Tag Archives: Willie Taggart

Leighton McCarthy OLB-FAU: Nocturnal

McCarthy, a four-year contributor for the Owls, feasted on opposing quarterbacks throughout his career. As a pass rusher, he demonstrated the ability to work around C-USA’s best offensive tackles with regularity in 2020. It was a season befitting of his overall consistency.

McCarthy finished 2020 with 10 quarterback sacks for an Owls defense that finished in the nation’s Top 5 in points allowed.

Former FAU defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin said back in 2017 of McCarthy, “He allows us to be multiple.” Even in that year as a 210-to-215-pound outside linebacker, the former Owl played bigger than his size. He ran the hoop to post a strip-sack versus North Texas and finished off Western Kentucky with a fourth quarter take down of quarterback Mike White. But it was his ability to play defensive end, outside linebacker and drop into coverage that Kiffin was referring to in describing McCarthy.

McCarthy finished his career with 158 tackles, 18.5 quarterback sacks, 34 tackles for losses, an interception and two forced fumbles.

For much of the 2020 season, the FAU defense (led by defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt) was the engine behind the Owls’ path through C-USA opposition. Although the team finished the season 24th in total defense nationally, they ranked ninth in scoring defense (17.4 PPG). McCarthy’s workmanlike approach caught the eyes of Florida Atlantic first-year head coach Willie Taggart.

“He’s serious about his business when here,” Taggart said prior to a scheduled game against MTSU in late November 2020.

The second-team All-C-USA performer has not always been efficient holding the edge at the point of attack (see Southern Miss ’20), but his versatility and width (78 5/8″ wingspan) give him a chance to make it as an off the ball linebacker. McCarthy (6’2, 223) has shown some aptitude in man-to-man coverage. He can drop into zone coverage and exhibit fluidity versus bootlegs when aligned on the edge. In addition, he has lined up as a hold-up guy on the punt return unit and at the left wing on the punt team. Perhaps more importantly, the team referenced that he did not miss a practice all year.

The former Owl contains many of the bird’s characteristics. He hunts his prey in a stealth manner, often surprising opponents with his quick burst to close. McCarthy has flown silently under the radar for most outside of Conference USA, but his upside could be unearthed by NFL teams operating in a nocturnal manner.

2018 Preview: Florida State Seminoles

Season outlook

First-year head coach Willie Taggart will look to turn around the Florida Seminoles much like he did for the USF Bulls just two seasons ago.  Last season, Taggart led Oregon to a 7-5 record before leaving the Ducks ahead of the team’s bowl game.  Former Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher left behind a team with a talented run game and an elite pass rusher.  Senior center Alec Eberle (6’4, 295) has started 32 consecutive games dating back to the 2015 season and is a candidate for the Rimington Trophy this season after being named second team  All-ACC in 2017.  Eberle will help create running paths for sophomore running back Cam Akers (5’11, 213). Akers rushed for 1,024 yards and seven touchdowns on 194 carries in 2017.

FSU DE Brian Burns (No. 99 pictured) has broken up four passes, forced four fumbles and blocked three kicks over the last two seasons for the Seminoles.

Defensively, junior defensive end Brian Burns (6’5, 235) will be asked to continue to cause havoc off the edge.  The Fort Lauderdale native has totaled 14 sacks and 23 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.  Burns is a bona fide NFL prospect as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 rush outside linebacker.

Troy’s player to watch

1 Levonta Taylor 5’10 186 CB-Junior
Florida State is no stranger to producing cover corners.  Jalen Ramsey, Deion Sanders and Xavier Rhodes are just a few of the names.  Junior cornerback Levonta Taylor has the ability to join the ranks of those Pro Bowlers.
Last season, he finished the season with two interceptions and three pass deflections. The relatively low interception totals are a result of quarterbacks refusing to throw his way. This year, Taylor will get to work with former Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnett, who has helped mold several defensive backs into NFL talents like Trae Waynes and Darqueze Dennard.  Despite seeing minimal action, DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson is projecting another season of the Virginia Beach native blanketing one side of the field.

Game of the season 

October 6th against Miami
Miami broke their seven-game losing streak in the longstanding rivalry by defeating Florida State, 24-20, in Tallahassee last year. You can expect Taggart’s first order of business is for the Seminoles to regain in-state and conference supremacy. It won’t be easy as Miami fields one its best teams since 2000.  Florida State’s and Miami’s October matchup could resemble some of their classic matchups from the 90s.

DraftNasty’s Prospect Watch

90 Demarcus Christmas 6’4 308 DL-Senior

He is one of the toughest interior defensive lineman to latch in the ACC. His tremendous hand-eye coordination is evident when affecting the three-step passing game but just as impressive when it comes to dislodging versus offensive guards.  In a number of ways, he carries some similarities to former Alabama defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson (Detroit Lions).  The big question is whether or not he will become a more disruptive pass rush finisher in 2018.

Prediction: 9-3

Draftnasty’s Troy Jefferson is predicting a two-win improvement on last season but a second place finish in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Jefferson is predicting road losses to Miami and Notre Dame and a home loss to Clemson.