Ryan Izzo, Florida State University / 6-4.5 / 256 pounds / Tight end
Ryan Izzo was the 32nd pick in the seventh round (No. 250 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots.
Quick bio: Izzo caught 54 passes for 761 yards and six touchdowns in four years at FSU, including the last three as a starter. He had career highs in receptions (20), receiving yards (317) and touchdowns (three) as a redshirt junior in 2017.
Scouting report: Izzo wasn’t targeted much in former FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s pro-style offense. But when the ball was thrown his way, Izzo showed good hands and consistently earned first downs by averaging 14.1 yards per reception in his career. Izzo admitted early in his FSU career that he wasn’t interested in blocking but knew that it was a path to playing time. “I think I’m one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft,” Izzo said at the NFL Combine. Blocking should open the door for Izzo in the NFL and his height could help him get a few red-zone opportunities, too.
NFL Combine results: Izzo had a 40 time of 4.94, a slow mark compared to the position group (a pair of tight ends ran 4.54s). But his 33-inch vertical was fifth-best among tight ends at the combine.
Quoting: “If you want an in-line tight end who has good size and very good toughness and has experience as an active member of the run blocking unit, then Izzo should be on your board. Izzo has athletic limitations, but he has the willingness and talent to become a plus blocker at the point of attack and he’s able to work the middle of the field. He should become a starter early in his career.” — NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein
With 17 returning starters, Florida State has few holes to fill after losing an interior defensive lineman, two linebackers and two defensive backs.
But Jimbo Fisher has the program in a position where it’s always thinking a year (or two) ahead in its development and able to anticipate the losses, whether two players are drafted (2016) or 11 (2015).
FSU will be in the top five of most preseason polls which means the talent is not lacking. We take a look at that talent from a positional standpoint and rank those units from deepest to weakest.
1. Secondary: Even after losing the fifth overall pick in the draft (Jalen Ramsey), this position is loaded with future NFL players. We start with the most talented player on defense, sophomore Derwin James, who is garnering All-American talk after forging his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman. James showed his athletic ability after taking over at strong safety. He did make freshman mistakes in 2015, especially in games against Georgia Tech and Houston, but he is poised for a breakout season. The group will receive a big boost with the return of Trey Marshall from injury at the nickel, and safety Nate Andrews is back for a fourth year. The only big question mark is who replaces Ramsey opposite cornerback Marquez White. Tarvarus McFadden appears to have the edge. What also separates the secondary is the depth. A lot of programs would like to have talents like Calvin Brewton, Marcus Lewis, A.J. Westbrook and newcomer Levonta Taylor playing every down.
2. Defensive line: This unit shot to the top when DE DeMarcus Walker decided to forgo the draft and return for his senior season. Walker and sophomore Josh Sweat give FSU one of the top end tandems in the country. And the interior isn’t bad either with junior Derrick Nnadi returning after his first year as a starter and Demarcus Christmas ready to replace Nile Lawrence-Stample. Jacob Pugh and Fred Jones provide the primary depth but the position has been hurt by attrition and needs a few more bodies.
3. Running back: One player makes this one of the top units on the team (and in the country) but what keeps it from coming in any higher is the uncertainty behind Dalvin Cook. Cook returns after a record-breaking season and seventh place finish in the Heisman voting and the fullback spot is secure with Freddie Stevenson. But what cannot be totally discounted are the nagging injuries that limited Cook last season and what kind of production FSU will get behind Cook. Jacques Patrick showed flashes as a freshman last season and had a great game against Syracuse when Cook was held out because of an ankle injury. Still, at times he was underwhelming. Ryan Green had a solid spring but the running back turned cornerback turned running back has carried the ball six times in the last two years.
4. Receivers/tight end: The numbers – three receivers with at least 57 catches – are impressive but all agree even more was expected. They all return and the 2014 and 2015 stacked recruiting classes are a year older. The position received a huge boost in the spring with the emergence of Auden Tate. I believe he could become the big (as in 6-5) receiver FSU has lacked since Kelvin Benjamin left. Then there was the maturity and improvement Travis Rudolph showed in the spring. All it will take is one or two more of the young players to emerge to go along with veterans Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield and they could be a dynamite group. As for tight end, Ryan Izzo proved more than capable last year and this, too, is a diverse, deep group.
5. Offensive line: Perhaps the biggest mystery on the team. At times the line was solid last season and at times it looked lost. No question the talent is there and, in fact, some of that talent is in the extraordinary depth this group possesses with 20 offensive linemen on scholarship. But beyond LT Rod Johnson (an All-American candidate and projected first round pick in early mock drafts) a lot has to come together. Coaches are confident LG Kareem Are, C Alec Eberle, RG Wilson Bell and RT Brock Ruble will jell. And the likelihood is they do. But I still need to see it. More than any other position, I believe the offensive line will determine whether Florida State is a true title contender this year.
6. Quarterback: Two years of Jameis Winston seems so far removed. This position remains somewhat of a mystery – and as always will be scrutinized more than any other during camp – for two reasons: The known (senior Sean Maguire) and the unknown (freshman Deondre Francois). Maguire is capable. He was solid, not spectacular after Everett Golson imploded last year and he does deserve a break for his Peach Bowl performance after playing more than two quarters on a broken ankle. But can he lead FSU to the ACC title and playoffs? That answer varies depending on who you are asking. Francois has all the potential and tools but he has yet to take a snap in a college game. Obviously, this position is hugely important and it could turn out to be a strength or a weakness.
7. Linebackers: The Seminoles lost both their starters, although neither was drafted, but still are confident that juniors Ro’Derrick Hoskins and Matthew Thomas will seamlessly step in. Hoskins is more certain after being a key contributor last year with Reggie Northrup limited early from offseason knee surgery and Terrance Smith missing four games later because of an ankle injury. Thomas is not as reliable only because of a checkered history that last limited him to 12 games since signing in 2013 because of suspensions. The position has had depth issues in the past but coaches hope Josh Brown and Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane will solve that this season.
Because of its youth, Florida State’s offensive line was a work in progress last season. And with 20 linemen on scholarship this year and several sidelined this spring with various injures expect it to remain that way through preseason camp.
Bob Ferrante wrote about the line in today’s Post, focusing on the unit’s need to improve in short-yardage situations. But one aspect of the story I found interesting was Jimbo Fisher pushing All-American candidate, left tackle Rod Johnson, to be more vocal, more of a leader.
Johnson, a rising junior, was voted to the All-ACC first team and was a Sporting News and USA Today second-team All-American last season. He won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, given to the best blocker in the ACC.
But Johnson is quiet. Not a rah-rah guy. A player who leads by example.
And Fisher wants more.
“He gets on me about being more verbal and getting out of my comfort zone,” Johnson told Ferrante. “Pick guys up when they are down.”
Ryan Izzo, who continues to establish himself at tight end, said he has seen the line “communicate” better this spring. He believes Johnson is being heard more. Johnson clearly is the best player on the line which means his leadership is important for this group players, many of whom are young and full of potential.
“I saw Rod stepping up as a leader,” Izzo said. “I see Alec (Eberle), too. I think communication is one of those things that we really needed to improve on. We had a bunch of young guys out there who didn’t want to talk (last year) and I think this year they’re starting to do that a little bit more.”
And how is Johnson doing it?
“Talking with them after every down,” he said. “Being there for the guys when they are down. I’m not the loudest guy. I try to lead by example but now I’m being told to be more action and verbal. This is what I have to do. I know what it takes.”
Florida State’s production at tight end dipped a year ago, something that was expected when it’s replacing the Mackey Award winner and most productive player at the position in school history in Nick O’Leary.
Izzo, who will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, said he’s much more comfortable after two years in the program, one on the field.
“I think I’m just able to play faster,” he said. “Last year, trying to read coverages, a lot of our routes have so many variations to it in different coverages. Being able to play faster is the biggest thing.”
With a stable of talented skill players, Izzo is well aware of what coaches are looking for from their tight ends.
“I just want to keep growing in the run game,” he said. “I want to keep getting my opportunities in the pass game whenever they do come. But mainly the run game and perfecting my routes and trying to speak up and become more of a leader.”
All three tight ends from a year ago, along with Jalen Wilkerson, who red-shirted in 2015, return. They will be joined by incoming freshman Naseir Upshur. Kerr is out for the spring with a shoulder injury.
“We’ve got some great tight ends with Izzo and Mavin and those guys,” coach Jimbo Fisher said. “And Jalen Wilkerson will get his first taste of action.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some of those guys in action.”
In a last desperate attempt to make something out of his career, Chris Casher has moved to tight end.
Casher, who will be a redshirt senior in the fall, has been one of the biggest a disappointment of the Jimbo Fisher era. Signed in 2012 out of Mobile, Ala., he was a five-star recruit according to Scout and the No. 3 defensive end in the country according to ESPN. Casher was pursued by all the usual suspects.
But he has been a non-factor in a class in which six players already have been drafted, including Jameis Winston No. 1 overall and two defensive linemen – Mario Edwards and Ronald Goldman – who were taken in the second round last year.
Now, the 6-4, 256-pound Casher is flipping sides of the ball. Problem is, the tight end depth chart is loaded with Ryan Izzo returning as the starter and Jeremy Kerr, Mavin Saunders and Jalen Wilkerson pushing for playing time, along with incoming freshman Naseir Upshur.
Fisher cited Casher’s athletic ability saying he has “ball skills” and was a “natural route runner.”
“He was a very, very good receiver out of high school,” Fisher said. “He is a really good basketball player. He has a lot of natural offensive skill. … catches the ball and has natural hands.
“When I played quarterback, I knew who I wanted to throw it to. And the guys that caught my eye. So our guys have been bragging about him. We’ll see what he does.”