6 players who saw their “stock” CLIMB during spring camp

Florida State just wrapped up its spring football camp with Saturday’s showcase giving most of us a chance to see the 2024 Seminoles for the first time. There are a lot of returning players and newcomers alike, who were looking to make a name for themselves ahead of the season. For FSU to meet its goals in 2024, it will need a few players to break out. While the portal will almost certainly bring additional change to the roster, let’s look at 6 players whose “stock” rose during spring.

SR. Wide Receiver: Malik Benson

Malik Benson was an interesting prospect brought in by FSU at wide receiver. On one hand, he was the former #1 JUCO wide receiver with loads of talent and was rumored to be giving Alabama’s defense fits during their playoff preparations. On the other hand, he only caught 13 passes for 162 yards and 1 touchdown last season with the Tide. To be fair, he had Jalen Milroe as a quarterback and was splitting targets with Isaiah Bond and Jermaine Burton.

The Seminoles have the tall task of replacing Johnny Wilson and Keon Coleman at receiver, and Malik Benson needs to be “that guy” for them. With spring camp in the books, all signs are pointing to that being the case. We heard plenty of positive reports from the time Tour of Duty began, to seeing his ability firsthand in the spring showcase.

Benson has displayed exceptional leadership, work ethic, and athletic ability. We saw a flash of what could be on Saturday when Benson went up over Fentrell Cypress (who had good coverage) to make an extremely athletic catch. Unfortunately, Benson also got his ankle rolled up on later that day. If the injury doesn’t sideline him, Benson can be an X-factor for the Seminoles in 2024.

JR. Running back: Jaylin Lucas

Perhaps one of the most intriguing prospects acquired from the portal was Indiana transfer RB Jaylin Lucas. At 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, it would be easy to overlook Lucas, no pun intended. We knew he could be a factor on special teams after leading the Big Ten in kick return yards and touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. However, it was at his primary position that we wondered what we might get with Lucas averaging around 273 yards in each of his first two seasons from the running back position.

Throughout camp, there was a consistent flow of reports that his speed and change of direction were next-level, and we saw that on display in the Showcase. Lucas runs fast and hard, and for a guy of his stature, isn’t scared of contact. During a recent guest appearance on another podcast, the host told me that someone they interviewed who covers Indiana felt Lucas was a special talent that the Hoosiers grossly misused. I think we’ll see him used to his full potential in Mike Norvell’s offense and it’s going to be fun to watch.

Jr. Defensive Back: Azareye'h Thomas

Admittedly, some of these “stocks” weren’t flying under the radar coming into spring. In the case of Azareye’h Thomas, it’s like Bitcoin on a breakout, the sky is the limit. We already knew that Azareye’h was talented and had seen plenty of flashes throughout his first two years to back that up. With Renardo Green taking his talents to the NFL, it’s time for AZ to step into the starting role at corner.

This spring was an opportunity that Thomas did not waste. He has emerged as one of the best players on this entire team and a consistent force in the secondary. Defensive backs coach Patrick Surtain has spoken highly of Thomas saying that he thinks he can be an All-American type of player. Renardo Green came up huge for FSU the past two years and now it’s AZ’s turn to hold down the fort. Personally, I think AZ can be the next great defensive back to come out of the program known as “DBU, ” and I’m excited to see it play out.

R-So. Edge: Aaron Hester

Here’s a more underrated stock that could be building momentum for a breakout. FSU has a loaded defensive end room, so it can be hard to make yourself known, but that’s exactly what Aaron Hester did this spring. We had already heard that he was having a good camp from practice reports, but the spring showcase put it all into perspective.

Is Hester a dominant player right now? Not really, but he’s only a redshirt sophomore. At the same time, Hester flashed consistently during the spring game. I noticed his motor, quick takeoff, and ability to get to the football while re-watching the film. My biggest concern is that Hester looks for an opportunity elsewhere because of the crowded position group, if he stays, I could certainly see him earning some valuable snaps this season.

Jr. Edge: Marvin Jones Jr.

Rewind to two years ago and you’d find disappointment when FSU legacy Marvin Jones Jr. chose UGA over FSU. However, in the portal era of college football, you never know what the future holds. Fast forward to 2024 and the portal has brought the former 5-star to Tallahassee. Jones Jr. came in from Athens with high hopes and a few question marks. We know he battled injuries at UGA and was used out-of-position at times. This caused some to ask whether he could live up to the former 5-star ranking.

MJJ is another player who is being counted on to fill big shoes vacated by a previous star. With Jared Verse off to the NFL, FSU began searching for his replacement, and why not see if lightning will strike in the same place twice? After all, the last edge rusher who transferred in from UGA became a first-round NFL Draft pick (Jermaine Johnson II). A few mixed reports were coming out of camp early on, but MJJ had a strong camp and finished with a glimpse into what the talented defensive end can be. We saw him read and react to run plays, set the edge, get a pass rush, and even drop into coverage and bat down a pass

FSU may have a loaded defensive end room, but it will be the players who stand out in a room crowded with talent that takes the Seminole defense from good to great. We questioned whether Jared Verse could be a suitable replacement for Jermaine Johnson, and he was. Then, we asked if MJJ could be another dominant defensive end in what seems like a pipeline that runs through Tallahassee. Well, if spring is any indication of what’s to come, I’d say between MJJ and Patrick Payton, coach John Papuchis has the pipeline flowing wide open for 2024.

r-Fr. Defensive tackle: KJ Sampson

This article originally started with 5 players, but I wanted to give KJ Sampson a shout-out for his performance in the spring game. Defensive tackle is a position that I feel FSU is thin as it relates to depth, or at least with any experience. It’s one of the main positions I’d like to see them go after in the portal because we saw what dominant defensive tackle play did for this defense in 2023 compared to how being thin hurt them in 2022.

FSU lost a lot in the trenches from last season, so aside from searching the portal for one of the most highly sought-after positions, they are going to need some of the young players to step into key roles. KJ Sampson was a guy that I didn’t expect a lot from this season being just a redshirt freshman. However, he’s 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, and looks ready to contribute. Sampson consistently ate up space and got penetration when given the opportunity, and he played quite a bit in the spring game. FSU needs all the depth they can get at a position of need, so Sampson’s emergence is a pleasant surprise. If you were watching the Spring Showcase broadcast, Sampson was also Braden Fiske’s pick for breakout defensive tackle this season.

Final Thoughts

FSU has a load of talented players on this year’s roster. Some we knew about, some we knew had potential waiting to be tapped, and some were surprises that came to be during spring camp. Not all these player’s “stock” began at bargain prices, but that hasn’t stopped them from soaring to new highs this spring. In fact, most of the names on this list were players that we expected to be good, but those players actually being good is a big deal for FSU to reach its goals in 2024.

The good news is that this is far from the complete list of names that had a good spring. The next goal is to keep them all in the boat during the current portal opening, so we can see them flourish in Garnet and Gold this season. Fall will be here before we know it, but with spring in the books, FSU has found a few stocks that it can take to the bank for the 2024 season. Thanks for reading and Go Noles!!

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