Jan. 14, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A week ago, Florida State players, coaches and fans were waking up as national champions on the heels of a thrilling come-from-behind win over Auburn in Pasadena, Calif.
And while the celebration of the program’s third title is still ongoing (and will feature a special event Saturday at 2 p.m. inside Doak Campbell Stadium for the champs), reality slowly sets in that if a repeat is to happen in 2014, the Seminoles will have to replace some great players.
Let’s take a look at the offensive players that at the Rose Bowl suited up in the garnet and gold for the final time in their collegiate careers and the personnel FSU has coming back to replace them. Check back Wednesday for a look at the defensive players.
Of note: this breakdown only includes returning players as part of the analysis. Because Jimbo Fisher and his ace staff are the talent evaluators that they are, it should be assumed the ‘Noles will sign some immediate-impact recruits in February to help fill the voids on the roster (i.e. Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews, Levonte Whitfield, etc.)
Analysis: Nobody had a bigger turnaround from 2012 to 2013 than Benjamin, FSU’s monster wide receiver.
After showing signs of stardom his redshirt freshman year last season, Benjamin worked hard in the off-season to refine his game and his body. The results? A 1,000-yards receiving year with 54 catches and a team-high 15 touchdown grabs. His game-winning catch against the Tigers will forever live in ‘Noles lore as one of the greatest moments in program history.
FSU doesn’t currently have a receiver on the roster with the same imposing figure as Benjamin so losing the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder is certainly a blow. (The closest player is 6-foot-4 youngster Jones, who caught two passes as a rookie but needs to add to his 200-pound frame this off-season.)
Benjamin’s early exit to the league means rising redshirt senior Green will get the chance to start spring practices atop the depth chart. The Seminoles also return Whitfield, Wilson and redshirt senior Haggins will be back in the mix after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury.
He didn’t catch as many touchdowns as “KB” but Shaw was just as vital to FSU’s offensive prowess last year. The skinny slot receiver receiver proved to be one of the toughest players in America, unafraid to go across the middle, get crushed and hold on to the football. The Seminoles will miss Shaw’s uncanny ability to catch everything thrown to him no matter how covered he was.
Without Shaw, Whitfield could potentially fill his role in the slot and perhaps on punt returns where the former was especially sure-handed. Wilson could also figure into the slot position.
In Benjamin and Shaw combined, Florida State loses 21 of its 42 touchdown catches from the championship season. Obviously, Greene’s decision to return for his senior year was huge and the rising senior will have the chance in 2014 to enter the discussion as one of the greatest players in Florida State history.
Analysis: In deciding to leave school early, Freeman probably realized that the shelf life for NFL tailbacks isn’t especially long so he better start his professional clock sooner rather than later — and the same is likely true for his classmate, Wilder.
Freeman heads to the league on the heels of a 2013 campaign that saw him become the first FSU rusher since Warrick Dunn in 1996 to accumulate at least 1,000 on the ground. He was also a standout pass blocker and became steadily better at catching the football out of the backfield.
Wilder has a body built for the NFL, and while his production didn’t jump off the box score, the professional team that selects him will be excited to utilize his massive frame and strength at the next level. Abram did a great job of stepping into the role vacated by Lonnie Pryor and showcased an ability to be a throwback-style player at the fullback position.
Those losses mean FSU has to replace proven starters at both running back and fullback this year. One of those losses means the Williams era officially — and excitedly — begins.
Freeman and Wilder are big losses no doubt. But Williams showed sustained flashes of superstardom in his first season at running back after making the move from safety and stole more and more carries from Wilder as the season wore on because his impact was too great. With a full off-season to focus on mastering the tailback position by learning how to better read gaps and understand pass protection, Williams might put the nation on notice in 2014.
Behind him, the ‘Noles return exciting young players in Pender and Green. The program has also added highly-touted early enrollee Cook for spring practices.
The future is bright in the backfield despite two early entrants at the position to the NFL. How many other programs can say that?
Analysis: The best offensive line in America could have been decimated by decisions to leave early for the NFL; instead FSU loses only one of its stars up front.
Losing Stork stings but Barron has played meaningful minutes as his backup the last several years and should have no issue stepping in as the new starting center for his senior year.
Barron is aided in his effort to replace the Rimington Trophy winner by the fact that Erving, Jackson and Matias all made the decision to play one more season together for Rick Trickett. Hart has made tremendous strides in his three years and should be even better at right tackle next year.
FSU was dominant up front as it rolled to a title and the same will be true next year where it will have a senior starter at all five positions.
Players lost: None
Analysis: As long as No. 5 is on roster, opponents beware.
Players lost: Shayne Broxsie
Analysis: O’Leary would have been drafted had he left early for the NFL but after a memorable junior season, he’ll have the chance to come back and cement his status as perhaps the best tight end in program history.
The Seminoles also benefit from the return of Haplea after he missed the year with an injury.