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Monday, April 29, 2013
Projecting FSU's future first-rounders

By David M. Hale

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The NFL draft hadn't been particularly kind to Florida State in recent years, but the 2013 iteration was far different.

The Seminoles had 11 players selected between Thursday's first round, when EJ Manuel was the first quarterback drafted, to Saturday's final installment, in which six former FSU stars found new homes in the pros. FSU had as many players drafted this year than in the past four seasons combined, and its three first-rounders were the most to come from Tallahassee since 2006.

While that's a major step for coach Jimbo Fisher's program, he insists it's just the start.

"Hopefully we can do that every year as we establish ourselves as a program," he said. "We've revamped the type of recruiting we're doing and identified certain types of athletes we thought were difference makers and great kids. We've come a long way, but we want to build a great program, not just a great team."

With that in mind, we're looking ahead to the next three NFL drafts to consider which Florida State players have the best shot at first-round status, and whether the Seminoles can turn a one-year windfall into a trend.

2014 draft class

Christian Jones, LB
Jones nearly departed for the NFL following the 2012 season, but after mid-round grades came back from evaluators he decided to stay for his senior year. That could prove an exceptionally wise choice. With new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's scheme, Jones will have a chance to work as a pass-rusher and be put in position to make a lot more plays at linebacker. He has first-round physical ability, and a breakthrough 2013 could convince NFL scouts that Jones is one of the top linebacker prospects in the nation.

Timmy Jernigan, DT
Jernigan will be a starter for the first time in 2013, but he already has made a significant impact. Despite his role as a backup, he racked up 76 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and four sacks in his first two seasons at FSU. The Seminoles' defense finished among the best in the nation against the run both times. He's already considered among the top underclassmen in the country on the defensive side of the ball.

Cameron Erving, LT
Erving is the wild card of the group, and after just one season playing offense he might be best served by finishing his eligibility at FSU before heading for the NFL. Still, he improved by leaps and bounds throughout 2012, and he has the size and strength to be a dominant force on the line. If his growth continues in 2013, he could leave early and find himself highly coveted at the next level.

2015 draft class

Karlos Williams, S
Williams still hasn't officially secured the starting job at safety for 2013, but there's no question about his talent. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he is big for a safety but has blazing speed and loves to hit. He could easily project as a safety-linebacker hybrid, similar to Georgia's Alec Ogletree, who was a first-round selection this year, only without any character questions.

Mario Edwards Jr., DE
Edwards was the top recruit in the nation two years ago, which automatically makes him a candidate for future stardom. He has seen limited playing time thus far, and his weight has been a constant concern, but he has huge upside and projects well at the next level, where he could fit well in either the 4-3 scheme he'll run at FSU or a 3-4 base where his size might be an even bigger advantage.

Ronald Darby, CB
No freshman on Florida State's roster turned more heads in 2012 than Darby, and although he's not guaranteed a starting job in 2013, his potential is unquestioned. At 5-11, 189 pounds, he has good size for a corner, and he doesn't mind playing physical at the line of scrimmage, but Darby also has world-class speed that made him a track star in high school. He has some developing to do, but it's not hard to envision a scenario in which he's considered one of the top corner prospects in the country by the end of his junior season.

2016 draft class

Jameis Winston, QB
Chalk it up to just a tinge of pessimism that we're projecting Winston to head to the NFL after his junior season rather than in 2015, when he'd be a third-year sophomore. No, he hasn't been tabbed the starter yet by Fisher, but the hype machine is already spinning out of control -- and probably for good reason. Winston compares favorably with Manuel in terms of physical skills, but Fisher suggested the freshman might already be a better passer. ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer projected Winston as a future first-overall pick, and even before he has thrown a pass that doesn't seem unrealistic.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR
Perhaps Benjamin never puts it all together, never blossoms into a star. He has been hyped for two straight years without accomplishing much, after all. But his combination of size and speed is a rarity at receiver, which means someone at the next level is going to assume he's worth the risk. Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson -- smaller and a tick faster -- was a first-round selection this year despite an extremely limited on-field resume, and Benjamin still has plenty of time to prove his worth.

P.J. Williams, S
It's all speculation at this point, because Williams has rarely seen the field beyond special teams work as a freshman in 2012, but the upside is obvious. At 6-2, 192, he has worked primarily at corner, but he likely projects better as a safety. He's a big hitter with good speed, which should make him a weapon in space. Whether he develops to the point of being a future first-rounder remains to be seen.