On Monday, we presented five Florida State incoming true freshmen who we believe will make an early impact on the 2019 season. Now, we’re going to make an even bolder prediction: by the end of next season — at least three true freshmen will hold starting jobs.
It’s not a surprise to anyone that Florida State will be undergoing a bit of a youth movement for next year. As 2018 wore on and more veteran players started to wind up their careers, the staff made sure to get the underclassmen some experience. We saw more reps for guys like Keyshawn Helton, Tre’Shaun Harrison, Robert Cooper, Asante Samuel Jr., and more.
Despite these appearances, there was only one true freshman who amassed more than three starts: safety/hybrid Jaiden Lars-Woodbey. He impressed everyone on his way to being named an ESPN Freshman All-American.
Expecting any incoming freshmen to do the same is over the top. However, given the talent that Florida State signed at certain positions, expecting an even larger influx of true freshmen starting is not out of the question.
There are three names we mentioned Monday that we think will start at least a third of the 2019 season: Akeem Dent, Dontae Lucas, and Jaleel McRae.
Dent was the highest-ranked player in the class and has already made a name for himself after spring practice. Perhaps his performance shouldn’t be all that surprising — we saw Lars-Woodbey come in last year and do the exact same thing — but the situation in the secondary was probably overlooked.
A couple of unfortunate injuries last season revealed that Florida State’s secondary was not as deep as we were led to believe. The safeties in particular were not ready for the added role they have in coordinator Harlon Barnett’s defense, and the cornerbacks could have used more options behind the starters.
That means that Dent comes in to a group that will use him early and often. If he was a regular enrollee that joined in summer or fall, that probably wouldn’t be enough to secure him a starting spot until later in the season. But at this point, it’s clear enough that Dent could probably be an upgrade at either cornerback or safety. He might not be a starter against Boise State on Aug. 31, but fully expect Dent to be starting by midseason.
Lucas’ case is the most obvious of all. The offensive line doesn’t have talent or much depth, and he provides both in spades. In an ideal world, Florida State’s offensive line stays healthy, and Lucas is able to slowly adjust to the pace of the college game before coming in as a starter later on.
Given everything we know about the FSU offensive line over the past couple of years, that ideal scenario is a pipe dream. Chances are that at least one injury will occur along the line and Lucas will be forced into action before midseason. That isn’t the end of the world necessarily; Lucas is already pushing for a starting spot and would almost certainly pull it off even in the ideal scenario.
It just means that he better be ready to face the grind of a Power 5 schedule sooner than anticipated. If the spring game is any indication, he has the toughness to do just that.
Finally, a healthy Jaleel McRae can pull off a similar move with the linebacker corps. Florida State is still looking for a consistent starter next to Dontavious Jackson, and McRae’s option to early enroll may have given him the leg up that he needs.
McRae is fairly versatile and could play multiple roles in the middle of the defense, which is showing more varied looks with a few 3-4 packages in the spring. He has always had great instincts — it’s just a matter of staying healthy and finding his role.
McRae’s task is a bit tougher since there’s more competition at linebacker. Emmett Rice started to flash at the end of last year, and incoming recruit Kalen DeLoach might be an even better option for sideline-to-sideline type coverage.
McRae still has the advantage of proving himself more and more each day. Rice has simply flashed good play — not yet delivered consistently — and DeLoach has yet to receive the opportunity. McRae will probably get the early season reps and use them to secure a starting spot by midseason.