Scouting The BCS Championship Game
By David Seigerman
As part of Football.com's coverage of all 35 bowl games, we will provide a draft prospect-primer, so you know whom to watch during every postseason game. This concludes our coverage.
When you think about the greatest collections of talent in college football history, the 1983 Texas Longhorns aren't usually top of mind.
Sure, Texas had a great season. The Longhorns went 11-0, won the Southwest Conference, and would have won the national championship had they not been upset by Georgia, 10-9, in what must have been a thrilling Cotton Bowl.
But then Fred Akers' squad went on to do the unprecedented. Texas had a record 17 players selected in the 1984 NFL Draft.
It's an astonishing number, considering no school has, since the merger, had more than 14, USC did in '75 and '77 and Ohio State did in 2004.
What's even more amazing is that not one of the 17 Longhorns -- from infamous Mossy Cade, who went sixth to San Diego, to Mark Lang, who went 314th to Kansas City -- made it to as much as a single Pro Bowl. Northeastern had one player drafted, and Sean Jones was elected to one Pro Bowl. Talk about quantity vs. quality.
This historical parallel seems particularly appropriate to draw today as we look ahead to the final game of the 2013-'14 bowl season. One glance at the Florida State roster and you recognize a team loaded with more 2014 NFL prospects than anyone else. The Seminoles won't challenge Texas' record (which seems unbreakable, now that there are only seven rounds). But they could have 13 players selected in the 2014 draft. And that doesn't even include their best NFL prospect, Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, who isn't draft eligible this year.
Most amazingly, there might not be a sure-fire first-rounder in the bunch.
Or three or four of them might find their way into the first round. It really could go either way. But at this point, there's not an unimpeachable case to be made for any of the Tallahassee Thirteen being first-day locks.
So, enjoy this last BCS championship (keeping in mind that a heavily favored Florida State squad lost the first one). And make sure to appreciate just how many of these Seminoles you could be watching at the next level next year.
Timmy Jernigan, DT
He's listed on the Florida State depth chart as a nose tackle, but he's not an NFL nose. In fact, he might be the quintessential 3-technique prospect. He has the ideal size (6-foot-2, 298 pounds) and skill set (explosive burst, lateral agility, quick hands and feet) to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 front. He's always been solid against the run, but he blossomed as a penetrator this season, finishing with career highs in sacks (4.5) and TFL (10.5). The question is whether Jernigan can be effective as a power rusher at the next level. Any concerns about his strength might be enough to keep him out of the first round. Otherwise, Jernigan is the Seminoles' best bet for a Day One pick.
He's a left tackle with the temperament of a defensive tackle -- which he used to be. He's aggressive and understands how to use his lower body to win battles against bull rushers. His reach is ideal for a tackle, but it's his footwork where he distinguishes himself -- again, the mobility he displayed on the defensive side is paying dividends on the offensive line. Erving has only been on this side of the ball for two seasons, so he has plenty still to learn about his craft. Still, if he comes out early, tons of teams will see him as a talented, athletic tackle who will only improve with experience.
Lamarcus Joyner, FS
The fraternity of FSU defensive backs who have been named consensus All-Americans is short and distinguished. Deion Sanders, LeRoy Butler, Terrell Buckley and, now, Joyner. The Clemson game alone (8 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles) shows scouts everything they need to know about what Joyner can bring to a defense. To say he flourished in his move from safety to cornerback is an understatement; Joyner finished the season second on the team in tackles and led the FSU defense with five sacks. So, what's keeping Joyner out of the first round? His size. At 5-8, 190, he can't be asked to cover the big boundary receivers. And he might be even too slight to play free safety. Most likely, Joyner lines up as a slot corner, where he gets to use his quickness and agility blanketing receivers whose short-area athleticism he easily can match.
Christian Jones, OLB
Jones is one of the few prospects whose versatility may actually prove to have worked against him. He played Sam linebacker in 2011, moved to Will backer in 2012, where he was the Seminoles' top tackler. He started this season at Mike backer, then wound up back on the strong side, though he did begin to see snaps at defensive end. He's probably not going to be a rush linebacker at the next level, and the short-lived experiment in the middle might have set back his development on the outside. Some will see him as a Sam, others as a Will. Either way, he's a reliable tackler, if not the kind of linebacker who will knock a ballcarrier back upon contact.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR
There is a considerable difference between a big target and a big receiver. For much of the season, Benjamin was a the former -- a 6-5, 234-pound package of potential. Then, in the last few weeks of the season, we saw the kind of receiver Benjamin can become. His speed will never be elite, but when he learns to use his strength to get off the line consistently and to position his massive body to box out defenders on jump balls like a power forward on the blocks, he can be uncoverable in certain situations. He has two more years of eligibility remaining, but he'll turn 23 before the draft. I suspect his development will continue at the NFL level -- and there will be no shortage of receivers coaches willing to take on a project with such upside.
Telvin Smith, ILB
Yet another Florida State defender who might not be playing the position he'll play in the pros. He has the range to be a middle linebacker (he is the team's top tackler, after all). But Smith is not stout enough against the run to play there at the next level. Smith is 6-3, 218 -- 11 pounds lighter than the lightest linebacker drafted in 2013. With his speed, he could easily be converted to safety, where it might take him a season or two to make the transition.
Terrence Brooks, FS
Brooks is perhaps the only Florida State defensive prospect playing at his natural position, though he's probably the one who will be drafted lowest. Brooks helped his stock this year, with his leadership in the secondary and by becoming more of a playmaker. He made 7 TFL (he had 1.5 in his first three seasons), intercepted a couple of passes and recovered a couple of fumbles. Brooks (5-11, 200) won't win a ton of jump balls, but he should be a safe pick in the 4th or 5th round.
Bryan Stork, C
Stork may be the most underappreciated of all the Seminoles prospects. That's the nature of the job, of course. His leadership on the line was a tremendous help to Winston's early acclimation. He consistently grades out highest among the offensive lineman, and yet he's an afterthought compared to the attention Erving gets. He's got NFL size (6-4, 300), pulls like a guard, is equally successful in run blocking and pass protection. He'll be one of the first four centers off the board.
Tre' Jackson, G
Athletic, technically sound, strong, experienced . . . what else could you ask for in a guard? Jackson (6-4, 330) has been one of Florida State's most consistent linemen for two years running.
Nick O'Leary, TE
O'Leary is a classic two-way tight end, who is as willing an in-line blocker as he is a receiver. He's tough at the point of attack, though his size (6-3, 248) might be disadvantageous at the next level against big, powerful defensive ends and Sam backers. He's a reliable receiver, who has become a favorite of Winston's in certain situations. Of his 33 catches this year, 27 have gone for either a first down or touchdown.
Devonta Freeman, RB
I've heard Freeman compared to Ray Rice. And while I initially thought that was merely a shorthanded way of calling him a short back, the more I see of Freeman, the more I can see the parallel. He's a short but solid back (5-9, 203), who is as likely to take on a linebacker than make a move on him. And Freeman can do both. He can run low and hard and drive for extra yardage, or he can be elusive, cutting back against the flow with smooth suddeness. Freeman might be the most NFL-ready of Florida State's junior running backs, but I still think another season would move him much higher in the draft than he'd be likely to go this year.
James Wilder Jr., RB
You would think that a running back who had double-digit carries only twice this season and has precisely one 100-yard game on his resume (Opening Day 2012, against Murray State) probably wouldn't be considering an early jump to the NFL. But I wonder if part of Wilder's decision process is whether Freeman and Williams return. If they all are back in Tallahassee, Wilder is looking at another season of splitting carries three ways. If he decides to declare, Wilder will be seen as a big (6-2, 229), physical runner, who explodes out of cuts with impressive power. But without much body of work to evaluate, it'd be tough to envision a team taking a shot on a developmental back before the start of Day Three.
Karlos Williams, RB
Most likely, the NFL won't have to figure out quite yet where Williams fits best. He should certainly return to FSU for a senior season in which he'll likely make the decision for his future employer. But for now, teams would have to decide whether Williams (6-1, 233) is an oversized safety (he was the No. 2 safety prospect in the country coming out of high school and spent his first two college seasons at strong safety) or a developing running back (705 yds., 11 TDs in his first season on offense). When you're perhaps the best and most versatile athlete -- and perhaps the most instinctive runner -- on a team like this one, that's saying something.
Greg Robinson, T
Wouldn't it be ironic if all 12 Seminoles declared, and the only player from the national championship game to be selected in the first round was a redshirt sophomore from the other side? And that -- his age -- is probably the biggest, if not only, question about Robinson, an athletically gifted tackle with long arms and feet more nimble than some in-line tight ends 70 pounds lighter. Is a prospect, no matter how talented, ready to step in and protect the blindside of someone's franchise quarterback with only two years playing tackle under his belt? Robinson was a guard, primarily, in high school and he redshirted his freshman year at FSU. He is all upside, but a tackle taken in the first round -- as he assuredly would be -- is expected to play right away.
Tre Mason, RB
There is no shortage of praise that can be lavished upon Mason for his historic season. You don't rush for 304 yards in a single game, score touchdowns in 10 straight games and break Bo Jackson's school record for all-purpose yards without someone noticing you. And, be sure, scouts have taken notice of Mason, a powerfully built one-cut back. Despite his effectiveness as a kick returner, Mason is not exceedingly fast. It is that lack of explosiveness that will cap Mason's draft stock. Scouts will wonder how much of a system back he is, set up to succeed by Gus Malzahn's commitment to running the ball and a near-flawless execution of the zone read.
Dee Ford, OLB
Like so many defensive ends who are successful in college, Ford is a candidate for a position change in the NFL. He's a high-motor, fifth-gear kind of player, and that energy and aggressiveness could well translate to the outside linebacker position. It'll have to, because, at 6-2, 240, Ford doesn't have the size to take on NFL tackles. He'll be able to use his speed and his burst -- both off the snap and in closing in on quarterbacks and ballcarries -- to be disruptive, something he did so well this season (8.5 sacks, 17 hurries).
Chris Davis, CB
Forget all the plays Davis made this season -- the team-leading 69 tackles, the 14 pass breakups. Auburn fans will forever remember the only play that matters -- his 109-yard return of a missed Alabama field goal that won the Iron Bowl (and, ultimately, this BCS championship berth) for the TIgers. Scouts, though, want to see a but more from a cornerback who didn't have a single interception this season. And they'll get their chance every time Davis (5-11, 200) matches up with a big-bodied receiver like Benjamin.
Reese Dismukes, C 6-3 297
Robinson is getting all the attention, but Auburn's success running the ball has been reliant on impeccable line play from tackle to tackle. Right in the middle of it all is Dismukes, a three-year starter with a mean streak and the ability to spring open holes in the second level. At 6-3, 297, he'll be one of the lighter centers in the draft, if he declares. Dismukes has a chance to dispel any concerns on Monday, when he'll take on Jernigan.