There were arguably two breakout players on Florida State’s defense in 2021.
Jermaine Johnson II came to Tallahassee via the transfer portal after two years at Georgia. In his time with the Bulldogs, Johnson II finished with 6.5 sacks in 16 games.
A year later, Johnson II has been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and added ACC Defensive Player of the Year to his resume after giving the ‘Noles defense 11.5 sacks and 70 tackles.
Similar to Johnson II, Kalen DeLoach had a career year after two years with limited opportunities and pedestrian numbers. As a first-year starter in 2021, DeLoach totaled 69 tackles (38 solo), 6.5 tackles for loss (TFLs), and one interception.
Here are three players who could surprise and be next in line as key performers for the Seminoles in 2022.
1. Omarion Cooper, Sophomore Defensive Back
Many FSU fans are expecting Cooper to make a sizable leap, so this might not come as a surprise to those who follow the ‘Noles closely.
However, Cooper’s skill is enough to warrant national attention. He started the final three games in 2021, totaling nine tackles, four pass deflections, and one interception in that span.
Cooper’s size (6-foot) allows him to match up with bigger receivers and make plays on the ball in the air. Throughout last season and in the spring, he’s consistently shown the willingness to tackle and help stop the run.
Cooper is poised for a bigger role as he likely pencils in as the starter at the boundary corner.
He has the chance to make a name for himself on the national stage, starting with a matchup against LSU wide receiver and projected first-round pick Kayshon Boutte Sept. 4. Nonetheless, Cooper could put himself on the radar to be the next premier defensive back from FSU with a strong season.
2. Derrick McClendon II, Redshirt Sophmore Defensive End
McClendon II has waited his turn but is finally set to open the season as a starter after serving in a reserve role for the past two seasons.
In 2021, McClendon II finished the season with 16 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks. He’s not the flashiest player, but McClendon has a grittiness to him that can’t be taught. He’s well balanced in his pass-rushing and run-stopping ability, which is what the 'Noles need under defensive coordinator Adam Fuller.
After consistently performing in the spring, McClendon’s II arrow is pointing up and he could turn in gaudy numbers paired with redshirt sophomore and opposite defensive end Jared Verse.
3. Sam McCall, Freshman Defensive Back
Over the years, FSU fans have seen highly touted defensive back recruits turn heads as freshmen. From Jalen Ramsey and Derwin James to Asante Samuel Jr., the ‘Noles have had instant performers and the same could be predicted with McCall.
In the spring game, McCall registered five tackles (two solo) and one pass deflection. He’s instinctive, physical, and fast. Additionally, McCall has a competitive nature to him which should help ease the transition to guarding collegiate-level wide receivers.
The former five-star recruit could also make his presence felt as a returner, which we saw him do this spring.
McCall is in a crowded defensive back room, but his talent stands out and he should have ample opportunity to make plays this fall as a true freshman.
All stats were collected via Pro Football Reference.