From now until the season starts I will be previewing the prospects from Big-12, ACC and Big East teams for the upcoming season. My colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Justin Higdon (follow him on Twitter @afc2nfc) will be covering the SEC, Pac-12 and Big-10 and you will be able to read those posts on NFL Draft Monsters. Check them all out to get ready for the 2013 NFL Draft by identifying the prospects you need to learn about!
Today I am previewing Florida State, and my god are they talented. This preview took me hours longer than I expected it to only because of the sheer vastness of talent that Jimbo Fisher and Florida State have assembled. It’s almost unbelievable, and there’s no way to cover it all in one post. I, however, took my best shot at it here. On offense the ‘Noles return 8 starters including quarterback EJ Manuel who was good but not great in his first full season as a starter last year. That obviously had a lot to do with the massive number of injuries that FSU’s offense sustained last year, especially along the offensive line, but Manuel has plenty of room to improve before I will grade him as even a 2nd round pick. Luckily, the FSU running game should be much improved this season thanks in part to true sophomore Devonta Freeman, and Manuel has plenty of receiving threats to throw the ball to. Rashad Greene is my favorite, but Rodney Smith, Christian Green and Nick O’Leary should all be reliable, consistent targets this season. The question for me is the offensive line, where they have some talent and depth but not an abundance of starting experience. They aren’t a reliable unit and they lost their top two tackles from a year ago, Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders. Stepping up to replace them is going to be critical, especially since Manuel has a tendency to hang onto the ball longer than he should.
The defense, however, should carry this team to at least 10 wins this season. With a unit this talented anything else would be a disappointment. It’s not completely inconceivable that Florida State could have 3 top 40 picks just at defensive end, and they also have the top recruit in the country Mario Edwards entering the fold at the defensive end spot. They have everything from a potential 1st round pick in Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle, to a top 100 prospect nose tackle in Anthony “Amp” McCloud, to an underrated 3 tech in Everett Dawkins. They also have a pair of reliable middle linebackers and a stud outside linebacker in Christian Jones. Top that off with a pair of probable 1st round picks in Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner in the secondary and you have to wonder how anyone plans on getting into field goal range against this defense, much less scoring touchdowns. This defense is going to be incredible, and if the offensive line steps up and EJ Manuel starts to live up to his potential this team could be downright scary. I’m not confident in the offensive line or in EJ, however, and that means I still think Virginia Tech is going to come through as the ACC Champion. With that, here is my prospect preview of Florida State’s insanely talented roster:
P.S. I have to give a huge shout-out to TomahawkNation.com because they were a fantastic resource for this piece and they do an absolutely unbelievable job covering Florida State and football in general over there. Give them a read whether you like Florida State or not.
EJ Manuel, QB- Manuel is returning for his second full season as a starter with 17 career starts over his Seminole career. He’s listed at 6’5”, 238 pounds and definitely passes the eye test, and his strong arm is noticeable right away. Not only that, but he is very athletic for his size which helped him rush for 141 yards and 4 touchdowns last year in addition to passing for 2,666 yards (65.3% completion), 18 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. One would assume he would improve on those numbers this year, particularly with some intriguing talent returning at receiver and running back, but I will be looking to see how his accuracy develops in addition to his pocket poise and ability to read defenses. He’s definitely got potential, but at this point he’s a lot closer to a 3rd round prospect than a 1st rounder in my opinion. I don’t think he processes information quickly enough to be a top college quarterback and eventual quality NFL starter, and unless his head catches up with his arm and his body he’s going to be a physically gifted quarterback who never put it together from the mental aspect of the game. Until he proves that his football IQ has improved and that he can read defenses well I’m not going to grade him in the top 64 picks.
Devonta Freeman, RB**- Freeman is only a true sophomore but he led the Seminoles in rushing last season, overtaking the oft-injured Jermaine Thomas. He rushed just 120 times but gained 579 yards (4.8 ypc) and 8 touchdowns as a freshman. I think he’s poised for a huge break-out season this year, as he is healthy and ready to rumble. He is listed at 5’8”, 200 pounds and honestly his running style and tools reminds me of Trent Richardson. I know that’s extremely high praise, but I can’t help but think of Richardson when I watch him run. He is not afraid to lower his pads and initiate contact with defenders, he churns his legs very well to get tough yards, he falls forward consistently, he has plenty of speed to rip off big chunks of yardage, he is shifty and can make defenders miss, and he has flashed the ability to catch passes well out of the backfield despite only having 15 receptions for 94 yards last season. I’m a big Freeman fan, and I hope he gets way more than 120 carries this season because this kid is special.
Rashad Greene, WR**- I may be a huge fan of Devonta Freeman but I am just as big a fan of Rashad Greene. He was mind-blowingly good as a true freshman last year as he led FSU in receptions (38), receiving yards (596) and touchdowns (7) all while having a 15.7 yards per reception average. He has fantastic hands, adjusts so well to the ball and just has a knack for making critical catches when his team needs him to. He can still improve as a route runner, but he is already pretty respectable in that department for such a young player. His body control and concentration is exceptional, and I think the 6’0”, 175 pound receiver is already one of the best in the ACC. He showed that consistently last year, and he has all the speed, burst and ball skills you could ever want in a wide receiver. Much like Freeman, this kid is SPECIAL.
Rodney Smith, WR- Smith is returning for his senior year with 20 career starts, including 12 last year during which he totaled 36 receptions, 561 yards and 4 touchdowns. At 6’6”, 219 pounds Smith is a huge target and has tons of potential as a red-zone threat. He came to FSU as a very raw player that needed to grow into his frame, and now that he is listed at 219 pounds he seems to have done so. He doesn’t have explosive speed but he is a long strider with build-up speed that can sneak behind defenses if they don’t keep an eye on him. Because of his height he has plenty of potential to come down with jump balls, and has good hands so he is able to win some of those match-ups. He’s not a top 100 pick at this point, but he has worked hard to fill out his frame, improve his route running and learn to shield defenders from the ball with his 6’6” frame. 6’6” receivers with good hands are exceedingly rare, and it seems that Smith fits that bill. If he can continue to show improvement, particularly in his route running, he will catch plenty of eyes as a senior. This senior receiver class is significantly worse than the 2012 draft class, so if Smith has a great season he could really vault himself up draft boards.
Christian Green, WR**- Green is another explosive receiver that Manuel will have to find a way to get the ball to on a regular basis. Green is listed at 6’2”, 206 and has fantastic raw athleticism and tons of speed, and as a redshirt freshman last season he had 26 receptions, 450 yards but no touchdowns. His speed presents a lot of potential headaches for defenses, but his route running needs considerable work so he is able to be bottled up by quality cornerbacks. If his route running improves he could be a huge difference maker in 2012 though, particularly if Manuel starts to read defenses better and quicker.
Nick O’Leary, TE**- O’Leary is just a true sophomore but he flashed some serious potential as a freshman last season en route to a 12 catch, 164 yard, 1 touchdown season as a true freshman. He may not have had eye-popping numbers, but the 6’4”, 240 pound tight end is ready to break out this year. He has good hands, runs good routes and is probably the best tight end FSU has had on its roster in years. I’m not sure how good of a blocker he is, but as a receiver he is likely to be targeted much more frequently than he was last season and should start to garner a lot of national attention soon. He’s a very good tight end prospect, so keep an eye on him.
Bjoern Werner, DE*- Werner is one of the top defensive ends in the country and could be a part of one of the best pass rushing draft classes in recent memory. Werner is listed at 6’4”, 272 pounds and in 13 starts last season he had 37 tackles, 4 TFL, 7 sacks, 8 pass break-ups, 1 interception, 1 fumble forced and 1 fumble that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown. Werner is the top prospect on FSU’s loaded roster which says a lot about him. He is only a true junior and yet he has played in every game over his first two years with the Seminoles. He has tons of potential thanks to his fantastic strength, work ethic and motor. He made huge strides as a sophomore despite it being his fourth year of football and he may be saving his best for last as a junior. He is still raw and is just scratching the surface of his potential, and I think he has the makings of a top 10 pick come April. Defensive ends with Werner’s skill set are exceedingly rare, and combining that with a fierce work ethic and motor often ends in good or great NFL careers. That is what I anticipate from Werner, and I dare you to ignore him when you watch Florida State’s defense this year. It’s nearly impossible.
Brandon Jenkins, DE- Jenkins is certainly the more well-known pass rusher on Florida State’s defense, but Werner is the superior prospect thanks to his size and strength. Jenkins has worked hard to add muscle to his frame, as he is currently listed at 6’3”, 260 pounds and was only about 240 when he broke out as a true sophomore. His stats may have slipped last season as he “only” had 41 tackles, 4 TFL, 8 sacks and 1 pass break-up, but that was largely due to an increase in attention from opposing offenses in the way of double teams and screens to his side of the field. The attention offenses gave to Jenkins certainly played a role in Werner’s break-out, but both are potential 1st round picks in their own right. Having that much talent at defensive end plus Tank Carradine, who would start on 95% of college football’s defensive lines but comes off the bench at Florida State, makes Florida State’s defensive line incredibly fierce even without considering the talent they have at defensive tackle. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins is actually playing at 260, my guess it he is in the 250-255 range. He might be able to get away with that at right end in the NFL, especially if he holds up against the run better as he showed the ability to do last year, but the best use of all of his athleticism might be at 3-4 outside linebacker. Regardless, he has all the burst, explosion and athletic ability you could ever want in a pass rusher, and with an 8-10 sack season this year he will likely go in the top 32 selections in April.
Tank Carradine, DE- Carradine is the odd man out on Florida State’s depth chart but he undoubtedly has a NFL future. Carradine is listed at 6’5”, 264 pounds and is extremely strong and projects very well to the strong side end in a 4-3 defense in my opinion. Last year was his first with the Seminoles and many didn’t expect him to contribute a lot but he shocked them all. He finished with 38 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and 5.5 sacks after committing to FSU out of junior college. Carradine doesn’t have the elite burst off the snap and doesn’t have Jenkins’ edge speed but he closes like a missile and his strength is on the same level as Werner’s. He was extremely impressive for a player new to the program last year and should be even better this year. I don’t think FSU will have 3 first round picks at defensive end, but if Carradine surprises people again and has a great season despite the team trying to divide limited snaps between three stud defensive ends then it wouldn’t be completely outlandish even in a draft class with so much pass rushing talent. I really like what Carradine brings to the table and I can’t wait to see how he does this year even if he isn’t starting for FSU.
Timmy Jernigan, DT**- Jernigan has the most upside of any of the defensive tackles in my opinion, and he showed a lot of it as a true freshman. The 6’3”, 301 pound defensive tackle accounted for 30 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery. That’s an amazing year for a freshman defensive tackle, and it’s really raised expectations for him as a sophomore. This is a talented defensive line though, one of the two best in the country along with LSU in my opinion, and that means there won’t be an abundance of tackles for loss and sacks just floating around. Jernigan will still earn his keep though thanks to his fantastic blend of quickness, athleticism and strength. It was noted that one of his weaknesses is that he can be put on skates by a pair of quality offensive linemen double teaming him, but if that’s one of the only issues you can find with the game of a true freshman defensive tackle then you have stumbled on to a future top 10 pick in the making in my opinion. He’s got incredible upside and as long as he continues to work and progress he should end up as a top 15 pick one day.
Anthony McCloud, DT- McCloud is essentially the antithesis of Jernigan. He’s listed at 6’2”, 312 pounds and while he doesn’t have Jernigan’s freakish athleticism he does a fantastic job plugging up the middle of the field from the nose tackle position. He is squatty, strong and incredibly hard to move off the ball even with a double team. He may not offer the pass rush or backfield disruption of a player like Jernigan, but considering how trendy the 3-4 defense has become in the NFL space-eaters like Jernigan that simply occupy blockers and clog the A gaps in the middle of the defense are still incredibly valuable. He’s assignment reliable, he doesn’t get moved off the ball and he’s a team player. That sounds like he a top 100 lock in the NFL draft to me, especially if he continues to impress versus the run as a senior.
Everett Dawkins, DT- Dawkins flies under the radar on Florida State because he is literally surrounded with NFL talent in every direction. Jenkins, Werner, Carradine and Jernigan were all in the limelight last season, and Dawkins just went about his business on his way to a ho-hum 25 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 sack, 3 pass break-up, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble season. For most starting defensive tackles this would be a “meh” season, and statistically perhaps it is. But when your top three defensive ends combine for 20.5 sacks there just aren’t a ton of sacks to go around for your defensive tackles (FSU had “just” 6.5 between Dawkins, McCloud and Jernigan). Dawkins is listed at 6’2”, 301 pounds and is reliable against the run and the pass. He’s tough to move in the run game, he has great burst and acceleration and I think his statistics mask how much NFL ability he has. He’s playing on an incredibly talented defensive line which will make some teams wonder how good he really is, but he’s a top 100 pick without a doubt in my mind and should prove as much during the season and hopefully at the Senior Bowl.
Vince Williams, MLB- Williams is the starting MLB heading into the season despite some significant opposition from Telvin Smith, a 6’3”, 210 pound junior. Williams had a good season last year as he totaled 54 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, and 1 interception. Williams is a good run defender but there are questions about how good he is versus the pass. I don’t know that much about him to be honest, but he played a key role in the FSU run defense being as good as it was (opponents averaged just 2.3 yards per carry against the ‘Noles, and only Wake Forest and Miami averaged over 3 yards per carry against them last season). He’s a reliable tackler and he may not be a freak athlete, but he knows his responsibilities and he sticks to them. He’s probably not going to be a high draft pick, but there are certainly worse middle linebackers starting around the ACC and the country.
Telvin Smith, MLB*- Smith attempted to challenge and overtake Williams, but he wasn’t able to do so from what I understand. He’s listed at 6’3”, 210 pounds and from what I understand he is the better coverage linebacker and makes more flashy plays than Williams does. That was partially evidenced by his stat-line as he totaled 42 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble as a sophomore. He probably has more upside than Williams, but for now Williams is the starter even if Smith is still rotated in. He will almost certainly be the starter as a senior in 2013.
Christian Jones, OLB*- Jones is a stud outside linebacker, there’s no other way to say it. He may not be quite where you want to be as far as the mental aspect of the game is concerned, but he has all the size and athletic ability you could ever want in an outside linebacker. He’s listed at 6’4”, 237 pounds and has the speed and change of direction to cover any tight end and even slot receivers at times. He’s a ferocious hitter and while his stats may not jump off the page (56 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 pass break-ups) he absolutely has 1st round upside and the 2012 season may be the year he really starts to reach it. He’s a freak athlete and could even consider bulking up and playing 3-4 outside linebacker if he wanted to. He’s that caliber of athlete.
Xavier Rhodes, CB*- Rhodes really caught my eye as a redshirt freshman and he did it again last year when I was watching FSU against Notre Dame and he was doing a good job 1 on 1 against Michael Floyd who went #13 overall in the NFL Draft this past year to the Arizona Cardinals. Rhodes has fantastic size for a corner and is listed at 6’2”, 209 pounds, has the speed to turn and run with most any receiver, and has very long arms which help him at the line of scrimmage as well as in coverage when he tries to make plays on the ball. He’s got a ton of ability, impressive instincts and great ball skills and even though he didn’t have a great season last year (according to Tomahawk Nation there were rumors of attitude and work ethic problems with Rhodes after his terrific freshman year, which is a bit of a red flag) he still had 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception. That was a bit of a disappointment after he had 4 interceptions as a freshman, but now that he is back for his junior season and his third year as a starter (he returns with 25 career starts) he has a chance to get back to freshman form and show evaluators the potential top 15 pick we all saw two years ago.
Lamarcus Joyner, SS*- I am a BIG Joyner fan. He may be undersized for the safety position at 5’8”, 193 pounds but he is a fantastic player. He has fantastic instincts which is probably my favorite part of his game, but the fact that he has incredible range, legitimate 4.4 speed, long arms, great ball skills and closes like a heat-seeking missile sure doesn’t hurt either. Did I mention he packs a whallop as a hitter, averaged 30.5 yards per kick return and is one of the emotional leaders of the defense? Oh, and had 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 3 pass break-ups and 4 interceptions as a sophomore? He is my #1 draft eligible safety and it’s not even close. He is a 1st round lock if he continues to play anything like he did last season even in spite of his height. If he holds up from a durability stand-point the only knock close-minded analysts will be able to find on him is his lack of height. Joyner is the caliber of player that USC fans and the national media tried to hype Taylor Mays up to be except that Joyner is vastly better despite being about 5-6 inches shorter. Give me Joyner in my secondary literally any day of the week, he is the rare safety that makes the entire rest of the defense better because of his range and playmaking ability, and that’s why I would pick him in the top 20 (maybe even higher, though I want to see him as a second year starter before I go that far) without a second thought.
Dustin Hopkins, K- Hopkins rounds out this absolutely insane list of NFL Draft prospects and hopefuls. He is a good kicker who hasn’t been automatic or completely clutch, but he has reliable. He was 1st team all ACC last year as he made all 44 of his extra point attempts and made 22 of his 27 field goals with a long of 53 (though he was 1/3 from 50+). He drives the ball very well on kick-offs and certainly contributes to Florida State having as good of a kick-off coverage team as they do. I’m not sure if he will be drafted, but he could very well end up in the 5th-7th round conversation.