrick Payton, RS Fr.
  • George Wilson, RS Fr.
  • Byron Turner Jr., RS Fr.
  • Shambre Jackson, RS Fr. (hybrid DE/DT)
  • Aaron Hester, RS Fr.

The Seminoles will have to replace the production from Jermaine Johnson II and Keir Thomas, who combined for 112 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks during the 2021 season. As it pertains to this upcoming season, Derrick McLendon II is the only returning Florida State defensive end who recorded a sack last season (3.5 sacks).

While Lamont Green Jr. is a talented prospect, the Seminoles need to continue acquiring quality pass rushers. Here are some defensive end prospects to monitor:

  • 4-star Jordan Renaud
  • 4-star Keldric Faulk
  • 4-star Wilky Denaud
  • 4-star TJ Searcy
  • 3-star Tavion Gadson
  • 3-star Antonio Camon
  • JUCO Jaden Jones

Position Recruiting Grade: B

Defensive Tackles

Florida State received great news during its March 5 recruiting event. It was able to obtain the services of four-star defensive tackle Keith “KJ” Sampson Jr. from New Bern, N.C. However, the Seminoles would like to acquire another prospect at the position to pair alongside Sampson. Florida State has seven scholarship defensive tackles on its roster:

  • Robert Cooper, RS Sr.
  • Jarrett Jackson, RS Jr.
  • Fabien Lovett Sr., RS Jr.
  • Malcolm Ray, RS Soph.
  • Joshua Farmer, RS Fr.
  • Daniel Lyons, Fr.
  • Bishop Thomas, Fr.

Florida State’s coaching staff breathed a huge sigh of relief as Robert Cooper and Fabien Lovett Sr. announced that they would both be returning for another season. The defensive tackle position was considered a strength last season as Cooper and Lovett Sr. combined for 67 total tackles, nine tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Both defenders were disruptive last season when stopping the run, which granted Johnson and Thomas the opportunity to pin their ears back and get after the opposing quarterback.

Both run stuffers should benefit from having another season under defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins. Haggins has a long history of developing defensive lineman and getting them to the NFL. However, the Seminoles will most likely be looking to replace the likes of both players after this upcoming season.

Expect the coaching staff to explore acquiring one or two more prospects at the position. Here are realistic targets to monitor:

  • 5-star Vic Burley
  • 4-star Jordan Hall
  • 3-star Ayobami Tifase
  • 3-star Stantavious Smith

Disclaimer: Four-star Darron Reed from Carver High School in Columbus, Ga. was originally scheduled to officially visit Florida State from June 21-23. However, he will no longer be officially visiting and will be seeing Auburn instead. He has announced that he will making his final decision on July 4.

Position Recruiting Grade: B

Linebackers

Florida State’s coaching staff was heavily criticized for not acquiring multiple linebackers during the 2022 recruiting cycle as four-star Wesley Bissainthe chose to sign with hometown Miami. This left the Seminoles with only three-star Omar Graham Jr. from Fort Lauderdale. Graham recorded 102 total tackles, 40 tackles for loss, 23.5 sacks and two forced fumbles during his senior season.

During the offseason, linebackers coach Chris Marve parted ways with the Seminoles and became the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Virginia Tech. As a result, Florida State promoted senior defensive analyst Randy Shannon to co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Thankfully, the Seminoles added a much-needed infusion of talent to the roster with the acquisition of UCF redshirt junior Tatum Bethune, who had 108 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble for the Knights last season.

With Bethune on the roster, this could allow the Seminoles to have their best linebacker corps since 2014. However, Shannon and company will likely need to acquire at least two linebackers this cycle with the possibility of Kalen DeLoach and Bethune departing after this season.

Here are the scholarship linebackers on the roster:

  • Amari Gainer, RS Jr.
  • Tatum Bethune, RS Jr.
  • Kalen DeLoach, RS Jr.
  • Brendan Gant, RS Jr.
  • Stephen Dix Jr., RS Soph.
  • DJ Lundy, RS Soph.
  • Omar Graham Jr, Fr.

The recruiting board for the position is becoming slim given that most of FSU’s notable targets are trending elsewhere. Nonetheless, here are some linebackers to monitor:

  • 3-star Blake Nichelson
  • 3-star Caleb LaVallee
  • JUCO Justin Jefferson

Position Recruiting Grade: D+

Defensive Backs

Even with Florida State’s historic blunder on Early National Signing Day with five-star Travis Hunter committing to Jackson State, the Seminoles were still able to turn it around with the signings of four-stars Sam McCall and Azareye’h Thomas. FSU also landed Louisville’s Greedy Vance via the transfer portal. Defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson has some serious talent returning to his position group, which includes four of five starters from a season ago.

Everything seemed to click for his unit from the second half of the late-September contest against Louisville on. A starting lineup of Omarion Cooper, Kevin Knowles II, Jarvis Brownlee Jr. (transferred to Louisville this offseason), Akeem Dent, and Jammie Robinson in a 4-2-5 defensive scheme became a bright spot for the Seminoles. The dynamic safety duo of Robinson, an All-ACC first-team performer in 2021, and Dent could receive serious national attention this season.

As of right now, Florida State has 14 scholarship defensive backs:

  • Jarques McClellion, RS Sr.
  • Jammie Robinson, RS Jr.
  • Akeem Dent, RS Jr.
  • Renardo Green, RS Jr.
  • Jarrian Jones, RS Jr.
  • Sidney Williams, RS Soph.
  • Demorie Tate, RS Soph.
  • Travis Jay, RS Soph.
  • Greedy Vance, RS Soph.
  • Kevin Knowles, Soph.
  • Omarion Cooper, Soph.
  • Shyheim Brown, RS Fr.
  • Sam McCall, Fr.
  • Azareye’h Thomas, Fr.

With Florida State having multiple defensive backs on the field and substituting in and out numerous members of the secondary, the coaching staff is always willing to add to the position room. There is a realistic possibility that Florida State could lose Jarques McClellion, Robinson and Dent after this upcoming season. As a result, it is paramount that Coach Woodson adds to this young corps of quality defensive backs.

This could be a situation where the Seminoles could add two or three prospects this cycle. Here are some defensive backs to monitor:

  • 4-star Sharif Denson
  • 4-star Makari Vickers
  • 4-star Avery Stuart
  • 4-star Daemon Fagan
  • 4-star Shawn Russ
  • 4-star Kenton Kirkland
  • 4-star Damari Brown
  • 3-star Jaremiah Anglin Jr.
  • 3-star Cameron Upshaw Jr.
  • 3-star Jabril Rawls

Position Recruiting Grade: B-