We are now entering the month of August, and that means it is almost everyone’s favorite time of year: football season. With the Seminoles now only weeks away from their Labor Day matchup with Virginia Tech, we here at Armchair Florida State are going to preview each position group before the season starts.
We start with the most important position on the football field: the quarterback. Here, first, is the projected depth chart going into the 2018 season:
|Projected Depth Chart – Quarterback|
The Battle for #1
Among the six quarterbacks listed on the Seminoles roster, only three have become serious competitors for the starting quarterback job: Deondre Francois, Bailey Hockman and James Blackman. What has become speculation all summer on Twitter will finally be hashed out during fall camp, and the three have been battling for the past two weeks for the starting position.
Although there are many who expect James Blackman to walk out of fall camp with the starting job, Deondre Francois is not to be ignored. After coming into Tallahassee as a highly-recruited dual-threat quarterback in 2015, the redshirt junior burst onto the national stage with a fantastic and gritty performance against Ole Miss in week one of 2016. After getting knocked down time and time again, Francois held firm and led the Seminoles to a huge comeback victory. He improved steadily as the season went on, and got better and better at anticipating pressure and reading defenses. As just a freshman, he had five 300-yard passing games, and also compiled over 400 total yards on several occasions. He ended up throwing for 20 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, which landed him at the top of the ACC statistically.
With a new regime coming into Tallahassee this season, the coaching staff has made the quarterback job an open competition. Francois struggled with accuracy during his freshman season, and any advantage he had over Blackman in terms of experience or playbook knowledge is now gone. The one big advantage Francois does have is he fits better in Coach Taggart’s ‘Gulf Coast’ offense, which needs a mobile quarterback. Francois must fix accuracy issues and bounce back well from last year’s devastating injury, but he should be the favorite to start for the Seminoles on Labor Day.
|Hometown||Belle Glade, Florida|
After Francois went down with a season-ending injury last year, James Blackman took over as a young true freshman quarterback facing some of the toughest defenses in the country. His first game, against NC State, was surprisingly well-played, as he threw for 278 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Throughout the rest of the season, however, there were growing pains, which were to be expected with a true freshman at the helm. Due to a variety of factors, such as the lack of pass protection, receiver injuries and a run game that was non-existent at times, opposing defenses were able to read Blackman fairly easily. In games against Louisville and Clemson, the young quarterback made late-game mistakes that directly influenced the game in the favor of the other team.
Still, performances late in the season against Syracuse, Florida and Southern Miss all showed what the young signal caller was capable of. In those games, he threw seven touchdowns against just one interception. On the season as a whole, Blackman threw for 19 touchdowns against 11 interceptions and passed for 2230 yards. He definitely impressed down the back stretch of the season and found his groove as a dropback passer. Blackman throws a beautiful deep ball, arguably better than Francois, and is a more accurate passer on medium-to-deep throws. He could become the Seminoles’ starter, but there a few things going against him.
1: He lost his safety blanket in Auden Tate, and his second favorite receiver Ryan Izzo.
2: His skill set is much more of a passer than runner, and Willie Taggart prefers a dual-threat passer (i.e. Quinton Flowers and Justin Herbert).
Blackman is a prime candidate for the starting job and has all the tools to be a four-year starting quarterback. His progression during fall camp will be the biggest factor in where he stands on the depth chart.
|Hometown||Powder Springs, Georgia|
The third and final realistic candidate for the starting quarterback position is redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman. The second-year quarterback came to Florida State as a four-star recruit out of McEachern High School. Hockman was a consensus four-star recruit in the class of 2017 and was ranked 185 in the ESPN 300 list of top recruits. During his senior season, Hockman threw for 2604 yards and twenty-five touchdowns, leading his school to the state semi-finals.
Hockman comes into the fall as a contender for the starting quarterback position but is behind both Francois and Blackman on the depth chart. During the spring, fans got a first look at the former blue chipper in the spring game, where he threw for 203 yards and touchdown while battling a foot injury. So far during fall camp, reports say he has impressed coaches with his deep ball accuracy and arm strength. The big thing that is holding Hockman back from being the potential starter is the lack of game experience.
Despite this, the new coaching staff has raved about him in press conferences. Hockman himself said he would be disappointed if he was not named starting quarterback. While it may not happen this season, Hockman has a future with the Seminoles at the quarterback position. He could take over as the starter in a few seasons after both Francois and Blackman leave, but this year, it looks as if he will have to play third-fiddle to the two frontrunners.
|Hometown||Long Beach, California|
While the first three quarterbacks listed are the more serious contenders for the job, the Seminoles still good quarterbacks providing depth. With the departure of JJ Costentino and Jake Rizzo during the offseason, the quarterback meeting room is now crowded with new faces. One of them is a freshman from Long Beach Poly, Nolan McDonald.
McDonald is the brother of fellow Florida State freshman tight end Cam McDonald and was a three-star recruit in the class of 2017. According to the Florida State football website, in high school McDonald threw for a total of 22 touchdowns and over 2200 yards during his career, which are admirable high school numbers. According to 247 Sports, he was originally a quarterback commit to Air Force but was not listed on the Falcons’ 2017 roster. He walked on at FSU after the spring, accompanying his blue-chip brother to Tallahassee.
According to his recruiting page, McDonald was recruited by mostly Group of Five programs, including Boise State and Colorado State, as an athlete. With a 4.5 clocked time in the 40-yard dash, if McDonald finds the field, he could be used in designed quarterback runs or quick options to go along with the Gulf Coast offense. Although he is currently listed as a quarterback, do not be surprised to see McDonald moved to a different position during his career in order to maximize his athletic ability.
|Hometown||Fort Lauderdale, Florida|
Adding to the depth at quarterback is freshman signal caller Beau Fillichio, who is walking on out of powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. It doesn’t appear Fillichio was very highly recruited, but according to 247 Sports, he did receive a scholarship offer from Columbia, which could indicate that Fillichio was recruited by other FCS schools of a similar level. According to the Florida State roster, he was mostly a backup at Aquinas, throwing six touchdowns over three seasons, one of which he missed with an injury. While Fillichio will most likely not see the field for the Seminoles this season, he adds important depth to the QB position. And at 6’4″, he will be a good scout team look for the defense.
Highlights: Junior Highlights
Rounding out the quarterback depth chart is walk-on freshman Alex Eleyssami. The first-year quarterback from Orlando played at First Academy, where the Royals ran a Wing-T offense. Despite the run-heavy playcalling, Eleyssami still threw for 14 touchdowns last season, leading his team to an undefeated regular season and a playoff berth. Barring injury, it is doubtful that Eleyssami sees playing time this season, but watching his highlights, the freshman has good accuracy and quick feet, all of which will be instrumental to the scout team and preparing the defense.