Feb. 20, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.. -- A school-record 11 Florida State players were selected in the 2013 NFL Draft last spring and this year the national champions have a chance to potentially match (and maybe even exceed) that total.
The actual draft won't take place until May 8-10, but the process officially gets started today as nine `Noles in this year's class get the unique opportunity to prove their worth to league personnel at the annual NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Actual combine drills do not begin until Saturday but players have already started arriving for weigh-ins and interviews with NFL teams.
Timmy Jernigan, Kelvin Benjamin, Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, Christian Jones, Devonta Freeman, James Wilder, Jr., Terrence Brooks and Bryan Stork were invited to the event, which will last until defensive-back drills are completed Tuesday.
Depending on which projections you read and which draft "insiders" you follow, the `Noles have three legitimate candidates to be first-round selections in 2014 in Jernigan, Benjamin and Joyner.
Many mock drafts have Jernigan being the first FSU player off the board at pick No. 14 to the noseguard-needy Chicago Bears. An early entrant into the draft after electing to forgo his senior year, Jernigan is coming off a dominant junior season in which he became a bonafide star in the heart of the Seminoles' defensive line. His quick-punch ability, quickness and strength, coupled with his low center of gravity and power make him an intriguing prospect and could lead to him being one of the first defensive tackles selected.
"I think Jernigan can step in and be special early," said NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock, who spent nearly four hours this week on a conference call with reporters discussing prospects and team needs. "I think Jernigan is a guy that if he's sitting there when the [Chicago] Bears are on the board at No. 14, I think you'd sprint to the podium."
Benjamin, whom Mayock referred to as "today's flavor in the NFL" because of his 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame, could go anywhere in the first round after a breakout redshirt sophomore campaign. In 2013, Benjamin became a dominant force, proving to be a matchup nightmare for defensive backs all year long and he capped the season with the game-winning touchdown in the BCS National Championship Game.
A strong showing at the combine that features a good 40-yard dash time and consistent catching in drills could vault Benjamin into top-15-picks consideration.
While Benjamin's size is his calling card, Joyner could slip into the first round because of his relentless playing style, explosiveness and experience at multiple positions.
The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. native excelled at safety before making the switch to nickel back as a senior and he went on to have a career year as FSU's do-it-all player on defense. He made plays in the backfield sacking the quarterback, he forced fumbles and he intercepted passes. He even has extensive experience as a kick returner.
"I think [Joyner is] a little bit like [former LSU star] Tryann Mathieu in that he was a corner in [his first year at] college, but I think he's going to have to kick inside and either be a safety or a nickel or both," Mayock said. "He's an explosive kid like Mathieu. He's an explosive, quick-twitch athlete. He can play safety or nickel.
"I like him a lot."
All eyes will be on Joyner when he runs the 40-yard dash between 11 a.m. and noon Tuesday. Deion Sanders' 4.27 40-yard dash is the fastest FSU player's time in NFL Combine history, and while Joyner likely won't match that, he could get close to other top `Noles times like Willie Reid's 4.34, Javon Walker's 4.38, Pat Watkins' 4.42 or Leon Washington's 4.42.
Brooks doesn't have a potential first-round projection like Joyner, but he could be a steal among FSU players in this draft. There hasn't been much buzz about the 5-foot-11, 197-pound safety, but after a stellar senior season in which he displayed steady play in the back end while showcasing a strong ability to step into the box and help in the run game, it's widely believed that Brooks has a bright NFL future and could possibly be a second- or third-round selection.
Like Joyner, Brooks has experience playing both safety and cornerback.
Another player without much buzz but has a chance to introduce himself to NFL teams this weekend is Freeman, who is a bit of a wildcard in this year's draft.
Freeman was FSU's most consistent runner in each of his three seasons in Tallahassee and much to the delight of professional teams everywhere, he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his body after sharing carries with Jermaine Thomas, Chris Thompson, Wilder and Karlos Williams. Freeman became a much better blocker each year at FSU and has the ability to catch the football out of the backfield, too.
"I think Freeman is really interesting," said Mayock, who projects Freeman and Brooks as third-round selections. "Burst, acceleration, tough kid [that] can make you miss. But he still gets north and south."
North and south is Wilder's speciality and the former five-star prospect has a frame that scouts will be drooling over all weekend.
Like Freeman, he could be selected virtually anywhere in the middle to late rounds so a lot can be determined with a successful trip to Indianapolis.
"[Wilder is] a big, strong guy and has surprisingly nimble feet for his size," Mayock said. "Obliviously, [that's] a good pedigree. I think he'll go in the fourth or fifth round."
FSU's pair of linebackers also have a lot to showcase at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Smith will likely set the combine on fire with a blazing 40-yard dash time but NFL personnel will be most interested in his weight. After weighing in at 218 pounds at last month's senior bowl, Smith has been working out in South Florida with the intent to add bulk to his frame while maintaining his elite speed and sideline-to-sideline quickness.
Depending on his performance at the combine and which team drafts him, Smith could potentially wind up at safety at the next level but he has been steadfast in saying he wants to stay at linebacker.
With Jones, a senior season that saw him move into a defensive end role and flash an ability to rush the passer benefitted his draft stock. His size will wow scouts, too.
"I do believe it helped him," Mayock said about Jones' new role in 2013. "Today's NFL, any time you can show some edge rush ability it's going to push you up a little higher in the draft. And I think his versatility will be a plus."
A strong three-cone drill Monday will be critical for Smith and Jones as it is a good indicator of a defender's ability to plant their foot and change direction.
Stork is considered a late-round selection but Mayock pointed out this week that interior offensive linemen are becoming more and more critical in the NFL. Stork starred as FSU's center this past season and even captured the Rimington Trophy, which is given annually to the nation's top center. The Vero Beach, Fla. native also has experience playing guard and tackle.
Below are the official on-field testing days and times for FSU's nine players at the combine and all the action can be watched live on NFL Network.