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Breaking down FSU's impressive freshman class: Who will contribute in 2021?

While much of the focus this offseason was on the instant impact Florida State's large group of transfers would have on the 2021 season, it was unknown if the Seminoles would get a similar boost from their freshman class.

After two weeks of preseason camp, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. Of the 16 new freshmen on the Seminoles' roster, at least half will have a good opportunity to contribute this fall -- and six could make a substantial impact.

"I think it's a really good group," FSU coach Mike Norvell said after Friday's practice. "For the ability that these guys have, there's gonna be a good number -- I'd probably say five or six -- that are going to have an opportunity to impact this team this year. And then even the guys that don't, as they continue to grow and develop, it's a really good group -- a hard-working group."

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When it comes to the remaining first-year players, Norvell said the Seminoles will take full advantage of the recent NCAA rule that allows freshmen to play in four games -- at any time in the season -- and retain their redshirt.

"No doubt, I think we hit it with this freshman group," he said. "And they are responding in the moment."

As FSU transitions this week from camp mode to preparation for the season opener against Notre Dame, we take a closer look at each of the new freshmen and break down their chances for substantial playing time this season as well as their prospects for the future.

Early Impact as Freshmen

Current size: 5-11, 184 pounds

Position in practice: Cornerback and nickelback

Early observations: After enrolling in January, Knowles first made a name for himself during spring drills. At that time, he worked exclusively at nickelback and showed he could be a capable backup for likely starter Jammie Robinson. Now that he has gotten opportunities to work at cornerback this preseason, Knowles has proven he is capable of even more. He not only is very good in coverage, but he is physical in run support and has excellent ball skills. Already looks like he could be a future star in the Seminoles' secondary.

Potential impact in 2021: Based on what we've seen so far, there is no question Knowles will play a role in the Seminoles' secondary and on special teams. There is a lot of returning experience in FSU's defensive backfield, so it's not as if there's a huge opening for early playing time. But the South Florida product has performed so well already that it's a safe bet the Seminoles' coaches are eager to see what he can do in games.

Current size: 6-4, 201 pounds

Position in practice: Wide receiver

Early observations: Enrolling early was huge for McClain as well, as he showed quickly in the spring that he has the physical tools to help FSU's receiver corps. McClain not only has a big frame, but he can really run, and he has good ball skills. Thanks to that strong month of spring practice and additional work in the summer, the 6-4 wideout has continued to make big plays in camp.

Potential impact in 2021: Will almost certainly be in the Seminoles' two-deep at wide receiver this fall. Also should be a substantial contributor on special teams.

Current size: 6-5, 235 pounds

Position in practice: Defensive end

Early observations: After packing on some significant weight in his first few months on campus, Payton quickly made his presence known in pass-rushing drills. Long and athletic, he has a very nice burst off the edge and is not afraid to get physical. Has the potential (frame, motor, etc.) to be a big-time defensive end later in his college career.

Potential impact in 2021: Of the young pass-rusher types FSU brought in this offseason, Payton is most likely to be a factor in 2021. He very well could step in as a situational pass-rusher, as well as contribute on special teams.


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