How talented? Florida State could be in rarefied air once the draft is completed in early May. With a nation-leading five early entrants in the draft, Florida State is on course to have at least 11 players selected.
If that happens, Florida State will have 29 players drafted over the last three years, more than any other team since the draft was cut down to seven rounds in 1994. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last school that had at least 29 players drafted over a three-year period was Texas, with 31 taken from 1982-84.
Only two programs have had 28 players taken since 2002: Miami (2002-04) and USC (2008-10).
Those Miami teams are widely regarded as among the best all-time at producing NFL talent. Of those 28 drafted, 15 went in the first round. Florida State will not come close to that first-round number, having had four first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 with a handful projected for 2015.
But there is an interesting debate to be had between this recent Florida State stretch that produced a national championship, 29 straight wins and potentially more overall picks, and the Miami stretch that produced a national championship, 34 straight wins and more first-round picks.
Is the 2001 Miami championship team head-and-shoulders above the 2013 Florida State championship team? That question is worth discussion.
What is not up for debate is where this Florida State group stands compared to its other talented teams. This three-year stretch blows any other in school history away. Until now, its most drafted three-year group was 22 from 1993-95.
It goes without saying that coach Jimbo Fisher has done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail. Not only is he signing top-flight classes, he is taken the highly skilled players in those groups and developing them into professional talents at rapid-fire rates. Fisher can boast that better than just about anyone.
Here is a look at the recent three-year stretches Florida State, Miami and USC have put together in the NFL draft:
2002 draftees: 11
First round: Five -- Bryant McKinnie, Jeremy Shockey, Phillip Buchanon, Ed Reed, Mike Rumph
2003 draftees: Eight
First round: Four -- Andre Johnson, Jerome McDougle, Willis McGahee, William Joseph
2004 draftees: Nine
First round: Six -- Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Vernon Carey, Vince Wilfork
2008 draftees: 10
First round: Four -- Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Sam Baker, Lawrence Jackson
2009 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- Mark Sanchez, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews
2010 draftees: Seven
First round: None
FLORIDA STATE, 2013-15
2013 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes
2014 draftees: Seven
First round: One -- Kelvin Benjamin.
2015 draftees: TBD
Most likely to be drafted: Jameis Winston, Eddie Goldman, P.J. Williams, Mario Edwards Jr., Ronald Darby, Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Karlos Williams, Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Tre' Jackson
To see the full list, click here.
1. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Position: Running back
Tough to go with anybody else at No. 1 after watching Conner bulldoze the competition en route to ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year honors. And, well, it is not every day that Tony Dorsett's long-standing school records are shattered. Conner led the league in rushing yards (1,765), rushing touchdowns (26), rushing yards per game (135.8) and scoring (156 points). His touchdown and scoring totals broke the Pitt single-season records Dorsett set in 1976. Conner had three 200-yard games and seven 100-yard games, often taking multiple defenders on his back along for a ride. He was downright dominant, and in a year of powerful backs, he deserves the No. 1 spot.
2. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Year: Redshirt sophomore
If there is one player on this list you would take with the game on the line, it would be Winston. But this list is an evaluation of the top performances week in and week out, and Winston was simply not consistent enough to merit the top spot this year. He made too many mistakes, whether he was trying too hard with an inexperienced receiving corps or just making the wrong decisions. But those mistakes do not diminish the fact that Winston remains one of the best (and most dangerous) players in the nation. Winston ended the season with an ACC-leading 3,907 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, all down from a year ago. But he did lead Florida State to a third straight ACC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.
3. Vic Beasley, Clemson
Position: Defensive end
Beasley returned to school for his senior season and was even better -- despite facing more double- and triple-teams than at any point in his career. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a finalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards after racking up a team-high 21.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 12 sacks, nine quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Nobody in the ACC was better off the edge than Beasley, and he was a nightmare for many teams to block.
4. Duke Johnson, Miami
Position: Running back
Johnson had the best season of his career because he was able to stay healthy and play all 13 games, finishing second behind Conner in the ACC in rushing with 1,652 yards. But Johnson led the league in all-purpose yards with 2,073, emerging as a much bigger pass-catching threat out of the backfield. When the season ended, he stood above all the other Miami greats on the career rushing and all-purpose yards lists. But maybe most impressive of all, he averaged 7.4 yards every time he touched the ball.
5. Gerod Holliman, Louisville
Year: Redshirt sophomore
There were plenty of questions about the Louisville secondary heading into the season, following the loss of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, two of the best players on the 2013 defense. But Holliman stepped right into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, using his athleticism to make plays all over the field. When it was over, Holliman had tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football.
Jameis Winston, No. 14 in 2012 class
Winston came out of Hueytown High in Alabama as a highly coveted quarterback by the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Stanford, UCLA and many others. He signed with Florida State due in large part to a strong bond with lead recruiter and then-Seminoles assistant Dameyune Craig over home-state Alabama. Winston was part of a Florida State top-5 class that included Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman, P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby and Roberto Aguayo, among others.
After redshirting in 2012, Winston won the starting job over current Alabama backup Jacob Coker. He then put together one of the very best freshman seasons in history, leading Florida State to the BCS National Championship and a perfect 14-0 record. After passing for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, Winston racked up the honors: 2013 Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp Award, Manning Award, Archie Griffin Award, AP Player of the Year, consensus All-American and first-team All-ACC. Winston also doubled as a baseball player for the Seminoles as a right fielder and relief pitcher.
As a third-year sophomore, the numbers took a dip but the wins continued. Florida State finished the regular season undefeated before losing to Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff semifinals. Winston finished the season with 3,907 passing yards and 25 TDs to go with 18 INTs. Winston was named All-ACC first-team for a second time following the season.
Winston finished his two years as a starter with a 27-1 record. He passed for 7,964 yards and 65 TDs with 28 interceptions.
Following the season, Winston chose to forgo his remaining eligibility and enter the 2015 NFL draft. He is a first-round projection, and that includes the possibility of going No. 1 overall.
Honorable mention: Devon Kennard, No. 14 in 2009 class. Kennard picked USC out of Desert Vista High in Phoenix, Arizona, over offers from many of the nation's best. He played defensive end and linebacker for the Trojans before being drafted in the fifth round, No. 174 overall, by the New York Giants. Jalen Ramsey, No. 14 in 2013 class, is a first-team All-ACC and second-team All-American defensive back for Florida State. He is expected to be highly drafted in the 2016 or 2017 NFL draft.
Among those drawing the most praise: Duke teammates Jamison Crowder and Laken Tomlinson, Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings, Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony and all four Miami players represented: tight end Clive Walford, receiver Phillip Dorsett, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Ladarius Gunter. Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl, tweeted out practice award winners for the week Friday morning. Tomlinson, Anthony and Dorsett were honored.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay wrote this week that Dorsett's stock is on the rise, and he helped himself more than any other prospect during the week. His track speed has wowed scouts across the board. As McShay writes:
What stands out with Dorsett is that he has under-control speed. Some guys are burners in a straight line but can't gear down or get in and out of breaks under control enough to catch the ball. That isn't the case with Dorsett, who possesses every quality you want in a deep speed threat.
During the East-West Shrine game last week, former Miami defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo also turned heads. In all, five Miami players have made headlines in the last week for their play, leaving many once again to wonder how the Canes went 6-7 with so much talent. Add in running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, and the potential exists for at least seven players off this team to get drafted.
Dorsett told ESPN.com Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker, “A lot of things didn’t go our way last year. I can say that,” Dorsett said. “A lot of things went the wrong way. We just got to get guys to really buy in. It’s not on the coaches, it’s on the players. Coaches coach and players got to go out there and play. That’s all I can really say about it.”
Earlier in the week, NFL Network expert Mike Mayock said Tomlinson and Crowder were the players of the day. The Chicago Sun-Times had a good profile detailing the friendship between Tomlinson and high school teammate Louis Trinca-Pasat, both at the Senior Bowl.
Two more who also have had a good week: Al.com notes Lorenzo Mauldin of Louisville made an impression, and Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has made some plays despite his size being scrutinized.
Charles Davis of NFL Network said of Stephone Anthony, "He's a big-time player. Not many people around the country know enough about him."
Elsewhere around the ACC:
- Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day has been hired as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach.
- Florida State has reportedly hired former Florida assistant Brad Lawing to replace departed defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, who is off to the Raiders.
- Louisville will host six players on official visits this weekend.
- Two former North Carolina student-athletes, including football player Devon Ramsey, have sued the university and NCAA over the long-running academic fraud scandal that involved the athletic department.
- NC State coach Dave Doeren discusses the progress his program has made since he arrived.
- Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi picked up his third commitment in two days.
- Virginia Tech unveiled its plans to cover cost of attendance with the Pylons of Promise.
There are less than two weeks until national signing day, and five-star defensive end Byron Cowart is closing on his college decision. The No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 300 had a top three of Auburn, Florida, and Florida State just last week, and now the 6-foot-3, 258-pound defensive end has dwindled his choices to two.
"I would have to say, just to be honest, Auburn and Florida are my top two schools," Cowart said. "I have to keep it professional -- I have to. Who knows, you see coaches and they go into the league, and when it’s time for you to get drafted you don’t want to have a bad name.
"A lot of guys say things that they back away from, and yeah I probably said 'yeah I like this school and I might end up coming here' but that’s probably how I was feeling at the time, but a lot of things happen and I just want people to know that I’m man enough to say 'thank you for recruiting me, but I might not go to your school.' But right now, truly, it will come down to Auburn and Florida. That’s just being honest."
That is somewhat of a surprise considering FSU coaches visited Cowart at his school on Wednesday afternoon and Cowart was scheduled to take his last visit to Florida State next weekend.
"The visit was good. It was different," Cowart said. "I haven’t had the heat put to me like that before. It’s crunch time, so they want me to come up for this last visit, but it’s like I already know what they can bring to the table, I already know what I can I get from Florida State the school. It’s just crazy, I just want to relax and get away, think and get my thoughts together, and that’s why I was like 'I don’t know if I’m going to do my last visit -- I don’t know if I’m going to go anywhere on my last visit.'
"I don’t want to make a mistake. Like my mom said, when you are rushing and you’re moving too fast sometimes you can make a mistake and go somewhere that you never even thought you would go. So I want to be in the right mind and be focused, and to know that this is the school I want to go to."
On the field, few teams had to scale steeper second-half inclines than Florida State and none had the potential history on the line the way the Seminoles did. It began with a near-upset defeat in the August opener, and by the end of September it was clear any loss would put Florida State on the College Football Playoff periphery and end an opportunity for back-to-back national championships.
"During the whole season, we would put ourselves in difficult binds that we always fought our way out of," departing defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said after the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. "My dad would always say, 'It only catches up with you when it catches up with you.' Tonight is one of those nights where I think we let the points add up too much."
The pressure can only build for so long before it finds an outlet, but the result should not overshadow a season unlike any other. For three months, Florida State dug its feet in and refused to give ground during a white-knuckle season. The Seminoles trailed nine times during the first 13 games, sometimes by as many as three scores.
There were times the offense was punchless and others when the defense was toothless, but the adversity fostered an inverse relationship. When one unit wasn't clicking, the other raised its game. There was luck too -- ricocheted touchdowns and goal-line penalties -- but few teams were better suited to take advantage.
The burden of a second undefeated season only grew heavier with the selection committee's rankings. The Seminoles nearly slipped out of the top four until, for the first time all season, they moved up to No. 3 -- in the final rankings. The Seminoles had fallen from No. 2 to No. 4, behind three one-loss teams, less than a week before the final rankings. Chair Jeff Long said the committee was not in the business of making statements, but the message was clear: Florida State had little room for error.
The pressure was felt in the locker room, which Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher admitted at the end of the regular season. Yet it never had an adverse effect in the win column. Their 13 wins to start the season extended their streak to 29 in a row, the fourth-longest streak since the 1968 season.
"It was a great run," Fisher said at the Rose Bowl. "What our guys accomplished and what they've been able to play and do and the quality of games in which they've been able to play in, it was an extremely great run."
Now the 2015 Seminoles face an entirely new kind of adversity. For the first time since 2012, Florida State is responding to a loss. Next year's starting 22 might feature just four players (with three starts among them) who played an active part of that 2012 team.
"Hopefully," Fisher said after the Rose Bowl loss, "we can put together another [streak]."
While the Super Bowl pits two quarterbacks who were both MLB draft picks, Russell Wilson and Tom Brady aren't the only signal callers who thrived in multiple sports . The potential No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft, Jameis Winston, was also a baseball star for the Seminoles. And in the high school ranks, the nation's top-rated quarterback, Texas A&M commit Kyler Murray, could be an early-round MLB draft pick even though most expect him to play football in college.
Here's a look at six high school and college quarterbacks who have also excelled on the diamond:
6. Rashad Greene, Florida State
There’s never been any question about Greene’s talent, but in 2014 he firmly established himself as one of the great leaders in FSU history. Surrounded by an inexperienced group of receivers, Greene stepped up to become one of the most consistent targets in the nation and caught 99 passes for 1,365 yards -- with numerous game-changing plays along the way. His 74-yard touchdown against Clemson preserved FSU’s win streak, and he finished with double-digit receptions in three games and topped 100 yards receiving eight times. Greene wrapped up his career as FSU’s leading receiver in each of his four seasons.
7. Grady Jarrett, Clemson
Position: Defensive tackle
Jarrett was the vocal leader of Clemson’s dynamic defensive front, and few tackles in the country made a bigger impact on a week-to-week basis than he did. His 45 tackles paced all Clemson defensive linemen, and his 10 tackles for loss were the most by an ACC interior lineman. Jarrett was a key cog in the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing defense, and he helped solidify the middle for a unit that racked up 254 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.
8. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
Entering the season, fans were beginning to wonder if Paul Johnson’s option offense had run its course at Georgia Tech. Then Thomas was added to the fray, and everything changed. The sophomore proved a perfect fit for Johnson’s scheme and threw for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns while becoming just the second Tech QB in the past decade to top 1,000 yards on the ground. Thomas is one of just 13 Power 5 QBs in the past decade to top both benchmarks in a single season. Thomas helped Georgia Tech become the nation’s most prolific rushing offense and led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-3 season, a Coastal Division title and a win in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
9. DeVante Parker, Louisville
How do you make a case for a player who missed the first seven games of the year to rank in the top 10? With Parker, it’s actually pretty easy. A foot injury during fall camp sidelined Parker early, but the Cardinals’ receiver debuted Oct. 18 against NC State with nine catches for 132 yards, and he never slowed down. In his six games this season, he topped 120 yards five times, including a 214-yard performance against Florida State. Despite missing half the season, Parker finished seventh in the ACC in receiving yards, and among Power 5 receivers with at least 40 catches, none averaged more yards per reception than Parker, at 19.9.
10. Jamison Crowder, Duke
Crowder finished with 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season, after turning in his fourth 100-yard game of the year in Duke’s bowl game against Arizona State. One of the ACC’s most consistent receiving threats in each of the past three seasons, Crowder was an all-purpose star who finished third in the ACC in receiving yards, second in receptions, first in punt-return yardage and sixth in all-purpose yards. Also, he was the only ACC player with multiple special-teams touchdowns this season.
To read the rest of the list, click here.
11. Clive Walford, Miami
Position: Tight end
Walford emerged as a go-to receiver for freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, becoming one of the most reliable targets on the team. That speaks volumes to his growth because Miami has no shortage of players at the skill positions. Walford ended up leading the team with 44 receptions -- one of just nine tight ends in the country to lead his team in that category. His 676 yards and seven touchdowns ranked second on the team.
12. Nick O'Leary, Florida State
Position: Tight end
O'Leary won the John Mackey Award as the best tight end in the nation, but we have him ranked just behind Walford. The truth is, you can split hairs on who was better this season. A case can be made for both. O'Leary set career highs with 48 receptions for 618 yards to finish second on his team in both categories, while adding six touchdown catches. As David Hale pointed out in December, Walford had the stats edge in receptions per game, receiving yards, touchdowns and yards per catch, all while playing with a true freshman quarterback. None of that is to diminish what O'Leary did. It is a great year when two tight ends are worthy of such a high ranking.
13. Eddie Goldman, Florida State
Position: Defensive tackle
Goldman was the glue that held the Florida State defensive front together through injuries and some depth issues, racking up 35 tackles, including eight for loss and a team-high four sacks. But his impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Goldman held down the inside in the same way Tim Jernigan did the year before. In his biggest game against Clemson, Goldman forced a crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter and also had a sack and made a fourth-down stop in overtime to help the Seminoles win.
14. Denzel Perryman, Miami
If Miami needed a play to be made on defense, Perryman was its man. Perryman led the team with 110 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss and was named one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the nation. There were many who questioned the Canes' overall defense, but nobody questioned Perryman, his talent and the impact he made on that unit. He ended his career on the school's top-10 list for tackles.
15. Stephone Anthony, Clemson
Like Perryman, Anthony started to come into his own in 2013 and made an even bigger impact in 2014. Anthony had a team-high 90 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, one interception, four pass breakups and two caused fumbles en route to a spot on the media and coaches All-ACC first team. Clemson earned a lot of attention for its play up front. Anthony deserves credit for that because he was a big key to the group's overall success.
The first is Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, which should be something of a no-brainer, given that the junior racked up 21.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons despite serving as the backup to Vic Beasley. Only seven other players in the ACC have totaled 10 or more TFL in each of the last two seasons, and of that group, only Lawson will be back for 2015.
“A guy like Shaq Lawson, he could've been starting his first two years, but he sat behind Vic Beasley and you can't complain about that,” defensive back Robert Smith said. “But he could've just as easily been starting the same way.”
Lawson is an obvious starter this year, but the Post & Courier projects out the rest of Clemson's starters, too.
The second of Athlon's breakout candidates is Travis Rudolph, the FSU wide receiver who stepped up as a strong No. 2 option after Rashad Greene as a true freshman this season, including six catches for 96 yards and a score in the Rose Bowl.
Rudolph definitely progressed as the year went along -- he had just one catch in FSU's first four games -- but he's going to have a tougher task in 2015. Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary are gone, meaning all eyes will clearly be on Rudolph to step into the No. 1 role in the passing game. Jameis Winston is gone, too, and the question about the next FSU QB is a big one. Still, Rudolph showed how much talent he has this season, and he's on record as being eager to follow in Greene's footsteps.
Looking around the rest of the ACC, a few other names to watch as potential breakout candidates:
Andrew Brown, Virginia: Injuries limited his freshman performance, but the Hoos will have a new-look defensive line in 2015, and Brown, the former five-star recruit, will be a big part of their plans.
Shaun Wilson, Duke: The ACC already got a small taste of what Wilson can do, as he rushed for 598 yards as a freshman in 2014. His 7.7 yards-per-carry average was the best by any Power 5 running back with at least 75 carries, but his numbers in conference -- 46 carries, 186 yards, 1 TD -- weren't quite as impressive. He'll have a bigger role in 2015.
Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the year at strong safety for the Wolfpack, and that happened to coincide with a 4-1 finish to the season in which NC State allowed just 4.68 yards per play -- the seventh-best rate for any Power 5 team from Nov. 1 to the end of the season.
Joseph Yearby, Miami: The freshman had more than 600 yards from scrimmage backing up Duke Johnson in 2014. Now Johnson is gone, but rising star QB Brad Kaaya remains, and Miami's offense hopes to not miss a beat. It could be a huge year for Yearby, who played his high school ball alongside FSU's Dalvin Cook.
A few other links:
- Pitt appears to have hired a former Purdue assistant to coach its wide receivers, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Not a bad gig when you get to work with Tyler Boyd.
- Syracuse.com looks at what an early signing period might mean for the Orange.
- A renewal of the Georgia Tech-Auburn rivalry could be in the works, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- I imagine Florida State fans will not be fond of BC Interruption's final installment of The Book's national rankings for 2014 (or their Way too Early top 20 for 2015).
- NC State added to a strong recruiting class this week, notes Backing the Pack.
- Florida State's commitment list includes a ton of highly-regarded recruits, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
- Louisville offensive lineman John Miller earned strong reviews during his postseason work, writes the Courier Journal.
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