Preseason Top 10 NFL Draft Prospects: ACC
Sorry, Seminoles fans, but someone needs to tell you the truth . Your 2014 Florida State squad just doesn't measure up.
No, I'm not talking about this fall on the field, where they clearly could run the table, defend their national championship and maybe even celebrate a practically unprecedented Heisman sequel.
Rather, I'm looking at next spring in the NFL Draft. This year's bunch may threaten the school record set in 2013, when 11 Seminoles were selected. But the Best Draft Class Ever? Sorry. They simply can't compare to, say, Miami, which produced six first-rounders in 2004, or Ohio State, which in the same draft had 14 players taken. If getting the 13th bagel for free qualifies as a baker's dozen, an unparalleled 14 players picked in the same seven-round draft must be a Buckeyes dozen, and the Noles have no shot at clearing that bar.
Then again . . . quantity doesn't necessarily suggest quality. Those 14 Ohio State selections combined to share a single Pro Bowl appearance between them (courtesy of defensive end Will Smith).
The collection of prospects that could come out of Tallahassee after the 2014 season sure looks more promising than that. They'll have quite possibly the best quarterback prospect in the 2015 draft, probably the best guard, perhaps the best cornerback, one of the best receivers and potentially a top-5 left tackle, defensive end and tight end.
This might not be the most prolific draft class any college program has ever produced. But the 2015 NFL Draft is going to have a distinct streak of garnet and gold running through it.
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: There aren't many years where the debate between two quarterbacks deserving of the No. 1 pick in the draft is legitimate. I know there were people who liked Ryan Leaf better than Peyton Manning, but it never seemed the Colts really ever had a doubt. Same with Andrew Luck over Robert Griffin III; there really wasn't a question, or shouldn't have been. No one thought either Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger could have gone No. 1 the year Eli Manning did. But this year, the debate is for real. There are going to be plenty of people who prefer Marcus Mariota. But I give the edge to Winston, who looks like the most NFL-ready quarterback we've seen since Luck. He checks almost every box (the one exception being some very reasonable concerns about his off-field decision-making), though it's his arm that is his most impressive feature. Actually, it's his ability to throw -- which is about far more than just Winston's arm. His mechanics are ideal; he drives off his back foot, getting his whole body into his throws, as you would expect from a guy who may be just as good a prospect as a pitcher and defensive outfielder. His vision, his accuracy, his understanding of Florida State's pro-style offense are all strengths, but he's as pure a passer as there is in college football and will enter the draft miles ahead of any of the 72 quarterback taken in the last six drafts, other than Luck, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford. The only things that may keep Winston out of that top spot are his off-field behaviors and the looming possibility that he really is planning on staying in school through the fall of 2015, which will get him two more seasons of football, one more of baseball and quite possibly his degree, all of which are impotant to him.
2. Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson: There are speed rushers and then there are pass rushers with speed. Unlike so many players in the former catgeory, Beasley is no one-trick pony. Yes, his speed rush is the best club in his bag. But what impressed me so much last season is how he used that speed rush to set up other moves. He crossed the face of his blocker so effectively, and having multiple dimensions is critical to the success of any pass rusher at the next level. The question, of course, is whether Beasley has the bulk and strength to mount any kind of a bull rush. Right now, it seems unlikely that a 6-foot-3, 235-pound live wire is going to push too many NFL tackles back on their heels. Beasley is just too undersized to be a defensive end in the NFL. The good news is that he seems to recognize and accept this, and appears willing to spend some of the 2014 season showing his skills in coverage, and both playing the run and rushing the quarterback from a two-point stance. Beasley's future is as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 front, and he'll be the best on the board at the position. He'll make a position change that Dee Ford may not be capable of pulling off. Ford's best asset is his first step quickness. To take full advantage of his burst, Ford needs to be on the line, with his hand in the dirt. Unfortunately, he lacks the size and strength to be much more than a situational pass rusher. Beasley, though, should be able to develop the linebacker skills that will keep him on the field in any down and distance situation. He'll come off the board far earlier than Ford, taken by Kansas City at No. 23.
3. Cameron Erving, T, Florida State: The move from defensive tackle two seasons ago certainly paid off for Erving, who in two years at left tackle has established himself a one of the best prospects in the country. He has ideal size (6-6, 308) and strength, but it's his quickness and aggressiveness that stand out. Erving moves so fluidly, both in the run game and in countering the speedier edge rushers he's faced. Take the Clemson game, when Erving drew Beasley and basically shut him down. Too many tackles are passive against a speed rusher, but Erving showed both the footwork and hand speed to take on Beasley and absolutely erase him. Erving would have been a first-rounder a year ago. But with another year's worth of development, he could be a top-10 pick -- even if he turns out to be the fourth-best tackle in a talented class that includes Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, Stanford's Andrus Peat and Iowa's Brandon Scherff.
4. P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State: When you're named the Defensive MVP of the BCS Championship Game off a defense that included Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan, Terrance Brooks and Telvin Smith, that'll look pretty good on a resume. His fourth quarter interception was an example of his big-play abilities, but I was just as impressed watching Williams get involved in taking on Andre Williams and Boston College's running attack. His tenacity and willingness against the run -- not just in taking on and, at one point, chasing down and calf roping Williams but in taking on BC's run blockers -- are as compelling as his natural ball skills. Eleven Florida State defensive players have gone in the last two drafts, with Bjoern Werner and Xavier Rhodes being selected in the first round two drafts back; Williams could be taken earlier than any of them.
5. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State: Kelvin Benjamin had the bigger name and the far bigger body, but Florida State's best receiver last season was Greene. He has done and can do so much more than Benjamin, making plays across the middle and along the boundary, winning matchups with straight-ahead speed and terrific quickness. His route-running and his hands are first-rate. At 6-0, 180, he's not the X receiver prototype that Benjamin showed the potential to be. But Greene can be productive all over the field -- as the X or Z receiver or out of the slot. I think that kind of versatilty will play to his favor, and Greene likely will be drafted earlier than Benjamin, who went 28th to Carolina.
6. Tre' Jackson, G, Florida State: Is this starting to feel like you're flipping through the Florida State media guide? Like Erving, Jackson is a converted defensive tackle -- he didn't play it in college, but he was a promising DT recruit out of high school. But he switched to offense full-time and has been a steady interior presence in each of his first three college seasons. He is massive (6-4, 339), and while he has better mobility than you'd expect from someone that size, he projects as a right guard -- a fixture on the strong-side of a traditional right-handed offense -- which could wind up impacting where Jackson goes in the draft. He'll likely be picked lower than his promise suggests, if only because right guard is not a priority position for a lot of NFL teams, even if Jackson graded out second-best among all FSU linemen a year ago.
7. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami: Perryman is making the move this season back to middle linebacker, despite having led Miami in tackles as an outside backer a year ago. The move inside won't hurt Perryman's production; he'll still be a hard-hitting, technically solid tackler who finds his way into every play. Perryman moves laterally so fluidly, keeping him from getting entangled by blockers and putting him in position to unload into the ballcarrier. He'll be sound in coverage, and his speed makes him a potentially dangerous blitzer. Mike backers are often replaced in the nickel and dime coverages that dominate defensive gameplans these days; but Perryman should be able to stay on the field, which makes him a real threat to be Miami's first first-rounder since Kenny Phillips went 31st in 2008.
8. Mario Edwards, Jr., DE, Florida State: There were so many significant plays that shaped the course of the BCS Championship, everything else tends to be forgotten. But there was a play late in the first quarter that you have to check out. On the back side of Tre Mason's run, you'll see the rarest of sights: Greg Robinson getting flattened. Edwards -- who at 6-3, 294, still gave up 40 pounds to Robinson -- positively steamrolled the second pick in the draft. For all the buzz he generated with his ability to make plays in the backfield, Edwards' highlight for me is putting Robinson on his backside. Maybe Edwards moves inside in a 4-3 front, where his combination of power and quickness could be overwhelming. Or he plays end in a 3-4 front, where he'll be asked more to hold the edge than get to the quarterback. Either way, he'll be a disruptive force.
9. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami: Rivals.com once compared Johnson to Chris Johnson, providing a hint at the kind of explosiveness this multi-faceted back was capable of. And while Duke might not have CJ2K's hyperspeed, he is a home run threat with the ball. His acceleration is impressive, and he shows a gear that distinguishes him from many of the other prospects in what is the best crop of running backs in recent memory. Johnson has terrific body control and makes defenders miss without breaking stride, whether he's headed laterally or upfield. What scouts will want to see if whether that gear still exists after the ankle injury that sidelined Johnson the last five games of 2013 and through spring practice, and after the 10 pounds he's added with an eye toward being more durable. If he's able to prove that at 5-9, 206, he hasn't lost a step, Johnson will be in the discussion of top running back prospects with Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, T.J. Yeldon and Mike Davis.
10. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville: There are plenty of top-10 candidates in the ACC this season, but only 10 spots. And while Florida State running back Karlos Williams or North Carolina receiver Quinshad Davis or even Parker's Louisville teammate, defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin, could all make a case for inclusion, the nod goes to Parker, the top of an NFL.com list of the most freakish athletes in college football. Parker reportedly has recorded a 40-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds, a vertical of 36.5 inches and a standing broad jump of 10 feet-10 inches. That's an explosive player, and he'll leap up draft boards with numbers even close to that at the Combine. What we do know is that he was Teddy Bridgewater's favorite weapon, and that he's led the Cardinals in touchdown catches each of his first three seasons (6 in 2011, 10 in 2012, a school record 12 in 2013). And we know that Parker has the build (6-3, 208) and ball skills NFL teams covet in a No. 1 receiver.