By Tim Linafelt
Seminoles.com Senior Writer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida State football team has had at least one first-round NFL draft choice in six of the last seven years, and most pundits expect the Seminoles to make it seven of eight when the 2017 draft begins Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Record-setting running back Dalvin Cook leads a group of several Seminoles who could hear their names called during the three-day event. The first round begins at 8 p.m., Thursday, with Rounds 2 and 3 scheduled for Friday and 4 through 7 on Saturday.
Cook, a unanimous All-American as a junior in 2016, is the best bet to become FSU's newest first-rounder.
“I feel like I played a great amount of ball at Florida State, but I just feel like people haven't seen the best yet,” Cook told ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show last week. “Whatever organization drafts me, they're going to get a great running back and a great player off the field.”
Cook's draft projections typically range around the middle of the first round.
ESPN's Todd McShay last week pegged Kansas City (27th overall) as Cook's future home, while four of six NFL Network analysts (Daniel Jeremiah, Charley Casserly, Bucky Brooks and Chad Reuter) believe he'll end up in Tampa Bay. The other two, Lance Zierlein and Maurice Jones-Drew, project Cook to Washington, where he would share the backfield with former FSU standout Chris Thompson.
“The Tampa Bay Buccaneers really like Cook and will strongly consider him if he's on the board at No. 19,” McShay wrote in a recent draft column, suggesting a reunion between Cook and former teammates Jameis Winston and Roberto Aguayo.
That idea sounds just fine to Cook, who said last month that joining Winston in the Bucs' backfield would be a “dream come true.”
Winston, meanwhile, stopped short of lobbying for the Bucs to draft Cook – he even said he believes Cook will be gone by the time Tampa Bay picks – although he did admit it would be “great to have another Seminole” on the team.
Cook will likely be the first Seminole drafted, but he won't be the last.
All-America defensive end DeMarcus Walker is sure to be picked, and two-time ACC offensive lineman of the year Roderick Johnson and two-year cornerback starter Marquez White are likely selections as well. Beyond those three, fullback Freddie Stevenson and receivers Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield and Bobo Wilson are among the Seminoles who participated in the NFL scouting combine and hope to make their dreams a reality this weekend.
Walker has consistently projected as a second- or third-round pick since wrapping up his FSU career at the Orange Bowl, although ESPN's McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. had the Atlanta Falcons taking Walker 31st overall during a recent televised mock draft.
Walker, never short on confidence, recently told the Florida Times-Union that he doesn't expect to be available when his hometown team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, makes its second-round selection at No. 35.
“I just love pushing myself, showing people and proving people wrong,” Walker said.
Here's where those eight Seminoles stand on the eve of Draft Day.
Dalvin Cook, RB
Projections: Once the first round reaches its midway point, Cook could go at any time. But don't be surprised if he moves a little bit in either direction. There's no denying Cook's ability, which could help him crack the top 10. But this is also a very top-heavy running back class (LSU's Leonard Fournette, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Oklahoma's Joe Mixon are among the other top prospects) which could impact the market for the position.
NFL.com grade: 6.28 (chance to become good NFL starter)
What they're saying: “You could make a case for drafting Cook over top-ranked prospect Fournette. Although Fournette has an awesome projection, his particular profile somewhat matches other running backs who boasted great projections but ultimately disappointed. … It is a bit harder to find a bust whose high projection, like Cook's, had more to do with college production.” – Nathan Forster, Football Outsiders
DeMarcus Walker, DE
Projections: One of the most dominant pass-rushers in college football, Walker has settled in as a second- or third-round pick in most mock drafts, with the occasional first- or second-round projection mixed in. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein expressed concern about Walker's size, but Walker's track record of production and versatility should work in his favor.
NFL.com grade: 5.64 (backup or eventual starter)
What they're saying: “Walker has a good quick step and swim move which had led to him getting a ton of sacks the last two years at Florida State. Here's also durable as he played in 90 percent of the defensive snaps last year.” – Brian Jones, CBSSports.com
Roderick Johnson, OL
Projections: A three-year starter and a two-time recipient of the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy, Johnson is believed by most outlets to be a third- or fourth-round selection, and a few analysts have even projected him as the second Seminole off the board.
NFL.com grade: 5.52 (backup or eventual starter)
What they're saying: “There are a lot of teams in need of offensive line help from the 2017 NFL Draft. Given this year's weak class of tackles, Johnson could end up going higher than expected. … Cleveland is taking a long-term approach to building in the roster, so the team could have the patience to give Johnson time to develop.” – Charlie Campbell, WalterFootball.com
Travis Rudolph, WR
Projections: Florida State's leading receiver in each of the last two seasons, Rudolph is a fifth- or sixth-round pick, per NFL.com.
NFL.com grade: 5.49 (backup or eventual starter)
What they're saying: “Rudolph will need to get stronger, but he's already a willing blocker in the run game which helps his cause. Could be an early backup who works himself into snaps fairly quickly.” – Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
Marquez White, CB
Projections: Part of a deep crop of cornerbacks, White is considered to be a Day 3 (Rounds 4-7) pick.
NFL.com grade: 5.3 (backup or eventual starter)
What they're saying: “He's super-aggressive and is the definition of ‘chip on his shoulder.' It can get him in trouble but as Mike Tomlin will say, better to say ‘whoa' than sic ‘em.'”
Freddie Stevenson, FB
Projections: Fullbacks are becoming harder and harder to come by in today's NFL, but Stevenson could stand out thanks to his abilities as a receiver. He's projected as a late-round pick or priority free agent.
NFL.com grade: 5.05 (back end of the roster)
What they're saying: “There will be a very limited amount of teams interested in a fullback this season, but Stevenson has enough ability to make a roster if he gets a shot.” – Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
Other Draft-eligible Noles
Kermit Whitfield, WR
Bobo Wilson, WR
Kareem Are, OL
Sean Maguire, QB