Bob Leverone/Associated Press
Replacing Kelvin Benjamin won't be easy for Florida State.
It should be no surprise that the national champions received plenty of attention from NFL teams. Seven Seminoles were drafted—four in the first three rounds. They were led by junior receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who became a breakout star in FSU’s run to the BCS national title game.
Benjamin caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns (including the game-winner in the national title game) and created serious mismatches for opposing cornerbacks with his height and speed. He was the Carolina Panthers’ first-round selection.
FSU also lost Kenny Shaw, who caught 54 passes for 933 yards and six touchdowns, but does return Rashad Greene, who led the Seminoles with 76 receptions for 1,128 yards and nine scores.
The Seminoles’ leading rusher, Devonta Freeman (1,016 yards, 14 touchdowns) was a third-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons, while junior James Wilder Jr. (563 yards, eight touchdowns) declared for the draft but was not selected.
FSU does return rising senior Karlos Williams (730 yards, 11 touchdowns), who was impressive as the Seminoles’ No. 2 back behind Freeman, and backups Mario Pender and Ryan Green also return, with 5-star freshman Dalvin Cook a key addition.
The biggest concern revolves around receivers to join Greene as primary targets for Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.
6’2”, 200-pound senior Christian Green has speed and strength and is an option to replace Benjamin, as is 6’4”, 200-pound sophomore Isaiah Jones. Both are largely unknown quantities.
6’0”, 193-pound senior Scooter Haggins, 5’7”, 178-pound sophomore Kermit Whitfield and 5’9”, 177-pound Bobo Wilson are battling to replace Shaw in the starting lineup.
Haggins is coming off a redshirt season after missing all of 2013 with a stress fracture in his knee. Whitfield has elite, game-breaking speed, as he displayed with a 100-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter against Auburn that gave the Seminoles their first lead of the game.
Florida State also has several high-profile receiver recruits arriving this fall in 5-star Ermon Lane (rated as the nation’s No. 24 overall recruit by 247Sports), 4-star Travis Rudolph (rated as the nation’s No. 6 wideout by 247) and 4-star Javon Harrison (rated as the No. 16 athlete by 247).
“It’s important that he learns a whole new group of receivers,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said this spring on a teleconference. “We have to develop two or three more while also keeping a great bond with Rashad and (tight end) Nick (O’Leary).”
On the defensive side, FSU must replace free safety Terrance Brooks (a third-round pick of the Ravens), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (a Ravens second-round pick), fellow safety Lamarcus Joyner (a second-round pick of the Rams) and linebacker Telvin Smith (a fourth-round pick of the Jaguars).
Junior Terrance Smith is the only returning starting linebacker.
Joyner will be replaced by rising sophomore Jalen Ramsey, while P.J. Williams, the national title game’s defensive MVP, figures to play an increased role in the secondary as well. Sophomore Nate Andrews figures to be the other starter at safety.
It would be foolish to doubt the Seminoles, given how well they have recruited under Fisher. But there’s no doubt that they will have to answer some questions with new players stepping into more prominent roles this fall.