Florida State Seminoles: xavier rhodes
Next up: No. 10 Ronald Darby
Where he's at: When Xavier Rhodes chose to leave a year early for the NFL draft, the immediate assumption was that Darby would step seamlessly into the vacated starting corner spot and FSU's secondary would once again endure the loss of a star player without a hiccup. As it turns out, the plan may still work nicely, but it got a bit more complex when Lamarcus Joyner switched from safety to corner before spring practice. That left three potential starters for two jobs, and a spring injury meant Darby wouldn't get a chance to test his mettle until the fall. Still, even if Darby doesn't land an official starting job, he's likely to see an even bigger share of reps this year than he did a year ago as Joyner moves back and forth from corner to safety and nickel on passing downs.
What's to come: From Jameis Winston to Karlos Williams to Mario Edwards Jr., there are numerous Seminoles stepping into bigger roles in 2013 that are widely expected to blossom into stars, but perhaps none seems as sure a bet for longterm success as Darby. His ability to pick up FSU's defensive scheme so quickly last fall was surprising, but he continued to grow as the year went along, and now he'll get a taste of new DC Jeremy Pruitt's scheme which should free Darby to be even more of a playmaker. How the snaps are shared between a crowded defensive backfield remains to be seen, but if Darby's not at the top of the depth chart now, there's a strong belief he will be by year's end -- and he's got the potential to be an All-American before his time is up at Florida State.
Next up: No. 11 Terrence Brooks
Where he's at: The biggest change from a year ago for Brooks is his stature on the D. Last season, he was just one year into his new role at safety after switching from corner, and while he'd logged some experience in dime sets, the starting role was a massive expansion of responsibility. This season, those jobs are all old hat, and Florida State is counting on Brooks to be able to be a rock at safety following Lamarcus Joyner's move back to corner. With Karlos Williams stepping in to replace Joyner, Brooks figures to be freed up to work more in coverage in 2013, but his biggest job is simply to ensure FSU's secondary, which ranked as the top unit in the nation a year ago, doesn't miss a beat in spite of the shake-up in personnel.
What's to come: Because FSU's secondary is littered with big names, from veterans like Joyner and the departed Xavier Rhodes to highly touted younger players like Williams and Ronald Darby, Brooks often gets overlooked, but 2013 sets up nicely for him to blossom into one of the top safeties in the conference. He's a hard hitter, a hard worker and a versatile athlete -- and now he'll have a bigger share of the spotlight. While the experience of 2012 should be something he builds on, his success this season will be as much about the confidence he built as it is an understanding of his role. Add in the more aggressive scheme implemented by new DC Jeremy Pruitt -- a scheme Brooks has raved about all offseason -- and there's a strong possibility Brooks posts career highs across the board and finishes the year as an All-ACC defender.
Florida State has had its fair share of those. Amid all the top draft picks and five-star talents, there have been the run-of-the-mill three-star prospects that have exceeded all expectations.
Oh, and there was this one walk-on player, too.
Here's a look at three notable players that went on to college and pro greatness from humble beginnings in Tallahassee.
Hailing from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, few expected Wadsworth to go on to be one of the names mentioned in Florida State lore.
In high school, Wadsworth made second-team all-state as a defensive lineman, but also played some tight end. His athleticism was apparent then because he even returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown.
When it came to recruiting, just Liberty and Bethune-Cookman College wanted to offer Wadsworth a scholarship. He turned down both and walked on to the Florida State football team.
He went on to be named a consensus All-American and the ACC Player of the Year, ACC Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-ACC in 1997, and Second-Team All-ACC in 1994, 95 and 96. Not bad.
He could have left for the NFL after his junior year, but decided to stay for another season. And in the 1998 NFL Draft, Wadsworth became the highest drafted Seminole in school history going No. 3 overall to Arizona.
QB Christian Ponder
The expectations for Ponder upon his arrival at FSU were that he would be a career backup. He was a three-star prospect with offers from Baylor, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, North Carolina and TCU. And he came in with a highly regarded dual-threat colleague D'Vontrey Richardson.
Prior to the 2008 season, Ponder was named the starting quarterback over Drew Weatherford and went on to throw for just over 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. Interceptions were a problem (13 in total), but he showed flashes.
The 2009 campaign was cut short after Ponder was hurt trying to make a tackle on DeAndre McDaniel in the Clemson game, but it did cement his plans to come back for his senior year.
Ponder became the first quarterback since Chris Weinke in 1999 to defeat both in-state rivals Florida and Miami in the same season. He would finish his career with over 6,800 yards passing and 49 touchdowns.
During the 2011 NFL Draft, Ponder was selected No. 12 overall by the Minnesota Vikings.
OL Rodney Hudson
Hudson's career is closely intertwined with offensive line coach Rick Trickett. A one-time West Virginia commitment, Trickett's former employer, both ended up in Tallahassee in 2007.
Florida State was able to trump the Mountaineers and Southern Miss to get the three-star recruit to campus. He would go on to become exactly what Trickett had hoped.
Hudson started 10 games as a true freshman in 2007, even playing some tackle. As a sophomore, Hudson would be named First-Team All-ACC.
He'd go on to earn First-Team All-ACC two more times in 2009 and 2010 and would also become a First-Team All-American in 2009 and 2010. Hudson also captured the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as a junior.
By the time he was done, Hudson became the most-decorated offensive lineman in Florida State history.
Hudson was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round with the No. 55 overall pick.
CB Xavier Rhodes: He arrived at FSU as a three-star wide receiver, but left as a first-round pick as a cornerback.
Warrick Dunn: Dunn was highly sought after by many, but as a defensive back. He played running back from Day 1 in Tallahassee and is the Seminoles’ all-time leading rusher.
Derrick Alexander: The legend goes that he was cut by his junior varsity team. He would come to Florida State and anchor the defensive line during the 1993 national championship season and be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
Next up: The secondary
Fact or Fiction: Lamarcus Joyner's decision to move from safety to cornerback was the right choice for Florida State's secondary.
The case for: From a personal standpoint, there's virtually no argument against this move for Joyner. For the past two years, he's been among the most productive and feared safeties in the ACC, but even after consecutive all-conference nods, the NFL viewed him as little more than a mid-round draft pick due to his size. The move to corner opens up options, giving Joyner a chance to showcase his skills -- and impressive speed -- in a position where his stature won't be viewed as nearly such a liability at the next level.
Those discussions can largely begin and end with a simple premise: If the move hadn't been made, there was a reasonable chance Joyner would've jumped at the NFL after the 2012 season, and regardless of where he lines up on the field, having him beats not having him in 2013 for FSU.
But while Joyner's presence on the field is clearly a boon for FSU, some fans have expressed concerns that the move creates a logjam at corner that will keep talented players like Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome or P.J. Williams off it.
That's likely less of an issue than most think. For one, Joyner hasn't forgotten how to play safety, and he'll likely get a handful of reps there each week, while also serving as a cover man in the slot and playing some nickel. Given the high percentage of reps FSU spends with extra DBs on the field, there's every reason to believe Darby and Williams will see even more snaps than they got a year ago.
Moreover, while Joyner's move may muddy the waters a bit at corner, it opens up a spot for Karlos Williams at safety, allowing perhaps FSU's most talented overall athlete a chance to test his mettle in a full-time job. Williams' role grew as 2012 progressed, culminating with a spectacular ACC title game at linebacker, but safety is his home and he was blocked by veterans Joyner and Terrence Brooks. With Joyner moving to corner, Williams will be given free reign to grow as a defender -- and perhaps develop into an even better safety than Joyner was.
The case against: In a spring filled with chaos on defense, there would've been something to be said for consistency, and FSU's secondary was the one place the Seminoles may have found some of it.
On the D line, four new starters will be stepping in this season. At linebacker, only Telvin Smith and Christian Jones have any significant experience. Even the coaching staff underwent a dramatic makeover, with three new assistants on the job, including Pruitt as the new coordinator.
But in the secondary, things might've been stable. Sure, Xavier Rhodes departed, but Darby proved last season he was ready to step in and take over the job. It appeared a smooth transition for a unit that finished as the best pass defense in the country last year. But Joyner's move shakes things up dramatically.
What if Williams doesn't live up to the hype? What if Joyner's presence really does keep talented players like Darby, Williams or nickel Tyler Hunter off the field? What if Joyner isn't nearly as effective at corner as he was at safety? Certainly his performance in the spring game didn't engender a ton of enthusiasm.
FSU has a luxury of a wealth of talent in the secondary, so mixing and matching shouldn't be that difficult, but Darby is too talented to watch from the sideline, and Hunter -- perhaps the player with the most to lose in this scenario -- tied for the team lead in INTs last year. Moreover, while Hunter and Williams certainly could work in at safety, that's not where their experience lies, and FSU has virtually no established depth behind Williams and Brooks this year.
It's entirely possible Joyner doesn't up his draft stock all that much this season, and it's perhaps likely that he'll surrender a few big plays here and there, but the net benefit of the move should still be a positive one for FSU.
Williams has waited in the wings for two years as fans drooled at his potential. Florida State needed to find a job for him, and this move accomplished that. Darby, Waisome, Williams and Hunter are all good enough to see regular reps, but odds are Pruitt can find a way to work them all in, and at the very least, the added competition can only help the overall product. And then there's Joyner, who might've been fighting for a job in an NFL camp this summer if not for this change. He was a five-star recruit as a corner coming out of high school, and there's no reason to assume he can't still get the job done now. More importantly, he's as much a leader on the defense as anyone, and his voice is crucial during this season of transition.
There are questions, of course, but that's on Pruitt and his defensive coaching staff to work out. For Joyner and for the rest of the talent on FSU's D, the move makes a ton of sense.
No. 4: CB Lamarcus Joyner
2012 performance: For the second straight season, Joyner was an All-ACC selection at safety, and few defensive backs in the conference commanded more attention from opposing coaches and quarterbacks. Joyner finished with 51 tackles and five pass breakups, while anchoring a secondary that ended the season ranked tops in the nation. Add in key contributions on special teams, where he averaged nearly 24 yards per kick return, and Joyner's impact was felt often. If there's a knock on his 2012 season, however, it's that while he did all the little things well, there weren't a ton of big plays. Joyner had just one INT on the year.
Pressure point: There was cause for celebration when Joyner decided to return to Florida State for his senior season, but testing the NFL waters did have some consequences. At 5-foot-8, Joyner was undersized for a safety, according to NFL scouts, so when he returned to FSU, he asked if he could try his hand at corner. It wasn't an unreasonable request, considering that's where Joyner began his career, but it does shake up what figured to be a stable secondary. Now, Joyner finds himself as a key cog on a defense that's undergone a massive overhaul, and if he struggles in his new role, more than a few fans will wonder if he put his personal future above the team's current needs.
If he fails: Plenty of criticism will fall on Joyner and Jimbo Fisher for the decision to swap positions, and those NFL concerns about his ability to physically match up as a safety will only be exacerbated if he struggles at corner. It didn't exactly help that Joyner struggled a bit in FSU's spring game, being burned on both of QB Jameis Winston's touchdown passes, leaving a bit of concern lingering through the offseason. Moreover, Joyner's move to corner could signal less playing time for Ronald Darby, Nick Waisome or Tyler Hunter -- all talented players who produced when called upon last year.
Projection: Sure, Joyner's Garnet and Gold game performance wasn't an ideal coda to the spring, but it also wasn't particularly representative of his overall body of work. Throughout the spring, Fisher praised Joyner as one of FSU's top performers, and everyone from top receiver Rashad Greene to last year's starting corner Xavier Rhodes has endorsed the move as a natural fit. In fact, the real questions shouldn't be so much about whether Joyner can play corner. He's bound to lose a battle here and there, but he seems more than prepared for the job. The bigger issue is how much FSU will miss his presence at safety, where he was among the most feared, physical players in the league. Williams can be the same, of course, but if he's not, a big chunk of the blame may fall to Joyner for making the move. But really, from Joyner to Williams, Darby to Waisome, and on down the depth chart, there's simply too much talent in FSU's secondary for this experiment not to work.
2012 record: 12-2
2012 conference record: 7-1
Returning starters: Offense 6, Defense 5, Kicker/Punter 1
WR Rashad Greene, LT Cameron Erving, C Bryan Stork, LB Christian Jones, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner, DT Timmy Jernigan
QB EJ Manuel, RT Menelik Watson, RB Chris Thompson, DE Bjoern Werner, DE Cornellius Carradine, CB Xavier Rhodes, K Dustin Hopkins
2012 statistical leaders (*returning)
Rushing: Chris Thompson (687 yards)
Passing: EJ Manuel (3,392 yards)
Receiving: Rashad Greene* (741 yards)
Tackles: Christian Jones* (95)
Sacks: Bjoern Werner (13)
Interceptions: Xavier Rhodes, Tyler Hunter* (3)
1. Changes on D: New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought a slew of new schemes with him from Alabama, meaning the FSU defense won't look all that much like the one that finished second in the nation in 2012. With the loss of five former starters from the defensive line, that's probably a good thing. Pruitt's scheme will be more aggressive and bring a lot more blitzes, allowing FSU to get pressure from other areas.
2. Beating Hart: When right tackle Menelik Watson made the somewhat surprising decision to leave FSU after just a year to enter the NFL draft, all eyes turned to junior Bobby Hart, whose turbulent career with the Seminoles was already well documented. Hart started as a 17-year-old freshman in 2011, but problems with his work ethic derailed his sophomore season and he found himself on the bench. He appeared to work his way back into line coach Rick Trickett's good graces by the end of the spring, however, and he'll be crucial to maintaining the continuity of the line without Watson.
3. Famous Jameis: Jimbo Fisher still isn't calling the contest over, but it certainly looks like redshirt freshman Jameis Winston is in the driver's seat to take over for Manuel as FSU's new starting quarterback. Winston shined throughout the spring and delivered a monster performance in the Seminoles' Garnet and Gold game, completing 13 of 15 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns. A week later, junior QB Clint Trickett announced he was transferring.
1. Winston, Part II: Yes, the spring was impressive for Winston, but as Fisher was quick to point out, he'll need to pick up right where he left off in the fall if FSU is going to make a smooth transition at a position that's been remarkably stable for the past five years. Jacob Coker remains in competition -- and he should be fully healed after breaking a bone in his foot that limited this spring -- but the loss of Trickett puts a lot of pressure on Winston to step up, particularly with a daunting road contest at new ACC member Pittsburgh looming in the season opener.
2. New-look secondary: Lamarcus Joyner appeared to make a relatively smooth transition from safety to corner, but FSU didn't get much of a look at what will constitute the secondary in 2013. Key players such as Tyler Hunter, Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby were all hurt, while promising freshman Jalen Ramsey had yet to arrive. The group will finally all work together during fall camp.
3. Just for kicks: Redshirt freshman Roberto Aguayo showed off his powerful leg during FSU's spring game, connecting on three long field goals, including a 58-yarder to close out the game. Still, replacing the NCAA's all-time leading scorer among kickers won't be an easy task. Dustin Hopkins was as reliable as it gets for FSU, and Aguayo still needs to show he can handle the pressure of making a big kick with the game on the line.
Manuel's athleticism made him a popular prospect for teams looking to exploit the option offense, and his strong arm and experience in Fisher's pro-style scheme made him a viable option in more traditional sets. In the end, that was enough to convince the Buffalo Bills to take Manuel with the 16th overall selection in Thursday's NFL draft -- the first quarterback taken.
"You think about the journey, when I was a little kid, the ups and down," Manuel said after the selection. "I'm just so happy."
"I knew she was doing what she had to do to get better," Manuel said before the draft. "Football is a special part of my life, but having my mom for a lot longer, that's what's really important to me. I'm just happy she'll be there."
Manuel's surprising early selection is another boon for Fisher, too, who has become a guru for creating NFL quarterbacks. Manuel's predecessor, Christian Ponder, went 12th overall in the 2011 draft, and former protege at LSU, JaMarcus Russell, was a top overall selection in 2007.
"I'm extremely happy for EJ," Fisher said in a statement released by the school. “He’s a tremendous young man who has been a great representative of Florida State University. He’s worked extremely hard to get to this goal. He’s one of the main reasons that this program has been able to get back to national prominence because of the sacrifices he’s made through his career as well as his development as a player. I’m extremely happy for him and his family. This couldn’t have happen to a better group of people.”
Florida State's return to national prominence was on display throughout the first round of Thursday's draft, even after Manuel was selected.
Defensive tackle Bjoern Werner went 25th overall to the Indianapolis Colts, while the Minnesota Vikings took cornerback Xavier Rhodes with the 26th pick. Both players were juniors who departed FSU a year early.
Werner was pegged as a potential top-five selection late in the season after leading the ACC with 13 sacks, but his stock dipped slightly following an underwhelming performance at the combine.
Rhodes, who came to FSU as a wide receiver before Fisher convinced him to switch to cornerback, might have been a first-round pick a year ago had a bowl-game injury not derailed his plans. He returned for 2012 and helped Florida State's secondary to a No. 1 ranking in the nation in pass defense.
"We were laughing about the day when he didn't want to move over to corner," Fisher said. "He was mad at me for a couple of months. But it's funny how you go back and reminisce when things work out like that."
The three first-round selections were the most for Florida State since 2006, when four Seminoles were taken. They had just three first rounders in the six drafts since.
FSU figures to have at least two more players go in tonight's second round. Right tackle Menelik Watson and defensive end Cornelius Carradine are widely projected as early second-round talent.
As many as a half-dozen more Florida State players could fill out the later rounds of the draft, including fullback Lonnie Pryor, linebacker Vince Williams, kicker Dustin Hopkins and defensive end Brandon Jenkins.
That would mark a massive shift in Florida State's NFL prospects after a dry spell in recent years. FSU has had just 11 players selected in all in the last four drafts prior to this year.
"Hopefully we can do that every year as we establish ourselves as a program," Fisher 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."
"I just had to knock this out, and now I can go celebrate," he said.
After solid showings at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine, Manuel already believed he had plenty to celebrate before throwing for scouts today. He has worked his way into the mix of top quarterbacks available, met with more than two dozen teams, and earned an invite to the NFL draft in New York.
"When I got the invite, I was about to cry, really," Manuel said. "That was probably my biggest goal. I know there was a lot being said about me going into it, but I never listened to it. I continue to work hard, did well at the Senior Bowl and the combine, and the naysayers have pushed me to have a bigger chip on my shoulder."
Manuel insists he's not bitter about any criticism along the way, but he said it has pushed him to work harder.
He certainly appeared to help his cause today. Jimbo Fisher watched carefully and said Manuel was accurate on all of his throws and looked sharp in the process.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- During an offseason marked by news of players and coaches leaving Florida State, the biggest story might have been about one who stayed.
By December, Lamarcus Joyner seemed to have one foot out the door. He'd earned All-ACC honors for a second straight year, and while NFL scouts weren't pegging him as a first-round pick, his pro stock had likely reached its apex, given his physical limitations. Add the fact that his defensive coordinator and a slew of other coaches were leaving and there seemed to be little incentive for Joyner to return for his senior season.
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Vitals: Dual-threat quarterback John Franklin (Plantation, Fla./South Plantation), 6-foot-1, 170 pounds.
Committed: Nov. 1, 2012.
ESPN.com grade: 75, three-star prospect.
ESPN.com rankings: No. 27 quarterback prospect, No. 425 player in the Southeast region and the No. 156 prospect in the state of Florida.
Chose Florida State over: Tennessee.
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Up next, one of the most promising positions on the FSU roster: Cornerback.
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Vitals: Defensive back Nate Andrews (Fairhope, Ala./Fairhope), 5-foot-11, 195 pounds
Committed: Jan. 25, 2013
ESPN.com grade: 78, three-star prospect
ESPN.com rankings: No. 74 wide receiver prospect in the country, No. 253 player in the Southeast region and No. 23 in Alabama
Picked Florida State over: Alabama, Minnesota, Mississippi
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Vitals: Cornerback Marquez White (Dothan, Ala./Northview), 6-foot-1, 170 pounds.
Committed: May 25, 2012.
ESPN.com grade: 83, four-star prospect.
ESPN.com rankings: No. 17 cornerback in the country, No. 74 player in the Southeast region, No. 7 prospect in the state of Alabama and the No. 158 player in the ESPN 300.
Picked Florida State over: Alabama, Auburn and Kentucky.
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