|Chuck Burton/Associated Press|
|Florida State running back James Wilder, Jr. is just one of the many weapons Jameis Winston has at his disposal.|
For all of the attention Jameis Winston has received as the key to Florida State's re-emergence as a national title contender, it is apparent he is surrounded by a talented supporting cast that makes the game easy for him.
Now, that statement isn't a dismissal of Winston's remarkable talents, but it is time to recognize the collective, athleticism, explosiveness and big-play ability of the Seminoles' skill players. I believe this is the most talented group of receivers and running backs I've seen in more than a decade; it's a major reason why Winston has been wearing out opponents behind an offense that is averaging 51 points per game.
It's no secret a strong running game is a young quarterback's best friend. The ability to hand the ball to a talented group of running backs alleviates the pressure on a quarterback needing to carry the offensive load, while creating big-play opportunities in the passing game. Studying the Seminoles this season, it is apparent Florida State has one of the deepest and most talented backfields in college football. In fact, it is quite possible the Seminoles feature three NFL-caliber running backs -- Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder, Jr. -- with the potential to make immediate contributions as dynamic backs.
Against Miami, Freeman acted as the feature back for the Seminoles. The 5-foot-9, 203-pound junior logged 23 carries for 79 rushing yards with two touchdowns, while also snagging six passes for 98 receiving yards and another score. As a shifty runner with explosive speed and quickness, Freeman excels in space, but he is also capable of running between the tackles on power plays. He also is a crafty route runner with good hands and ball skills, which makes him a dangerous weapon in the passing game.
In Wilder and Williams, the Seminoles have a pair of big, powerful runners with nifty feet and hips. While Wilder is more of a North-South runner capable of grinding out tough yards between the tackles, Williams is a nimble all-round back with explosive quickness and acceleration. Although he has only played running back since the beginning of the fall, Williams' natural tools could make him a better pro prospect than his counterparts. In fact, I believe he could rate out as an early Day 2 prospect in the 2015 class based on his physical dimensions (6-1, 232) and explosiveness (Williams reportedly clocked a 10.5 in the 100-meters).
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With those measurements rating at the top of the charts for his position group, it is quite possible Williams could eventually become the highest-drafted Florida State running back since Lorenzo Booker was taken 71st overall in 2007.
This week it was learned that Wilder told a recruit visiting the FSU campus that he and Freeman could turn pro after this season.
At wide receiver, the Seminoles trot out three receivers -- Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin -- with prototypical NFL physical dimensions, athleticism and speed. Greene, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior, is an explosive speedster capable of producing big plays as a vertical threat on the perimeter. He routinely blows past defenders on go-routes, but also excels as a "catch-and-run" playmaker on crossing routes.
Shaw, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior, is a versatile playmaker with the potential to punish opponents on the outside or as a slot receiver. As a polished route runner with a knack for finding soft spots over the middle of the field, Shaw is often Winston's top target when the Seminoles use their stack formation package out of their three- and four-receiver sets. This was apparent against Miami with Winston repeatedly finding Shaw on deep curl routes from double stack formations.
In Benjamin, the Seminoles have a big-bodied pass catcher (6-5, 234) with sneaky speed and quickness. He is a jump-ball specialist with outstanding ball skills and leaping ability, which regularly leads to spectacular catches from the redshirt. Most importantly, it gives Winston a big target to rely on in the clutch.
While most expect Florida State to have a cast full of NFL-caliber receivers based on their perennial domination of the recruiting rankings, the Seminoles' recent draft history suggests that isn't the case. Florida State hasn't had a wide receiver taken in the draft since 2007 (Chris Davis, Tennessee, Round 4), and Javon Walker was the team's last first-rounder at the position (Green Bay, 2002). Those are disappointing statistics for one of the elite programs in college football.
Last week, I emphatically called Florida State the most complete team in college football; I'm more convinced of it after taking a long, hard look at the Seminoles' game-changing playmakers.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.