Top 10 Seminoles Benefiting the Most from Jameis Winston Under Center
Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston is a virtual lock for the Heisman Trophy and has the Seminoles back in the BCS Championship Game for the first time in 13 years.
While the 6'4", 228-pounder has been nothing short of sensational from the moment he entered the huddle, FSU is loaded with future pros on both sides of the ball—special teams, too—and arguably has as much talent and depth as any program in the country. Nevertheless, it's Winston who has been the catalyst, orchestrating coach Jimbo Fisher's high-powered offense to near perfection and also allowing the defense to play with a sizable lead game after game.
Nobody can deny the fact that Winston's predecessor, current Buffalo Bills signal caller EJ Manuel, was a terrific college QB in his own right. But even though Manuel went on to be a first-round pick and appears to have a bright future under center in the professional ranks, he exited Tallahassee having never truly lived up to his potential at the game's most important position.
Winston, on the other hand, is already being hyped as the possible No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, plus he's going to help a handful of his fellow 'Noles make a lot of money at the next level, too.
These 10 Florida Staters in particular have benefited the most since Winston took over for Manuel and put the Seminoles back among the Saturday elite.
10. OT Cameron Erving
From the moment the decision was made to flip-flop Erving from defensive tackle to offensive line prior to the 2012 season, Fisher was convinced that he had a future first-round draft pick protecting his quarterback's blind side.
Even though he had never played O-line before, not even in high school, Erving took over at left tackle and upgraded the position after Zebrie Sanders departed for the NFL. This season, the 6'6", 320-pounder was a first-team All-ACC pick and awarded the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the best blocker in the conference.
Manuel had a bad habit of spinning wildly away from trouble—both real and imagined—and didn't always trust his big uglies to protect him, but Winston's willingness to step up and deliver the football from the pocket under duress made Erving and Co. a more consistent quintet up front.
9. TB Karlos Williams
A breathtaking combination of size, strength and speed, Williams seemed to be more athlete than football player his first two years in garnet and gold.
Because the Seminoles were so loaded with playmakers in the secondary this season at every position, Fisher killed two birds with one stone when he found a way to get Williams on the field more often and shore up his stable at tailback in the process. Since he had shown to be so gifted with the ball in his hands as a kick returner, the 6'1", 223-pounder proved to be a natural fit in the backfield behind incumbents Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.
Williams saw the majority of his early action in the second half of lopsided victories, racking up big numbers on the ground in garbage time with Winston on the sideline, but his role increased as the year went on and he may now have leapfrogged Wilder as the No. 2 behind Freeman.
8. QB Sean Maguire
Maguire was the initial quarterback signee for Florida State's 2012 recruiting class, although he was forgotten about pretty quickly once Winston, the five-star stud, faxed in his letter of intent a few days later.
Expected by many fans to be little more than a career clipboard carrier, Maguire found himself backing up a Heisman contender after second stringer Jacob Coker was lost for the season with a knee injury. Had charges actually been filed in Winston's sexual-assault investigation, the pride of Sparta, N.J., would be starting next month in the national title game.
Because Winston was sitting on the sideline soaking up a big lead time and time again this season, Maguire got some valuable reps with the second- and third-team offense and looked to be quite competent running Fisher's attack.
7. CB Lamarcus Joyner
Don't overlook Winston's impact on the Florida State defense, as sprinting out to all those early advantages gave his partners in crime on the other side of the ball ample chances to tear after the enemy QB and pick off errant passes.
Joyner was already a great player before Winston took the reins, as he could have left for the pros a year ago but decided to finish what he started in the Capital City—he'd hone his skills by making the transition back to corner from safety, too. The 5'8", 190-pounder has been one of the premier defenders in the country all season long, especially when he moves to the slot in nickel and dime packages and doubles his value as the team's best blitzer.
Scouts, coaches and general managers from all 32 NFL clubs no doubt have their eyes on Joyner more than ever before, which should elevate his draft stock a round or so come May.
6. K Roberto Aguayo
It's amazing to think that FSU graduated the highest-scoring kicker in FBS history a year ago in Dustin Hopkins yet somehow managed to upgrade at his position, which appears to be the case with Aguayo.
The strong-legged freshman has been nearly flawless on special teams, splitting the uprights on 19 of 20 field-goal attempts—including a 53-yarder vs. Syracuse—and all 90 of his extra-point tries. If not for a lone miss Nov. 11 at Wake Forest, Aguayo would be perfect and a shoo-in (pun intended) for the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best three-point specialist.
Needless to say, with Winston driving the 'Noles up and down the field repeatedly against each and every opponent, Aguayo has enjoyed seemingly countless chances to strut his stuff.
5. WR Rashad Greene
Greene emerged as the best wideout on the team a few weeks into his freshman season in 2011 catching balls from both Manuel and the departed Clint Trickett, and he continued to be productive as a sophomore in 2012 on the receiving end from Manuel.
However, the product of St. Thomas Aquinas High School developed into one of the more reliable pass-catching weapons in the country once Winston starting taking the snaps from center. Greene has reeled in at least three passes in all 13 games this season, gone over the 100-yard mark in four of them—including three consecutive in October—and found the end zone eight times in the team's first seven games.
Greene's 67 receptions, 981 yards and nine TDs are all personal bests by a significant margin, plus his 162 career catches are already good enough for sixth in school history with one year of eligibility remaining.
4. TB Devonta Freeman
Freeman had been the Rodney Dangerfield of the Florida State backfield, with many hard-to-please fans lobbying for the likes of Wilder and five-star signee Mario Pender—he's sitting out the semester as an academic casualty—to take over as the primary ball carrier.
Far from flashy, the Miami native led the team in rushing in 2011 as a freshman and again in 2012 as a sophomore, but he broke through as a first-team All-ACC performer during his junior campaign since opposing defensive coordinators had their hands full trying to stop Winston's arm. Winston also does a better job of checking the ball down to his backs than Manuel ever did, as Freeman's 19 catches and 257 yards receiving are both career highs.
With just 57 yards on the ground in the BCS title game next month against Auburn, Freeman will become the first 1,000-yard rusher in garnet and gold since all-time great Warrick Dunn did it in 1996.
3. TE Nick O'Leary
O'Leary was a highly-touted signee out of high school and supposed to transform the FSU offense at the tight end position, but he suffered from square-peg syndrome his first two seasons and completely vanished from the game plan at times.
As a matter of fact, some fans of the program wondered if O'Leary would end up a bust altogether since Fisher's offense—along with many of the receiver-heavy schemes employed in college football today—had never really showcased the tight end prominently. With just 33 catches for 416 yards and four touchdowns combined for Jack Nicklaus's grandson during the 2011-12 campaigns, Manuel simply didn't look his way regularly.
But this year, Fisher's favorite personnel grouping features three wideouts, one back and O'Leary creating mismatches galore in the middle of the field, as evidenced by his 33 grabs for 557 yards and seven scores from Winston in 2013.
2. WR Kelvin Benjamin
Everybody knew Benjamin had the potential to be an absolute beast the moment he arrived in Tallahassee, but he was quickly handed a redshirt in 2011 due to the fact that he wasn't in good enough shape to contribute right out of high school.
Slimmed down and ready to be a part of the offense in 2012, the 6'5", 234-pounder showed flashes of brilliance—physically he's a nightmare for any defensive back—but couldn't be counted on from week to week to make plays consistently. The difference for Benjamin in 2013 has been Winston's understanding of where to throw the ball even if his monstrous target doesn't get adequate separation, be it a high laser in the middle of the end zone on a crossing pattern or a back-shoulder throw to the pylon on a fade route.
As a result, Benjamin was unstoppable in the regular-season finale at Florida and the ACC Championship Game against Duke, totaling 14 catches for 331 yards and five touchdowns.
1. Jimbo Fisher
The biggest winner of all with Winston at the controls has been Fisher, who finally emerged from the long shadow cast by the legendary Bobby Bowden and has the Florida State program back where its notoriously fickle fans expect it to be every season: in the hunt for the national championship.
Fisher's scheme is incredibly dependent on the quarterback, both from a physical and mental perspective—Manuel admitted to reporters shortly after arriving in Buffalo that his former college coach's system was more complicated than what he was handed by the Bills. While Fisher had Manuel as a student for five years and never could mold him into a truly dominant passer, Winston had the look of a Heisman winner during his first collegiate start Sept. 2 at Pittsburgh.
The recent recipient of a five-year, $21 million contract extension, Fisher in no small way has Winston to thank for helping him become one of the highest-paid coaches in the game.
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