ACC: Timmy Jernigan

Let's take a quick look back at how the ACC did in the first round of the NFL draft.

As expected, former Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins was the first ACC player off the board, going to Buffalo with the No. 4 overall pick. Two of the best players in school history are now with the Bills, as Watkins joins C.J. Spiller in Buffalo. Watkins took over the NFL Instagram account for draft day, and posed for a selfie with commissioner Roger Goodell on the Radio City Music Hall stage.



North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron was a surprise choice at No. 10 to the Detroit Lions. Ebron is mostly a receiver dressed in tight end clothing, so his addition to an offense with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson could be very promising. The draft, however, was the second bit of life-changing news he got Thursday. The first? He proposed to his girlfriend, North Carolina women's basketball player Brittany Rountree, atop the Empire State Building.



Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald went to St. Louis at No. 13, ending the Panthers' two-year draft drought. He became the Panthers' highest-drafted defensive lineman since Sean Gilbert went third overall to the Los Angeles Rams in 1992.

Right behind him, Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller went to the Chicago Bears at No. 14, as the Hokies continued their #DBU tradition. They have had defensive backs selected in 15 of the last 16 drafts.

Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin became the first Seminole off the board, going to Carolina with the No. 28 pick. Benjamin became the 40th first-round selection in school history. You have to think Cam Newton is thrilled about this selection (after he overlooks what happened in the national championship game).

Though Louisville doesn't join the ACC until July, three Cardinals became first-round picks: Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater, who just made it in with the final selection of the round to the Vikings.

So who's left for the second and third rounds Friday?
  • Four Florida State players to keep an eye on: Timmy Jernigan, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks and Bryan Stork. At one point, Jernigan was a projected first-round pick, and he is attending the draft in New York. Though his stock had been sliding after the combine, reports of a failed drug test earlier this week may have contributed to his drop out of the first round.
  • Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses, also in New York, was a projected first-round pick but will have to wait another day to hear his name called.
  • Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant, Clemson defensive back Bashaud Breeland, North Carolina center Russell Bodine and Virginia defensive end Brent Urban are all players to keep an eye on as well.

ACC draft day preview

May, 8, 2014
May 8
9:00
AM ET
The moment everyone has long been waiting for is finally here, as the first round of the NFL draft will take place tonight at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

The ACC has no shortage of potential picks tonight, especially with seven players from the conference in attendance.

Here's a look at those players, along with several others who might hear their names called in Round 1.

ATTENDEES

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. Watkins is the No. 2 overall player on Mel Kiper Jr.'s final Big Board . He is No. 4 on Todd McShay's list of top prospects , with McShay calling Watkins "one of four elite prospects in this draft."

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. Ebron is No. 15 on Kiper's board and No. 11 on McShay's, with McShay touting Ebron's big-play and run-after-catch ability.

Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. At No. 17 on Kiper's board and No. 15 on McShay's, the 6-foot, 190-pound Fuller "comes in with enough polish to help a team soon," Kiper says.

Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia. Kiper has Moses at No. 34, McShay at No. 16. Go figure. Kiper says Moses was only "intermittently" dominant, while McShay says "defenders need to take a cab ride to get around his length."

Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. Pryor is No. 18 on Kiper's board and No. 21 on McShay's, with Kiper saying that Pryor could be the first safety drafted, depending on preference. Both analysts love his hitting.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Kiper has Bridgewater at No. 29. McShay has him at No. 28. Both of their evaluations are similar, with Bridgewater dazzling on tape but lacking punch on his deep ball.

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. Another prospect whose destination is really up in the air, with Kiper slotting him 55th on his board and McShay putting him at No. 39. The potential is there for Jernigan, but neither analyst love his first step.

NON-ATTENDEES

Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. Donald is No. 9 on Kiper's board and No. 6 on McShay's. Kiper says the 6-1, 285-pound defender is worthy of a top-10 pick.

Jeremiah Attaochu, DE, Georgia Tech. Kiper's and McShay's opinions differ here, with the former ranking Attaochu as the 46th-best player available and McShay slotting him 30th. Both love Attaochu's quickness in getting to the quarterback, but Kiper sees him as a second-round pick.

Lamarcus Joyner, CB, Florida State. Both Kiper and McShay have Joyner at No. 53, with both raving about his versatility and his ability to play bigger than his size.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. Kiper has Benjamin at No. 54, McShay at No. 69. Both love the potential matchup nightmares Benjamin could create but are sour on his speed.

Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State. Almost the inverse of Benjamin here, with Kiper slotting Brooks at No. 69 and McShay having him at No. 56. Both love his discipline and instincts.

Tom Savage, QB, Pitt. Seemingly one of the fastest risers of the draft, Savage is ranked No. 70 on Kiper's board and No. 68 on McShay's. Both love his size, arm strength and mechanics.

ACC lunchtime links

May, 6, 2014
May 6
12:00
PM ET
Who wouldn't want this sick picture of Jerry Glanville just chillin' on a motorcycle?
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Church was not a once-a-week affair for Janice Stockton. For a single mother raising three children along the Bible Belt’s southern boundary, time spent in church is counted in days rather than hours.

Stockton was strict, too. There would be no sleeping from her children, even during bible studies and choir practices that often dragged deep into the evenings. Midweek services were not all that rare either.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan art
Courtesy of Janice StocktonTimmy Jernigan drew this when he was 7. Fourteen years later he's on the verge of fulfilling his NFL dream.
Naps were banned, but there was never an embargo placed on dreaming.

So, Timmy Jernigan Jr. dreamed, and sitting in a church pew during one late-night service, Jernigan transferred his dream to paper, offering Stockton, his mother, a glimpse into the vision that would guide the former Florida State defensive tackle for the next 15 years, all the way to NFL draft, where one team will call Jernigan's name.

“So many things happen in life, a lot of people let go of their dream,” Stockton said.

The latest hurdle came days before the draft when reports surfaced that Jernigan produced a diluted urine sample at the NFL combine. But Stockton and Jernigan drew upon the picture once again to keep moving toward Jernigan's ultimate NFL goal.

“I saved that drawing he gave me because, he was told he better not go to asleep in church at 7 years old, and looking at him at 21, that dream is coming to fruition," Stockton said. "He never doubted he would do anything but play in the NFL.”

Drawing his dream

Tim Jernigan Sr. passed more on to his son than simply a namesake. Tim Sr. bestowed upon his son a natural gift to play defensive tackle, and those around Jernigan’s hometown of Lake City, Fla., regularly seek to find comparisons between father and son. At 2 years old, just as Jernigan learned to string together a few cumbersome footsteps in a row without tumbling, he was entrusted with his dad’s patented swim move, and Jernigan found so much success with it “when I watch my film I got a bad habit of going to it.”

Worth more than the frame and pass-rushing arsenal was the veneration for the defensive line Jernigan inherited from his father, in particular a reverence for former Giants great Michael Strahan.

“My dad put me on Michael Strahan, one of my dad’s favorite players,” Jernigan said. “Strahan was one guy I looked up to and wanted to be just like.”

Jernigan Sr. even called his family in the north to send down a Strahan jersey for his son.

“I used to call him Strahan,” Jernigan Sr. said. “He played hard, he got to the football, was relentless and Timmy just fit the bill of him. He was a complete player.”

So as Jernigan sat in church that night -- “I still paid attention to the sermon,” he contends -- he dreamed of a future, not just a style of play, which would one day draw parallels to Strahan, a Super Bowl champion and first-ballot Hall of Famer. He asked his mother for a piece of loose leaf paper and two pens -- one red, one blue. He began with a helmet, alternating colors enough times to catch the eye of the Oregon Ducks. As he traced the burly shoulders and matched the red socks with the blue cleats, the picture began resembling a second-grader’s rendering of Strahan.

He added the No. 92 to the front of the jersey, however Jernigan ended his seminal sketch with his name instead of Strahan’s. This was Jernigan’s dream, which will become a reality in the coming days.

“It’s crazy. Words can’t explain it. It’s just a blessing having all that hard work pay off,” Jernigan said. “It brings back all those memories and those late nights, the extra jump ropes and extra weight room liftings and those summertime days at FSU. To see everything pay off is a beautiful feeling.”

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFSU DT Timmy Jernigan had 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season.
A reminder from mom

While the hope of playing in the NFL never waned, Jernigan’s memory of the picture did. He gave it to his mother more than a decade ago and had not seen the picture since that night in church. Stockton held onto it, though, preserving it in a scrapbook documenting Jernigan’s rise from high school all-star to college All-American.

“I saved that picture because it’s important my children follow their dreams,” Stockton said. “… You’re not allowed to say ‘can’t’ in my house. It’s a curse word. You hold on to dreams and watch it come to life.”

Days before Jernigan’s pro day on Mar. 18, Stockton flipped through the pages of her book and came across the drawing. She texted her son that she still has what is now famously known as “the picture” within Jernigan’s circle. Jernigan was bewildered initially. “What picture?” he answered.

When Stockton sent the image, Jernigan flashed back to that night in church and said that moment more than a decade ago was as fresh in his mind as the day he drew it.

“It spooked me when she showed it to me,” Jernigan said. “I remember the exact thoughts drawing that picture, remember like it was yesterday. She knew I had been chasing that dream my whole life.”

It marked the last time Jernigan would bury the picture in his memory. It now serves as the background on his phone, a daily reminder of how far he has come but also of a journey that is still in its infancy.

“The team that drafts him is going to get a great player, and all parents might say that, but this kid has never been really pushed to have to go really hard,” Jernigan Sr. said. “They’ve seen the kid play, but there’s a whole different gear he can go.”
We still have 10 days to go until the NFL draft kicks off, and yes, the extra few weeks have made the process seem almost interminable.

So to make the time pass just a little faster, we bring you the latest from our NFL draft experts.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd needs to improve his consistency, according to Jon Gruden.
Jon Gruden shares his thoughts on Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, after the two spent time together at Gruden's QB Camp. Among the biggest takeaways: Gruden wants to see more consistency out of Boyd. That means a more even performance in games, and a better understanding of what his responsibilities are as a quarterback.

Gruden also critiques Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who also spent time with him in Orlando, Fla., at the QB Camp. Gruden seemed extremely impressed with Bridgewater's mental toughness and instant recall on every play anaylzed on film. The gloves, of course, also come up.

Meanwhile, Todd McShay presents his All-Tape team, filled with players whose game film he most enjoys. The ACC reps:

  • Jeremiah Attaochu, DE/OLB Georgia Tech: McShay praises Attaochu for being a tireless worker and having "exceptional instincts as a pass rusher." He projects as an early second-round selection.
  • Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State: McShay is candid in his assessment of Freeman: He "runs like his hair is on fire." One other major plus -- Freeman does not lose the football.
  • Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt: You already know plenty about Donald, but here is one more impressive tidbit: McShay says Donald played the highest percentage of snaps among any draftable defensive lineman in this class. Top-15 projection now for Donald.

McShay also lists the 32 best draft prospects who have come out in the past five years. To make his ranking, McShay ordered his final player grades from the past five drafts. The players with ACC ties that ended up ranked:
And in case you missed it, 30 prospects have agreed to attend the draft in New York. Even though Louisville did not play in the ACC, we are going to include the Cards players in draft coverage. Here are the players with ACC ties headed to the draft, which goes from May 8-10:

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
12:00
PM ET
These NBA Playoffs have been something else.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- No position on the Florida State roster has taken as many losses as the defensive line over the past two seasons.

Four linemen were drafted a year ago. Another, tackle Timmy Jernigan, is projected to become the second straight Florida State defensive lineman to be drafted in the first round. The last time Florida State had at least five defensive linemen selected in consecutive drafts was 1998-99.

At many programs, losing so many players would be a major cause for concern and, as you'd expect, the defensive line has drawn some of the biggest questions this spring and last. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, however, looks at the situation differently.

Rather than lament potential depth issues, Fisher looks at the pure talent he has available for this upcoming season -- and the versatility they provide. Though only three scholarship defensive ends were available during the spring, two of them were consensus top-10 players at their position out of high school -- Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher.

[+] EnlargeEddie Goldman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State coaches are expecting junior Eddie Goldman to flourish as Timmy Jernigan's replacement at defensive tackle.
Both began learning every position along the line in order to take advantage of their athleticism. Edwards moved around some last season, but expects to do much more of that in 2014, not only to help with depth but to also give Florida State key matchup advantages.

“It’s kind of fun,” Edwards said. “The offense can’t pinpoint where I will be -- right or left side, inside or out. I feel I can go and play any one of the positions the coaches put me in at and be a factor.”

For Edwards, the process of not only becoming a master at his own position, but also learning several others, has meant more time studying the playbook and game tape. That has allowed the former No. 1 high school player in the country to feel even more comfortable with the defense.

The road has not necessarily been smooth for him. He was out of shape as a freshman, and last spring he had to learn an entirely new defensive scheme while following a strict diet and weight program. Edwards ended up starting, but he did not feel comfortable until midway through the season. That is when the results started to show.

Now that more of the pressure is on him to perform, Edwards says he is ready to dominate.

“I’d like to think this is a big year for me,” Edwards said. “I watched film of last year but not only was I looking at the good things I did, I looked at how many plays I left out there, just because I wasn’t aligned right, I wasn’t doing my job, I may have forgotten what I was supposed to do. I felt like I left tons of plays out there I could have made. This year, it’s reacting more than thinking.”

To help at end, Florida State might end up using linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe, whom Fisher called “dynamic rushers.” He did something similar with Christian Jones a year ago, and Jones thrived in that role.

Tackle Eddie Goldman, slated to replace Jernigan inside, was a five-star defensive tackle out of high school. Fisher said Goldman will end up being one of the team’s spring award winners because he has made such drastic improvement. Though not as powerful as Jernigan, Goldman is more athletic and a more natural pass rusher.

“Him and Mario -- it’s hard to handle them one-on-one,” Fisher said. “Eddie, his upside is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how good he can be.”

Will he meet that potential this year?

“The way he’s playing right now? No doubt,” Fisher said.

Fisher also will play some of his true freshmen, the way he has done with guys such as Edwards, Jernigan and Casher. The Seminoles loaded up on the defensive line to make up for the heavy losses they have taken recently. Four of the seven players Florida State signed were rated four-star prospects out of high school. Two incoming ends -- Lorenzo Featherston and Rick Leonard -- are both 6-foot-7. They will not be tied exclusively to end, either.

“We like that hybrid guy, the versatility,” Fisher said. “You can go 3-4, 4-3, and create a matchup where they get locked on a back, where a back has to block them, that kind of stuff.”

Florida State took advantage of the versatility it had last season to great success. Despite more personnel losses, Fisher expects more of the same in 2014.

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
2:30
PM ET
Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
12:00
PM ET
Links to help get you through your Wednesday.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Kelvin Benjamin has sat on the fringe of the first round of NFL mock drafts since he declared early. The powerfully built receiver passed the eye test at the combine, but an ordinary 40-yard dash time left some front offices questioning Benjamin’s first-round credentials. Those still apprehensive about his speed were hoping Benjamin would alleviate concerns at Florida State’s pro day Tuesday.

That didn’t happen. Benjamin decided not to run. He asked NFL teams to look at his body of work -- and body, all 6-foot-5, 240 pounds of it -- as proof he is a surefire first-round talent.

Following a dominant pro-day performance in position drills, undoubtedly far more teams are willing to overlook his 4.61 time in Indianapolis.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Gregory BullFSU's Kelvin Benjamin might not be the fastest WR, but as Jimbo Fisher said, "You don't want to play against that guy."
“I really wish he ran, but he has such a unique skill set with his ball skills and catch radius,” one NFC scout said.

While running routes, Benjamin showcased his ability to catch the football at its highest point and make the types of catches most NFL receivers can't. On one throw toward the boundary, NFL coaches cleared as the ball’s flight plan descended toward a coaching cluster. Benjamin hauled in the pass -- easily -- and on the next throw he reached behind to catch an underthrown and off-target toss.

And for those who still question his speed?

“I can open up that stride and stride all day,” he said. “You got a guy who can run 4.3, he’s going to get tired and not keep up with the stride all day.”

Noles coach Jimbo Fisher will be terse with NFL coaches asking if Benjamin is worth a first-round payday.

"You don't want to play against him. That's the ultimate thing,” he said. “I'm telling you this: You don't want to play against that guy. He changes the game.”

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will likely be the first former Florida State player taken, and both Mel Kiper and Todd McShay project him to the Cowboys at No. 16. Jernigan weighed in at 305 pounds Tuesday, six pounds heavier than at the combine. Most of the questions he was hearing about his stock surrounded his height (6-1) and sub-300-pound playing weight.

“I feel like they definitely wanted to see how well I could move, weighing a little bit heavier than I did at the combine and how well I could move agility-wise and how powerful I was,” Jernigan said. “I feel like I did a pretty good job showing that.”

NFL coaches intently watched the secondary drills, as Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks are both potential second-round picks. Brooks built upon his strong performance at the combine, excelling in position drills.

Joyner is rated higher than Brooks, but there is some trepidation among NFL scouts. Joyner struggled securing catches and one scout noted the need to be able to finish making the play on the ball. He said Joyner showed that in his film, but an NFC North scout chimed in that he is more worried about Joyner’s height. He measured in at just above 5-8.

“It’s a big concern,” the NFC North scout said. “You don’t see too many 5-8 corners.”

The biggest surprise among the defensive backs, and possibly the entire pro day was the attendance of Greg Reid. A three-year starter at cornerback for Florida State, Reid was dismissed from the team before his senior season. He enrolled at Division II Valdosta State but a torn ACL cost him his senior season. Instead of returning in 2013, he declared for the NFL draft but was not selected.

A few scouts buzzed that Reid, who can be signed by a team at any time, was the best defensive back participating.

“I was pleased to come out and show NFL coaches how I was doing and how far I’ve came,” Reid said. “I’m healthy and everything is going in the right track.”
Kelvin Benjamin, Timmy Jernigan and a host of other former Florida State players will work out for NFL coaches and personnel departments, and ESPN will have live coverage of the Seminoles' pro day.

Beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, fans can use this link to access WatchESPN's online stream.

ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have Benjamin and Jernigan as first-round picks in their latest mock drafts. Kiper and McShay both have Jernigan going No. 16 to Dallas, while Benjamin is projected as a late first-round selection. Kiper has Benjamin going No. 26 to Cleveland and McShay slots Benjamin two spots later to Carolina.

Lamarcus Joyner is on the cusp of being a first-round pick and will make his final push on Tuesday. Terrence Brooks is coming off a stellar combine performance and is talked about as a late second-round selection, and Devonta Freeman and Telvin Smith are possibilities for the third round.

In 2013, a record 11 former Florida State players were drafted.
Aaron Donald of Pitt and Timmy Jernigan of Florida State were the two best defensive tackles in the ACC last season. But there has been some disagreement about who will make a better NFL prospect.

For months, Jernigan was rated higher than Donald on draft boards. But in his latest mock draft Insider, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Donald going ahead of Jernigan for the first time. Kiper slots Donald at No. 14 to the Bears, while he predicts Jernigan will land at No. 16 to the Cowboys. In his previous mock draft, Kiper did not list Donald Insider at all.

So that leads to Monday's topic: Who will get drafted first: Donald or Jernigan? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich weigh in.

[+] EnlargeDonald
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesPitt DT Aaron Donald has done plenty to raise his draft stock since season's end.
Adelson says: Dominating Donald

So Kiper and the other draft experts are finally clueing in to what the rest of us have known for quite some time: Donald is the most dominant inside player available in the draft. Therefore, he must go ahead of Jernigan come May.

That all sounds simple enough, but nothing has come simply or easily for Donald. Overlooked for a majority of his career, Donald finally grabbed headlines with his thoroughly impressive senior season, winning every single major defensive player of the year award in college football. And yet, he was routinely knocked in early draft evaluations for his size.

While it is true Donald does not meet the ideal size requirements for a defensive tackle, it also is true that Donald does not play like most defensive tackles. His size (6-1, 285 pounds), has rarely been a big part of his game. He relies on his quick hands and overall speed to allow him to get past many linemen at the point of attack. Donald clocked a jaw-dropping 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

He might not weigh 300 pounds, but he is strong and powerful. He had 35 reps on the bench press at the combine, ranking second among all defensive linemen. His propensity for lifting began at age 12, when his father showed him what to do in the family weight room.

Beyond the physical tools, Donald has got a few intangibles that make scouts notice. Donald never ever quits on a play. His work ethic, and time dedicated to watching tape, also make him stand out.

SportsNation

Who will be drafted first?

  •  
    41%
  •  
    59%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,952)

Donald is no dummy. He has heard the knocks about his size since he went largely unrecruited out of high school. Pitt was the only BCS school to offer him a scholarship. So to put the questions about his size to rest, he decided to work harder than everyone, get stronger than everyone, and focus on the unique skill-set that would allow him to dominate at his position.

Even still, those tired old questions followed him after a monstrous senior season at Pitt. But they have been made moot again after standout performances at the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and Pitt Pro Day. Donald has proven himself over and over and over again. Skeptics have turned into believers every step of the way.

So when May rolls around, it should not surprise anyone to see Donald go ahead of Jernigan.

Dinich says: Game-changing Jernigan

If Kiper’s prediction is right, the Dallas Cowboys can’t go wrong in drafting Jernigan.

If, of course, the Bears don’t draft him first.

Mike Mayock, an analyst for the NFL Network, said the Chicago Bears should “sprint to the podium” if Jernigan is still available for the 14th pick. Right now, that’s where Kiper has Pitt’s Aaron Donald headed.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTimmy Jernigan was at his best in the Seminoles' biggest games.
It’s like choosing between five-star resorts. Both players are first-class, but while Donald racked up the individual awards and was the best player on an unheralded team, Jernigan separated himself from a cast of stars on the nation’s best team.

“Timmy was one of the leaders on our defense and a big part of our success these past three seasons,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He was one of the most dominant defensive linemen I’ve been around in all my years coaching.”

Jernigan’s stat line is impressive -- career highs for tackles (63), TFL (11.0) and sacks (4.5) in 14 starts. But it doesn’t completely capture the impact he had as the anchor up front. He wasn’t always the one making the game-changing play, but odds are he had a hand in influencing it.

Jernigan had nine tackles in the BCS national championship win over Auburn – in spite of flu-like symptoms - and a career-high 10 tackles in the ACC title game against Duke. While his NFL auditions haven’t increased his draft stock as much as Donald’s, Jernigan is still talented enough to be the ACC’s highest-drafted defensive tackle.

Last year, Jernigan produced his best numbers in spite of being constantly doubleteamed, and the attention he drew opened up opportunities for Florida State’s linebackers and blitzing corners. His versatility is one of his best attributes, but his strength is stopping the run.

He has the ability to shed offensive linemen and was a big reason FSU’s run defense ranked No. 18 in the country. His technique will only improve, and he already has the strength and size to clog the middle.

“I can play a 3-technique, and when it’s a pass situation and you want to go to a three-man front, you can put me on the nose guard right on the zero,” he said at the NFL Combine, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I can get pressure from the middle. I feel like that’s where my game changes from everyone else.”

The Bears should jump on the chance to let him prove it.

Players on the rise after combine

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
2:00
PM ET
ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay put together a list of their top risers and top fallers after the NFL combine wrapped up earlier this week. Three of the four players mentioned as defensive risers come from the ACC:
ACC fans understand how terrific these players were throughout their careers so it is no surprise they each did well in Indianapolis. But what sticks out the most is the way Donald continually has to prove himself. Not only was Donald a consensus All-American this past season, he won every single major defensive award in the country. And yet, Donald has to continue to fight skeptics because he is considered small to play in the interior in the NFL.

That could all change now that NFL scouts are getting a full appreciation for what Donald can do. ESPN Insider Bill Polian said Donald was one of the most impressive players at the combine. Kiper and McShay write:
Donald has hit the trifecta: great regular season, great Senior Bowl week, great NFL combine. He ran 4.68 and bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times, and did so at 285 pounds. He could be a mid-first-round pick.

Interestingly enough, his performance may even vault him ahead of more highly-regarded Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, pegged as a first-rounder since he declared himself eligible for the draft. Jernigan has continually had to answer questions about his stamina during the draft process, and then turned in a so-so performance in Indianapolis. Kiper and McShay list him as one of three defensive fallers, writing:
Jernigan didn't have a single area in which he really distinguished himself in terms of the drills, which may lead to some questions about his upside after a fantastic season. I still think he's a first-round prospect, but a guy like Donald could jump him.

Both players have been disruptive forces during their careers, but the combine has been known to send stocks soaring or tumbling. Having said that, the draft is not until May. Both have their pro days to look forward to, and scouts will continue to break down film and ask questions. Many more mock drafts will be released in the days, weeks and months to come.

I still believe Jernigan will be a first-round pick, but it seems there are more believers in Donald today than there were a month ago. What took so long?
Florida State has had one of the best defensive fronts in the nation in the last two seasons, but the Seminoles will have a major challenger to that claim when 2014 rolls around.

Division rival Clemson has the potential to have one of the best defensive lines in school history, thanks to returning all of its starters -- including sack master Vic Beasley. So that leads us to this question: Which team will have the best defensive front in the ACC this upcoming season? Andrea Adelson and David Hale let the debate begin.

SportsNation

Which team will have the best defensive line in the ACC in 2014?

  •  
    33%
  •  
    58%
  •  
    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,741)

Andrea says Clemson

The moment Beasley decided to return to Clemson was the moment the Tigers became the favorite to field the best defensive line in the ACC next season.

Now, this is not to slight Florida State, which has dominated up front over the last two seasons. But the Seminoles have key players to replace again. Clemson, on the other hand, returns every starter on the defensive line, plus its top four backups. All told, eight linemen return who played at least 292 snaps a year ago.

Those top eight combined for 65 tackles for loss -- more than half the single-season school-record 122 tackles for loss Clemson had in 2013. They also combined for 26 of the team’s 38 sacks.

Beasley, of course, leads the returning group after making 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss a season ago, one of the top performances of any defensive end in the country. Had he decided to leave for the NFL, Clemson would have still had plenty of talent returning.

But with him, the Tigers could potentially have the deepest, most talented group of defensive linemen at the school since the 1981 national championship team featured future NFL players Jeff Bryant, William Perry, Andy Headen and Dan Benish in the starting lineup.

Clemson could potentially go 10 deep along the defensive line, especially when you consider the return of Carlos Watkins, expected to be healthy after missing most of last season following a car accident. That means the Tigers have the ability to rotate frequently and keep players fresh, perhaps more than they did last season.

Fresh players mean fresh legs, and fresh legs mean getting into the backfield at a much better clip. Last season, Beasley, starting tackle Grady Jarrett (11), starting end Corey Crawford (10.5) and backup end Shaq Lawson each finished with 10 or more tackles for loss. Now think about some of the best defensive fronts in college football. Florida State has zero defensive linemen returning with double-digit tackles for loss. Alabama? Zero. LSU? Zero. Stanford? Zero. Virginia Tech? One. Michigan State? One. Ohio State? Two.

Clemson leads them all.

Such an experienced group, with the ability to get into the backfield and get after the quarterback, should only get better with another year under Brent Venables, who is entering his third season as defensive coordinator. As Beasley told colleague Heather Dinich after he announced his decision to return, “I feel like we can be the best in the country.”

And, yes, that means the defense could emerge as the strength of this team.

David says Florida State

The track record for Florida State’s defensive front speaks for itself. During the past three seasons, only Alabama has had more success defending the run than Florida State, which has allowed just 2.8 yards per carry since the start of the 2011 season. Those Seminoles teams sent eight players from the front seven to the NFL -- and that number figures to increase by at least four this year -- yet the unit has seen little decline in production. With new personnel, a new scheme and new coaches last season, FSU’s first-team defense didn’t allow a rushing touchdown until the national championship game.

Of course, that’s all in the past, and 2014 comes with some significant questions for Florida State.

Throughout the three-year run of success for the FSU front seven, Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Timmy Jernigan have been anchors. All are gone now, and that means some significant vacancies on the defensive front, both in terms of on-field talent and off-field leadership. It means there will be questions surrounding the unit for the next few months, but it doesn’t mean the Seminoles don’t have answers.

Of the projected two-deep in the front seven, FSU projects to feature as many as 12 former ESPN 300 recruits. The talent is exceptional.

Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman were both top-10 recruits in 2012, and both have two years of experience under their belts. Edwards, in particular, took big steps forward throughout 2013, turning in perhaps his best game against Auburn’s up-tempo ground attack in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

The linebacker group lacks significant experience, but Terrance Smith is a physical clone of Telvin Smith, and he performed admirably after stepping into a starting role last season. Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe are both former elite recruits who project nicely in the hybrid role Jones handled so successfully in 2013.

Kain Daub, Demarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi lead a stellar 2014 recruiting class that could make an instant impact.

That’s not to say Florida State is prepared to move forward without Jernigan’s presence up front or Telvin Smith’s leadership in the middle of the field without missing a beat. There will be hiccups as the new group gets its feet wet and Edwards and Goldman learn to be leaders. But similar concerns existed a year ago when Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine bolted for the NFL, and after some early missteps, Florida State again proved to be one of the fiercest defensive fronts in the country.

And, of course, the Seminoles have another weapon in this debate, too. No position group succeeds in a vacuum, and FSU’s front seven gets a major boost from a secondary that projects to again be the best in the nation. If the Seminoles’ defensive backs continue to make teams one-dimensional and continue to provide time for the pass rush to get to the quarterback, the odds of FSU’s front seven making a smooth transition into 2014 get even better.
Some are can't-miss prospects, such as Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback was ESPN's No. 1 QB in the Class of 2012, won the Heisman Trophy in his first season as the Seminoles' starter and added a national championship to cap his redshirt freshman year.

Others are not so easy to find.

Andre Williams, who finished three spots behind Winston in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting, was a two-star prospect in the Class of 2010. All the Boston College running back did this past fall was tally the fifth-highest rushing total in FBS history (2,177 yards).

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Andre Williams
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesAndre Williams and Jameis Winston came from opposite ends of the recruiting spectrum.
With national signing day coming Wednesday, we figured this is a good time to revisit where our All-ACC players stood when they signed with their schools. The results, as usual, offer some surprises.

Just one ESPN.com All-ACC player from this past season entered college as a five-star prospect. Williams was one of two two-star prospects. There were 11 four-star prospects and eight three-star prospects. Two players, both of whom are from the high school Class of 2009, don't have star ratings, as ESPN didn't start using star ratings until 2010. Kickers and punters have no ratings, rankings or grades.

(All rankings and information are from ESPN's Recruiting Nation.)

Offense

  • QB Jameis Winston, Florida State via Hueytown (Ala.) High: Four stars, No. 14 overall prospect, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 84
  • RB: Andre Williams, Boston College via Allentown (Pa.) Parkland High: Two stars, No. 152 RB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 73
  • RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State via Miami Central High: Four stars, No. 15 RB, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson via South Fort Myers (Fla.) High: Four stars, No. 39 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 82
  • WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Four stars, No. 125 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke via Monroe (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 65 WR, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina via Greensboro (N.C.) Smith High: Four stars, No. 8 TE, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • T: Cameron Erving, Florida State via Colquitt County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 83 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 76
  • T: Brandon Thomas, Clemson via Dorman (S.C.) High: No. 60 OG, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
  • G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke via Chicago Lane Tech High: Three stars, No. 65 OG, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • G: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State via Wayne County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 50 DT, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • C: Bryan Stork, Florida State via Vero Beach (Fla.) High: No. 45 TE, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
Defense

  • DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson via Adairsville (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 19 ATH, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DE: Kareem Martin, North Carolina via Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 59 DE, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt via Pittsburgh Penn Hills High: Four stars, No. 22 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • DT: Timmy Jernigan, Florida State via Lake City (Fla.) Columbia High: Four stars, No. 17 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 84
  • LB: Telvin Smith, Florida State via Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes High: Four stars, No. 107 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • LB: Kelby Brown, Duke via Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High: Three stars, No. 88 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • LB: Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College via Stamford (Conn.) The King & Low Heywood Thomas School: Four stars, No. 20 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • CB: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Five stars, No. 6 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 87
  • CB: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech via Baltimore Mount St. Joseph High: Three stars, No. 43 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 77
  • S: Terrence Brooks, Florida State via Dunnellon (Fla.) High: Three stars, No. 21 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 70
  • S: Anthony Harris, Virginia via Cheesterfield (Va.) Lloyd C. Bird High: Two stars, No. 203 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 72
Special Teams

  • K: Nate Freese, Boston College via Strongsville (Ohio) High: Class of 2009
  • P: Pat O’Donnell, Miami via Palm Beach (Fla.) Central High: Class of 2009
  • SP: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina via Charleston (W.Va.) George Washington High: Four stars, No. 59 WR, Class of 2013. Scout grade: 80

SPONSORED HEADLINES