(This article is a modified version of the one that appeared in our preseason magazine, so it may look familiar if you have already read the magazine.)
Florida State’s defensive line should be one of its biggest strengths this season. Although they already lost an important piece with Darrell Jackson’s waiver getting denied, there are still plenty of names to be excited about.
Last year, the interior was going to be headed up by veteran defensive tackles Robert Cooper and Fabien Lovett. Unfortunately, Lovett went down with an injury late in the LSU game, which left a void that FSU struggled to fill during his absence. Per David Hale of ESPN, with Lovett, the FSU defense allowed an average of 3.37 YPP, 3.18 yards per designed run, and had a sack rate of 11.5%. Without Lovett, those numbers went to 5.27 YPP, 4.82 yards per designed run, and a sack rate of 9.9%, highlighting just how significant the presence of a dominant defensive tackle is.
The good news is that Fabien Lovett opted to return for another season in Garnet and Gold and is hopefully healthy enough to be a full go. Additionally, with FSU being forced to dig deeper into their rotation than expected last season, that translates into valuable experience gained by the rest of the players on the roster.
For those returning in 2023, Joshua Farmer, Malcolm Ray, Dennis Briggs Jr, and Daniel Lyons gained over 1,000 snaps of combined experience which will help create quality depth this year. Briggs and Farmer combined for 36 pressures and 9 sacks last season and graded well on PFF at around 70 each.
Braden Fiske is a player I cannot wait to see line up for FSU. He was a high-level player for Western Michigan who was very productive last season. He racked up 59 tackles, 12 TFLs, 6 sacks, and 48 pressures! Fiske is a 6th-year player with 30 starts and over 1,800 snaps of experience. At 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, he moves unlike someone should for his size. That power, size, and speed combination should give FSU another impact player in the middle of its defense. Of course, there is the question of how he will perform at the Power 5 level, but Fiske played against Pitt and Michigan State last season and graded out well in those games at 69.1 and 78.7 per PFF.
Another young player that I’m excited to see on the field is Ayobami Tifase. While he took a red-shirt during his first year on campus, he already looked like a grown man as a freshman. In year two for Tifase, he comes in at 6-foot-4, 299 pounds. After a year of training under Coach Storms, he has the size and strength to make an impact.
Jackson is a big loss in the middle, 6-foot-6, 300-pounds with experience is hard to replace. Depth in the trenches is vital when trying to compete at a high level. The Noles still have a lot to work with on the interior, but without Jackson, staying healthy will be crucial.
At the defensive end position, FSU should have one of the better duos in the country. Jared Verse wasted no time making his presence known during his first season at the Power 5 level. He played his way to first-team All-ACC honors and a projected first-round NFL draft pick.
Opting to return in 2023, Verse will look to build on his resume from last season when he led the team in pressures (36), sacks (9), and TFLs (17) and was a menace to opposing defenses. With another year of experience and to hone his skills, Verse should be one of the top edge players in college football again in 2023.
Patrick Payton had a breakout freshman season in 2022, earning ACC defensive rookie of the year. He finished tied for third in TFLs (6), second in sacks (5) and had an impressive PFF grade of 70.8. From practice reports, Payton has continued to develop in size and skill set. The big name on the opposite side may overshadow him sometimes, but Patrick Payton will be a name offenses are familiar with after 2023.
As talented as the top of this position group is, one of the concerns for this defense is experienced depth on the edge. Apart from Verse and Payton, FSU only returns 68 snaps of experience from players on the roster in 2022. Byron Turner Jr., Dante Anderson, and Aaron Hester are all nice young players but lack experience.
FSU did bring in South Carolina transfer Gilber Edmond to help provide experienced depth. Edmond has 10 starts and over 700 snaps of experience in the SEC. He’s had some mixed performances, and his PFF grade was slightly below average last season at 59.4. However, he did have 21 pressures, 3 sacks, and led the Gamecocks in TFLs last season.
Edmond is a solid player FSU gets for multiple years and will provide crucial experienced depth to a group that needs exactly that in 2023. FSU also signed JUCO edge Jaden Jones, who was a nice addition. In the initial videos from fall camp, Jones looks like a physical freak at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, which could contribute as well.
Overall, if this unit can stay healthy, they have the potential to be a dominating group in 2023. Despite the depth taking a hit with the loss of Jackson, one can’t help but be excited about the thought of Verse, Lovett, Fiske, and Payton lining up simultaneously and a defensive tackle group that can come at you in waves with quality players a few rotations deep. Phil Steele has this unit ranked 7th in all of college football.
We’ve seen defensive lines at FSU with highly touted players in the past that failed to live up to the hype, so nothing is guaranteed, but the defensive line is one of the groups I feel best about this season. Thanks for reading! Go Noles!
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