Most players are not guaranteed a starting job after a 5-7 season. When the record goes down and the play on the field is unacceptable, players know that there will be changes coming.
This is the reality that Florida State finds itself in, where the Seminoles detected their weaknesses and tried to overhaul the talent at certain positions. It wasn’t a completely successful endeavor (finishing with the 19th ranked class in the nation) but they still found a decent amount of players who could come in and compete for playing time immediately.
We’ve highlighted five of those true freshman that we expect to contribute the most during the 2019 season. While we do not think that any will be starting right out the gate, we expect all five to be getting considerable reps by midseason.
Akeem Dent (CB/S)
Dent is a rare true freshman who will see the field not because of poor depth or lack of talent at his position, but because he is simply too good to keep off the field. Dent had a commanding spring camp performance, where he quickly moved up to one of the primary rotation options in the defensive backfield. He got looks at both cornerback and safety, and he excelled in both. His closing speed and play-making ability came as advertised.
In fact, Dent might come on strong enough that he rises out of heavy rotational duty into full-blown starter.
Jaleel McRae (LB)
This was arguably the most surprising spring development for Florida State football. McRae early enrolled and immediately got to work reshaping his body for the collegiate level. By the spring game, McRae had lost a considerable amount of bad weight while maintaining his power and aggressiveness.
The result is an impressive freshman linebacker who has already carved out a rotational role on the inside. Keep in mind that Dontavious Jackson is returning from injury, and will presumably be the starter through fall camp and into the season. Still, we are not ruling out McRae being put at outside linebacker. He has a fantastic football IQ that could help out the defense in a myriad of positions.
Dontae Lucas (G)
Part of us wanted to put Dontae Lucas at No. 1 on the list. The absolutely putrid state of the offensive line from 2018 means that literally no one’s spot is secure. There are favorites to start, obviously, but no one proved that they deserved a permanent starting position for this upcoming year. Now, Lucas is on campus — in better shape than most expected — and he’s already showing more fight than most veteran linemen.
The only thing preventing Lucas from topping this list is the competition curve. Lucas will be going up against much better defensive linemen while also playing in an offense that requires an up-tempo pace. He’s also an interior player, which wasn’t the biggest source of Florida State’s problems in 2018, so the pressing need isn’t as strong there as it is for tackles.
Lucas has already moved up to the first guard option behind the starters. We can almost guarantee that the starting offensive line in Week 1 will look different than the offensive line at the end of the year, and you’d probably make some money if you bet that Lucas will be in it by then.
Travis Jay (CB/S)
The final two on this list have yet to arrive on Florida State’s campus. That should tell you about the type of talents they are and what is expected when they finally do join the team.
The first is Jay out of Madison County. Word is that towards the end of the 2019 cycle, Jay took the next step as a player and started to absolutely dominate the recruiting events — and was viewed by some staffs as a near 5-star talent. His elite potential at either cornerback or safety could make him the Swiss Army knife of the FSU defense. Much like Akeem Dent, Jay is simply too talented to keep off the field, even if the defensive secondary is fairly well-built. Jay will play early and often and will have as much chance as anybody at taking a starting role during the back half of the season.
Kalen DeLoach (LB)
In terms of raw talent, DeLoach isn’t quite on the same level as someone like Dent or Jay. Instead, DeLoach brings a level of aggressiveness and physical readiness that is essential to revamping the linebacking corps. Even if he only gets on the field for third downs or obvious run situations, DeLoach can make a legitimate impact. Whether he begins his career at inside linebacker or outside linebacker is up to the staff and what they perceive as the bigger need. It will probably be harder for DeLoach to see the field at the start of the season, simply because McRae has a step ahead of him and DeLoach will still need an adjustment to the college game.