- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher lost 11 players from last year's ACC champions to the NFL draft, but he's not too worried about a dip in talent on this season's roster.
Sure, Florida State waved goodbye to its share of veterans, but the 2013 lineup remains remarkably well established.
"From a talent standpoint, this is still a talented football team," Fisher said. "We have the least amount of starters back in the ACC, but we have more junior and senior starters than we had a year ago. We have a lot of guys who played significant snaps. They still played a lot of plays in big games."
In fact, of the 22 projected starters currently atop Florida State's depth chart, only two -- quarterback Jameis Winston and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. -- were part of Florida State's two most recent signing classes. Instead, the bulk of the talent -- 10 projected starters -- comes from Fisher's 2011 signing class, a group that figures to define this season's team.
While Fisher's fingerprints were all over the 2010 class, that was a group that largely came together while former coach Bobby Bowden still headed the program. It wasn't until 2011 that Fisher had the chance to build a class from start to finish, and the results were impressive.
The first thing to notice about the 2011 class was its size. Fisher brought in 29 players, including two junior college transfers, in hopes of filling a massive talent gap that had developed in Bowden's final years. A few never arrived on campus, a few more quickly departed, but the bulk of the class has already made its mark.
On offense, three-fifths of Florida State's line comes from the Class of 2011. Both of its primary tailbacks, two of its top three receivers and its top tight end were also in that group.
On defense, Timmy Jernigan, Karlos Williams and Nick Waisome are ensconced in the lineup already, and a bevy of rising stars including Tyler Hunter, Terrance Smith, Giorgio Newberry and Nile Lawrence-Stample are in line for regular reps.
In all, 20 of the 27 freshmen signed in 2011 figure to be part of Florida State's two-deep to open the 2013 season -- from the hidden gems of the class such as Hunter and Tre Jackson to the heralded stars such as Williams and Jernigan.
"It shows you your evaluations," Fisher said. "That's something we constantly analyze in recruiting because whether it's three-star, four-star, five-star recruit doesn't matter. At the end of the day, we go back to our classes -- how we progress, who do we miss on, how they're growing? That's something we evaluate on how we do our business. That class seems like it's a very successful class."
While the depth of the class has proven to be strong, there's plenty of top-end talent. Defensive end Cornelius Carradine, a juco transfer, likely would have been a first-round pick in April's NFL draft had he not suffered a late-season injury. Jackson, Rashad Greene, Josue Matias, Nick O'Leary, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. all attracted preseason All-ACC votes this summer and have NFL futures. And then there's Jernigan, who is already being pegged as one of the top interior linemen in the nation.
"I feel like it's my D-line now," Jernigan said this spring. "I'm trying to be a leader."
That's exactly what Fisher wants to hear from his rising veterans, and the 2011 class has responded.
Not only has Jernigan taken charge of Florida State's revamped defensive line, but Greene, Wilder, Freeman and Hunter have all established themselves as the locker room's most important voices.
"I've been very pleased with that, and a couple of guys have blossomed into leaders that I never thought would," Fisher said. "Hopefully that's the player development, the enhancements no one sees, that a couple of those guys evolved into those roles that are team leaders."
The classes that followed 2011 offer their own highlights, too, and more are likely on the way. But as Florida State prepares to open fall camp, the rewards of Fisher's first full season of scouting, recruiting and development have gone a long way to establish precedent.
"It was a pretty high success rate in that group, it has been so far," Fisher said. "That reinforces why we keep doing things right."
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