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Saturday Spotlight: Draft Prospects To Watch Week 10

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Cameron Erving has blossomed into a top-tier tackle prospect in just his second season on the offensive side of the ball. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images.
Cameron Erving has blossomed into a top-tier tackle prospect in just his second season on the offensive side of the ball. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images.

When you look back at Florida State's defensive depth chart from the 2011 season, you see a lot of familiar names, players who would find their way into the NFL draft.

Two starters -- linebacker Nigel Bradham and cornerback Mike Harris -- were drafted in 2012. Another four starters went in the 2013 draft, including defensive tackle Everett Dawkins, middle linebacker Vince Williams and both defensive ends (Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins). So did a couple of backups (end Tank Carradine and cornerback Xavier Rhodes). 

Six more players from the Seminoles' 2011 defensive rotation will go in the 2014 draft. There's Christian Jones, who was the starter at strong side linebacker. And Lamarcus Joyner, the starting free safety. Timmy Jernigan was a backup defensive tackle, Telvin Smith the backup at middle linebacker, Terrence Brooks the second-string free safety. They could all be off the board by the end of the fourth round.

That's five players. The sixth might surprise you.

He was the backup to Dawkins at defensive tackle, a redshirt freshman from Moultrie, GA, who played a regular role on the nation's second-best defense against the run. He even picked up a sack in the season's first game.

Now, running the ball effectively is a good thing in the eyes of Cameron Erving. And being responsible for a sack is bad, very bad.

Erving switched sides of the ball in 2012. Not only did he jump to offense, he went straight into the starting lineup at left tackle, where he protected the blind side of E.J. Manuel, the first quarterback chosen in 2013.

This season, Erving has blossomed as a left tackle. He has displayed remarkable technique for a guy in just his second season at such a critical position, and his footwork continues to improve seemingly every game. 

Ironically, he's developed into such a strong prospect, there's a chance that Erving could be drafted higher than any of his former defensive counterparts (Werner went the highest so far, going 24th overall to Indianapolis).

Erving (6-foot-6, 320 pounds) is all upside. He retained that nastiness from the defensive side when he made the switch (an attribute that separated Eric Fisher from Luke Joeckel last year). And when he learns to avoid being too aggressive, a lot of his intermittent positioning problems and balance issues will be solved.

There will be a ton of prospects on the field when Florida State and Miami play their rivalry's most relevant game in years. Miami has a top-5 quarterback prospect in Stephen Morris and a tackle prospect of its own in Seantrel Henderson, a 6-8, 345-pound bulldozer who projects as perhaps the best natural right tackle in the draft (a tackle so promising, he was the first offensive lineman ever named USA Today Offensive Player of the Year in 2009).

But the guy who might go before anyone else is Erving, the raw but promising converted defender now in charge of protecting Jameis Winston's backside. 

In the mood for a few other games to scout this weekend? Here are two you might not have considered, with some prospects you might not yet be aware of:

Wisconsin @ Iowa

At the risk of turning this week's piece into the "You Have To Eat Your Vegetables" column, we move from left tackles to something else that's good for you: traditional tight ends.

Every NFL team would love to get its hands on the next Jimmy Graham. The vertical threat tight end is a game-changing matchup advantage for those teams who have one, and only a handful do.

But every team needs the old-school tight end, too -- the guy who's going to catch his share of passes, probably on third down, but who also will be a willing contributor to pass protection and the running game, the guy who makes the strong side the strong side.

The top two of that type of tight end will share the field Saturday in Iowa City. 

There's Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin's fifth-year senior, who has decent size (6-5, 240), reliable hands, is faster than he is quick. Maybe you'll see him catch two or three balls against the Hawkeyes; four would be a banner game. But when you watch Melvin Gordon and James White carry the ball, turn your eyes toward Pedersen. Watch him lock up the edge against a defensive end or get out into the second level and seal off a linebacker. He's not going to put anybody on their back, but he's a fine, functional blocking tight end. And every team needs a couple of those.

On the other side, there's Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz, who's bigger (6-6, 265) than Pedersen and plays a bigger role in the passing game. Fiedorowicz has become a reliable red zone threat, leading the Hawkeyes with four touchdown receptions. He's more of a physical presence than Pedersen, appearing stronger at the point of attack, though not necessarily as fundamentally sound.

As the draft unfolds next May, there will be a flurry of tight end selections among the first 45 picks or so, as Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro and Austin Seferian-Jenkins -- the best pass-catching tight ends in this year's class -- come off the board. Then, starting around the late third round, teams will start to consider adding to their tight end depth. That's when Fiedorowicz and Pedersen can start monitoring their phones.

Cornell @ Princeton

At some point this afternoon, the Ivy League's two best (only?) NFL prospects will come together in the backfield. It's inevitable, really, as Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews will continue, as always, to drop back to pass, as he's done more times than anyone in league history, and Princeton defensive tackle will do what he does -- penetrate and apply pressure.

Mathews is the most accomplished quarterback the Ivies have ever produced. He's the conference's first quarterback to pass for 10,000 yards (Mathews already has thrown for twice the yardage Ryan FItzpatrick did at Harvard), and will leave campus with his name atop every significant statistical category. And there's every reason to think that he'll get his NFL shot, as Mathews has an NFL body (6-4, 229) and a strong arm and a good foundation of throwing mechanics.

He consistently makes the right decisions within Cornell's offense, but how much he's learned about reading defenses has been limited by what he's had thrown at him by Ivy League coordinators. As with other quarterback prospects coming from beyond the FBS (such as Jimmy Garoppolo, who we told you about last week), there is legitimate question about the caliber of competition he's faced. Still, he presents a solid base to build on, and scouts will be impressed by a quarterback with the mental capability to process tons of information and the skills to execute.

Same with Reid, though when you watch him, "cerebral" isn't the first word that comes to mind. He's a physical force -- quick, athletic, powerful. At 6-2, 305, Reid could project as a three technique at the next level, a defensive tackle with a history of beating his blockers and making plays in the backfield. Reid is putting up numbers more commonly associated with defensive ends -- 17 career sacks, 36 TFL. 

Again, it's one thing to disengage from linemen from, say, Columbia (whose starting line averages 264 pounds). It's likely Reid is going to need to develop his strength so he could legitimately threaten to bull rush an NFL guard.

Those are questions neither Mathews nor Reid can address today. Instead, they get to keep doing their thing, and perhaps opening a few more eyes along the way.