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The usual names getting tossed around in anticipation for Florida State’s 2018 season include a mix of Cam Akers, D.J. Matthews, Brian Burns, etc. Most players who excelled last year or are expected to excel in 2018 have already received the majority of offseason hype.
There are always a handful of players who slide under the radar due to this state of affairs. New head coach Willie Taggart’s arrival has many guessing about which guys are going to see a revitalization under the new staff.
Even with the coaching change, there are some players who showed great progress in 2017 and are still on track for a good 2018. They might not receive national hype like others, but they could certainly finish with it.
Christmas could easily have a season like Eddie Goldman did in 2014. That is, one where he turns from a solid player into a star of the defense. His decision to return for his redshirt senior year bolstered expectations for FSU in 2018, since Christmas provides veteran play at a position where it is very hard for newcomers to immediately contribute.
Defensive tackles don’t get much attention unless they’re superstars like Ndamukong Suh, who also provide a lethal pass-rush ability that lets them garner eye-popping sack numbers. Christmas doesn’t have that type of versatility, but he is a space-eater that excels at run defense and fills his role quite well.
If he excels in 2018, Christmas has the perfect frame to become an early round draft pick, measuring in at 6-foot-4 and over 300 pounds. For what it’s worth, Athlon Sports agrees about Christmas’ underrated status.
It wasn’t pretty Ricky at the beginning of the 2017 season. His first two field goal attempts were a block against Alabama and a 30-yard shank against NC State. Factor in raised expectations from 2016, and fans started to wonder if Logan Tyler would be a better option for placekicking duties.
Aguayo responded by going 18-for-19 on field goal attempts the rest of the way. That includes no misses from under 40 yards and hitting two attempts of 45 yards or more with a long of 51. The catastrophe of a season meant that this clear improvement went unnoticed; which is a shame, because Aguayo’s efforts against Syracuse and Wake Forest may have been the catalyst for both of those wins. Florida State won those games by a combined 10 points. Aguayo went for 6-for-6 and was responsible for 18 points of his own. It’s pretty odd to think that Aguayo was the knight in shining armor that secured bowl eligibility.
Increasing one’s field goal percentage from just over 73 percent to 85 percent signals a couple of things — mainly an increased confidence by the kicker himself. Much has been made about how Taggart will not be attempting field goals as often as previous coach Jimbo Fisher did. That is true, but there are still situations where a field goal is the logical choice that maximizes your chances at winning.
Even if Aguayo gets called on less than 15 times on the season (in-line with South Florida in 2016 and Oregon in 2017) those attempts could mean the difference between a win and a loss on an incredibly difficult schedule. He might not be putting up gaudy numbers that earn him Lou Groza Award consideration, yet Aguayo still has the ability to majorly impact a game.
Aime has done everything the team asked him to do since he joined in 2016. As a defensive tackle recruit from the JUCO ranks, Aime came in and provided an immediate rotational option along the defensive line. He’s accumulated 35 tackles and two blocked kicks in two years with over 400 snaps.
Aime could be a decent starter at a majority of Power 5 programs. Florida State’s depth at the defensive tackle position means that he won’t ever see major minutes there, which is why they shifted him out to defensive end for 2017. Most would perceive this is a “desperation” move, but that is far from the truth. Aime is an athletically gifted player who did well in his previous role.
Now that the team needs some experience on the edge with run stopping ability, they understand that Aime could provide exactly what they require. He certainly looks the part, according to his Twitter account. It’s unlikely that Aime starts more than a couple games this season, if that. He is still a valuable piece on the defensive line that any defensive coordinator would love to have. 2018 is shaping up to be his best season yet.
Amidst the ultra-talented defensive backs on the roster, Nasirildeen has managed to stay out of the spotlight. But Derwin James’ departure for the NFL means that Nasirildeen is a top candidate to step in to the enforcer role. Nasirildeen, a sophomore safety, has the talent to do just that, and his 2017 tape proves it.
He only started one game last year but played in all 13 contests as a true freshman. In those 13 games, he was able to record 29 tackles, three pass break-ups, and a pretty good grade from Pro Football Focus. Keep in mind that he cracked a rotation that included James, Trey Marshall, and A.J. Westbrook.
That might not be entirely impressive aside from James, but Marshall and Westbrook had experience as starters for pretty good FSU teams. To crack the lineup as a true freshman, who didn’t enroll early, is a genuine accomplishment. He needs to improve his anticipation if he wants to reach the next level — yet it didn’t stop him from having a very promising 2017.