The Florida State Seminoles are coming off of an abysmal 2019 campaign in which head coach Willie Taggart was dismissed midseason and the team finished the year with a 6-7 record. In December, Mike Norvell was introduced as Taggart’s successor in the midst of leading his then 17th-ranked Memphis Tigers to a Cotton Bowl bowl appearance while toting a 12-1 record. Seminole fans should hope that Norvell can bring the same stability to the Florida State program that he maintained at Memphis over the past four years. With this stability, Norvell can bring the Seminoles back into glory.

While Florida State lacked consistency on both sides of the ball in recent years, they are certainly not short on talent. Norvell inherits a senior class that was formerly the 4th best rated incoming class in the nation by ESPN’s recruiting nation. Florida State is also returning 17 of its starters from last year, which is 3rd-most in the ACC. 

Though the previous three seasons have been disappointing by resulting in a combined record of 18-20, there is still much promise within the roster, especially on defense. Among the 17 starters returning, 10 of them are coming back to the defensive side of the ball. There are at least 3 of the returning defenders who will garner significant attention from NFL scouts this Fall. 

Marvin Wilson, DT

Headlining this unit is former 5-star recruit Marvin Wilson. Wilson has all but exceeded expectations by putting together back-to-back elite seasons for the Seminoles. The 2020 Walter Camp preseason All-American is widely considered a top-10 talent in college football and should warrant a high first round pick come next April’s draft. It doesn’t take long to see what makes the 6’5”, 305 pound defensive tackle so special. 

His rare blend of size, power, and agility allows him to make moving other massive human beings look easy. He tosses 2019 11th-overall pick Mekhi Becton (6’7”, 364 pounds) like a corn hole bag on his way to planting the running back in pass protection.

According to PFF, Wilson had a pass rush win rate of 16.5 percent from the inside, making him the best pass-rushing interior defender in college football. 

He’s just as good in the run game. He is able to take on and beat double teams at a high rate. As the season went on last year, you could see teams really start to game-plan around Wilson and give him lots of attention. Coming off of surgery that helped repair a hand injury he sustained in a loss to Miami last year, Wilson should return to his dominant ways and remain a crucial part of Florida State’s defense.

Asante Samuel Jr., CB

Another key piece in Mike Norvell’s new defense is a cornerback with an NFL pedigree. Asante Samuel Jr. has put together two excellent seasons of football for the Seminoles. Samuel broke up 9 passes as a freshman and 14 this past year (via Sports Reference CFB). He also saw his coverage grade jump from a 69.7 in 2018 to a 78.7 in 2019 (PFF). Samuel is a bit undersized at 5’10” and 184 pounds, but his suddenness and incredibly quick feet give him the ability to line up all over the secondary.

He is a very smart cornerback that has good technique in man coverage and instinctive yet disciplined in zone. Samuel needs to shore up his tackling issues, but he should have a chance to hear his named called early in next year’s draft as well.

Hamsah Nasirildeen, S

Nasirildeen tore his ACL late last season, yet is still rising up draft boards, and for good reason. I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t one of my favorite prospects I’ve watched this summer so far. 

(Look out for a more in-depth breakdown on Nasirildeen coming soon to the Crocker Report Twitter account

His aggressive style of play, paired with his physique and athletic prowess, make him an absolute joy to watch. He plays like his hair is constantly on fire and glides across the field, sideline-to-sideline with ease. Nasirildeen was the No. 1 rated high school player coming out of the state of North Carolina in 2017, but football wasn’t his only talent. 

“At the time, it might have been a bit of a gamble because Nasirildeen actually was better known for his basketball exploits. But at 6-foot-3 (he now is listed at 6-4 and 212 pounds), Nasirildeen and his father thought he would have a better chance of standing out on the gridiron.”

via Ira Schoffel at Warchant.com

Like his teammate Marvin Wilson, Nasirildeen’s elite athleticism at his size is remarkable. His positional flexibility gives him the opportunity to act as a chess piece for Florida State. He lined up all basically everywhere on the defense last season. 

He has more than enough range to play as a deep safety, but in my opinion is at his best when he’s in the box flowing/reacting to the ball and fitting the run. He lead the team in tackles in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons with 91 and 101 tackles, respectively. Nasirildeen plays downhill, loves contact, and is basically an extension of the linebackers for the Seminoles. 

Also, I think that he was underutilized by the previous coaching regime. Nasirildeen’s natural man-coverage skills are really impressive for a player of his size. I believe Florida State could have taken more advantage of his ability to match up against nearly any position. His aggressiveness can burn him at times, but he will surely be on the radar of scouts this year as his versatility can be an asset to any NFL team.

These three players highlight what could be one of the most improved defenses in college football next season. Former 5-star recruit, Joshua Kaindoh, should also provide a boost to the defense as he will be returning from an injury he sustained early last year, along with defensive-line stalwarts Cory Durden and Robert Cooper. 

Mike Norvell and new defensive coordinator Adam Fuller are taking over an underachieving but gifted football team. If they can replicate the improvement they brought to Memphis in Tallahassee they should have a very successful program in the years to come. Assuming a season is played in 2020, the Florida State Seminoles could be an underrated team to watch out for.