Seminoles roster takes big hit with graduation, early departures

Sean Maguire (left) would appear to have the inside track at replacing Jameis Winston as Florida State's starting quarterback.

John David Mercer/John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A new era is set to begin at Florida State as star quarterback Jameis Winston and seven other offensive starters will not return for the 2015 season.

Last week "Famous Jameis" declared for April’s NFL Draft, forgoing his remaining two years of eligibility. Winston finished his career with a 26-1 record, a national championship and a Heisman Trophy as Florida State’s starting quarterback.

Winston’s top two targets, receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, are also leaving as they are both scheduled to graduate from FSU this year. Greene made the most of his four years and will walk away from the program as its all-time leader in receptions (270) and receiving yards (3,830).

Outside of losing its Heisman-winning quarterback, FSU’s next biggest hit will be at offensive line. The only projected starters heading into next year with any FBS game experience are left tackle Roderick Johnson and center Ryan Hoefeld, with just nine total starts between them. Linemen Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Bobby Hart and Tre’ Jackson are all graduating and setting their sights on the NFL, leaving questions as to whom will fill their big shoes.

Flipping sides of the ball, four junior defensive standouts — cornerback Ronald Darby, cornerback P.J. Williams, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. — all decided to join Winston and forgo their senior seasons. This leaves just 10 starters (six on defense) returning from a 2014 Seminoles team that went 13-1 and earned a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Defensive backs Jalen Ramsey, Nate Andrews and Tyler Hunter all return for the Seminoles along with senior linebackers Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith. Northrup had a breakout year in 2014 as he recorded a team-high 122 tackles — the most by a Florida State player since 2002.

Now that we know who is leaving Tallahassee, let’s check out Florida State’s returning roster for 2015:

QUARTERBACK

Returning leader: Sean Maguire (25-for-49, 339 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs)

Analysis: The now Winston-less Seminoles are left with numerous replacement options to fill the void left by the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner. Winston accounted for 7,964 passing yards and 72 total touchdowns over the last two years, so it won’t be an easy task. The only experienced quarterback currently on the roster is Maguire, who has 445 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions for his career. He was thrust into action early in the 2014 season after Winston was suspended. He performed admirably in a win over Atlantic Coast Conference rival Clemson, throwing for 304 yards and a big touchdown pass to Greene.

Historic career

After Maguire is 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino, a four-star recruit out of Pennsylvania that has impressed coaches with his big arm. If Cosentino and Maguire don’t turn heads early on, incoming freshman De’Andre Johnson could get an early opportunity to show what he’s got.

Finally, there have been rumors about Ohio State’s Braxton Miller possibly transferring to Florida State after missing the entire season with a shoulder injury and watching the Buckeyes win the College Football Playoff National Championship behind the strong play of Cardale Jones. If this proves true and Miller indeed transfers, he would move to the top of the list, right next to Maguire, as possible candidates to replace Winston.

RUNNING BACK

Returning leader: Sophomore Dalvin Cook (1,008 rushing yards, 5.9 yards per carry, 8 TDs)

Analysis: After rushing for only 128 yards in the first five games of his freshman season, Cook turned it on and finished 2014 on a tear. Including the Rose Bowl, Cook ended the season with 1,008 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, making him the first FSU freshman running back to ever rush for more than 1,000 yards.

He’ll be joined in the backfield by redshirt junior Mario Pender, who has had trouble staying on the field due to injuries but has performed well when healthy. Senior Ryan Green and incoming five-star recruit Jacques Patrick will also get opportunities to tote the rock. Patrick is a highly touted running back, and head coach Jimbo Fisher has no problem putting the ball in the hands of a freshman if he’s the best player.

WIDE RECEIVER

Returning leader: Sophomore Travis Rudolph (38 receptions, 555 yards, 4 TDs) and junior Jesus "Bobo" Wilson (42 receptions, 527 yards, 4 TDs)

Analysis: Greene leaving is a major hit to not just FSU’s wide receiving corps, but Florida State’s team as a whole. He played a major role as a team leader, garnering respect from every player on the roster. The Seminoles won’t ask Rudolph to become a team leader quite yet, but he will be asked to take over Greene’s No. 1 receiver spot and become the "go-to" guy.

Wilson is a formidable slot receiver who returns for his junior year as the team’s leader in receptions from a year ago (42). Wilson will be joined in the slot by speedster Kermit Whitfeld, who will be asked to take on a bigger role this season.

Sunshine State QB competition

Most likely to play the other wideout position opposite Rudolph is sophomore Ermon Lane. Lane played sparingly in 2014, but when he did he showed signs of big-play receiver potential, including a 47-yard catch and run for a touchdown versus Louisville.

TIGHT END

Returning leader: Sophomore Ryan Izzo (1 reception, 7 yards)

Analysis: Tight end is yet another position left vacant by a veteran moving on and inexperienced players left to take it over. O’Leary, the 2014 John Mackey Award winner as the nation’s top tight end, finished second on the team in receptions (48), receiving yards (618) and receiving touchdowns (6). Izzo, a solid all-around tight end out of New Jersey, will try to win the starting job over Mavin Saunders (the most athletic of the options) and Jeremy Kerr (the best blocker of the three).

But Florida State fans shouldn’t fret as FSU has already signed Isaac Nauta, the No. 1 tight end in the nation and Mr. Football in the state of Florida, to its 2016 recruiting class.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Returning leader: Sophomore OT Roderick Johnson

Analysis: As mentioned earlier, the offensive line will see the largest makeover. Although the unit underperformed in 2014, there is no replacing the veteran leadership that four senior starters provided and the continuity they developed over the years.

Roderick Johnson, at 6-foot-7 and 330 pounds, is the best lineman returning and the man tasked with protecting the blind side of whoever starts at quarterback. Johnson will most likely be joined by sophomore Ryan Hoefeld at center, with the remaining three positions still up for grabs. Two junior college transfers, guard Kareem Are and tackle Chad Mavety, are believed to be contenders heading into camp along with redshirt freshman Corey Martinez and redshirt sophomore Wilson Bell.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Florida State news

Returning leader: Redshirt senior Nile Lawrence-Stample (15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss)

Analysis: Lawrence-Stample missed most of the 2014 season after sustaining a torn pectoral muscle three games into the year. With the departures of tackle Eddie Goldman and end Mario Edwards Jr., Lawrence-Stample will now bear the brunt of the load up front.

Helping to take some of that weight off of Lawrence-Stample’s shoulders are returning linemen Derrick Mitchell Jr., Justin Shanks, Demarcus Walker and Chris Casher. Also arriving on campus this year is end Josh Sweat, one of the nation’s top three recruits. Sweat is coming off a knee injury, but if he can return healthy, expect him to make an immediate impact.

LINEBACKERS

Returning leader: Senior Terrance Smith (87 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2 INTs)

Analysis: Northrup may have led the team in tackles, but the leader of FSU’s defense and linebacking unit is No. 24. Smith battled through a nagging knee injury all season, finishing with 87 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles. Undersized, Smith’s speed and determination is what makes him successful, which was evident in a late-season matchup versus Florida when he returned an interception 94 yards for a touchdown.

Smith’s running mate Northrup returns for his senior year as well as former five-star recruit Matthew Thomas, who has shown flashes, but still has coaches and fans waiting to see his full potential.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Returning leader: Junior DB Jalen Ramsey (79 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and 2 INTs)

Analysis: FSU lost both of its starting cornerbacks to the NFL Draft. Darby and Williams both declared after stellar careers in garnet and gold. The good news, however, is that Ramsey brings his speed and versatility back to Tallahassee along with Andrews, Hunter, Trey Marshall, Marquez White and five-star newcomer Derwin James.

With such depth at the position it is nearly impossible to predict who will start where, but expect Ramsey to switch back to corner where he began his career at Florida State. Marshall, who Ramsey called his "little me," will likely take his spot at the "star" position. White is a junior who has seen little game action during his time at FSU, but is a solid corner who could win the starting job opposite Ramsey (or whoever is named starter at CB).

Andrews and Hunter will have to improve on securing the defense’s back line and become more vocal team leaders. James, possibly the most talented player out of all of them, will be hard to keep off the field in his freshman year and is likely to receive a large amount of playing time.

SPECIALISTS

Returning leader: Redshirt junior PK Roberto Aguayo (27 of 30 on field goals, 90%)

Analysis: Aguayo has attempted 52 field goals during his two years at Florida State, missing just four of them. Winner of the 2013 Lou Groza Award given to the nation’s top kicker, Aguayo was again a finalist in 2014 but lost to Maryland’s Brad Craddock. He could have declared for the NFL Draft but decided to return, giving FSU and Jimbo Fisher a serious weapon for an offense that may struggle this season.

Punter Cason Beatty had a slow start to 2014 but picked it up late to finish the season with an average of 41 yards per punt, equaling his career high. He returns for his senior year hoping to add stability to the position and finish his career on a high note.

Returner Kermit Whitfeld took a step back last season after a 2013 that saw him return two kickoffs for scores, including one in the BCS National Championship Game. He came in slightly overweight in 2014 and if he cuts down could return to his form of two years ago.