Florida State is set to add another blue-chip prospect to its defense.
Levonta Taylor, the top-ranked cornerback in the class of 2016, announced at Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes High on Friday that he has verbally committed to the Seminoles. "I chose Florida State because I really like the players and coaches and the university itself," Taylor said, according to Rivals.com. "They all have one goal and that's to win national championships, get a good degree and make it to the NFL."
Taylor is the highest-ranked player (19) in the 2016 Rivals250 to pledge to the Seminoles. Their class now counts 13 members and includes three other top-40 prospects in five-star quarterback Malik Henry (15), four-star defensive end Janarius Robinson (39) and four-star tight end Isaac Nauta (40). The group ranks second in the country, behind only Miami, which has already received 19 verbal commitments.
Though Taylor is listed at only 5’10,’’ 180 pounds, he makes up for his size with speed and strength. At a Nike Football Training Camp event last spring, Taylor recorded a 40.4-inch vertical leap and has been clocked at 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, according to Rivals.com. In addition, The Virginian-Pilot reported that Taylor can bench press 305 pounds and squat 415 pounds. Yet Taylor is more highly regarded for his football instincts than his physical attributes.
“Taylor has that 'it' factor that everyone is looking for. He is always around the ball, his instincts are second to none and his ability to bait quarterbacks into bad throws is better than many college players,” Rivals.com analyst Adam Friedman wrote last month. “Taylor is a little on the smaller side (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) but he plays like he is 6-foot-3. His footwork is top-notch and he doesn't take any false steps. With his great speed and ball skills, Taylor could even play on offense.”
Taylor is set to join a Seminoles secondary that has ranked among the nation’s best in recent years and produced a number of NFL draft picks. While the unit struggled last season, the Seminoles finished no worse than second in the ACC in pass efficiency defense between 2011-13. Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner was selected in the second round of last year’s draft, while safety Terrence Brooks was selected in the third round. In 2013, cornerback Xavier Rhodes was a first-round pick.
Florida State loses starting cornerbacks Ronald Darby Jr. and P.J. Williams to the draft this off-season, but it returns All-ACC first-team member Jalen Ramsey and safety Tyler Hunter and brings in Derwin James, the No. 1 safety in the class of 2015. The Seminoles have not released a spring depth chart, but Rivals affiliate Warchant.com projects the starting secondary to feature three juniors (Ramsey, Marquez White and Nate Andrews) and one senior (Hunter).
We will have to wait and see where Taylor fits in next season, but he has the potential to contribute in some capacity right away. Florida State also has earned a commitment from 2016 prospect Jamel Cook, a three-star athlete who projects as a defensive back. Cook told Rivals.com last month, however, that he still has his “eyes open.” One other potential cornerback targets for the Seminoles is Coconut Creek (Fla.) High standout and four-star prospect Trayvon Mullen.
Regardless of whether Florida State lands him or other highly regarded defensive backs, it has already earned a commitment from the top-ranked player in that position group in Taylor. Here are some highlights of Taylor’s junior high school season, during which, according to MaxPreps.com, he caught 26 passes for 433 yards on offense; returned punts and kicks; and recorded 40 total tackles, 13 passes defended, two forced fumbles and three interceptions on defense.
According to Rivals.com, Taylor said that he is targeting the following 2016 prospects as potential additions to Florida State’s class: Five-star outside linebacker Lyndell Wilson, five-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, five-star wide receivers Nate Craig and four-star wide receivers Dredrick Snelson and Sam Bruce. Taylor also said that he also wants “to get some more defensive linemen to make my job easier.”
Virginia was considered one contender to earn Taylor’s commitment had he not chosen Florida State. Charlottesville is less than three hours away from Virginia Beach, and Taylor would have been the second five-star defensive back from that area in the last three years to pick the Cavaliers. In 2014, Quin Blanding chose Virginia and went on to lead the program in tackles (123) and was named the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Instead, Taylor is set to become the latest star prospect from Hampton Roads to join the Seminoles. Five-star defensive end Josh Sweat (2015) and four-star defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (2014) are signees from the region.
All recruiting rankings from Rivals.com.