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April 27, 2013

Draft shows FSU has drastically improved its talent base

NFL draft, Day 3: FSU sets new school record

The Florida State football program couldn't have paid for the kind of publicity it received over the three days of the 2013 NFL Draft.

With five Seminoles selected in the first two rounds and 11 overall, a strong case can be made that this year's draft was the most successful in school history. No other school, not even Alabama, had more total players drafted. FSU was also the only school to have five total players drafted in the first two rounds, which set a school record as well.

"It's a great indication of how the program is truly developing," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I think it shows we're getting back to national prominence. Our players are doing a great job of representing themselves on and off the field leading to chances at the next level. I think we're going to have more guys sign free agent contracts and get a chance to play professionally. I'm proud of those guys as well. I'm happy for all of these guys and want to thank them for helping return this program back to the national spotlight."

The strong showing should provide lasting benefits to Seminoles' recruiting efforts for years to come.

High school and junior college football prospects cite factors like comfort level, early playing time, academics and coaching when deciding on where they want play college football. But at the end of the day the overriding factor in this decision process is which school can best help that player get to the next level and earn a healthy paycheck in the NFL.

Bottom line, you won't find a single player who isn't interested in improving his pro prospects.

"It's vitally important for schools to have a reputation as a pipeline to the NFL," Rivals.com national recruiting director Mike Farrell. "Every top level kid in high school thinks he's a future NFLer and is looking for a program to take him there. Kids pay attention to draft day and especially which schools are sending top kids from their position."

This year's draft will give the Seminole coaches the best ammunition possible when making a sales pitch to recruits.

"This big for FSU, How could recruits see this and not want to be a part of this!!!," FSU running back James Wilder Jr. tweeted on Saturday night. "11 young men dreams came true this week and still counting."

Based on the 21 FSU players that graduated or left early following the 2012-13 season, as of Sunday morning, 61.9 percent of that group is headed to the NFL and with Rodney Smith (Minnesota) and Lonnie Pryor (Jacksonville) signing rookie free agent contracts following the draft. Considering that only two to three percent of college players make it to the NFL it's apparent that the talent base at Florida State has reached an elite level.

The gaudy draft numbers this year are a far cry from recent seasons. In fact, over the previous five NFL drafts FSU had only two first round picks (Patrick Robinson in 2010 and Christian Ponder in 2011), only two second rounders (Everett Brown in 2009 and Rodney Hudson in 2011) and only 14 drafted total during this five-year span.

A combination of better recruiting and player development explains why Florida State had such a strong showing in this draft after several down years. The last six FSU recruiting classes have all ranked in the top 10 of the Rivals.com rankings. However, it's not just about recruiting rankings as three of the five FSU players drafted in the first two rounds were only ranked by Rivals as three-star prospects. And EJ Manuel is the only member of the quintet that was a Rivals100 member.

Unlike the last few FSU draft classes, all five of players taken in the early rounds this year were either directly recruited by Jimbo Fisher or signed while he was the head coach.

"I think FSU has improved athletically under Jimbo Fisher," said Farrell. "Over the last few years of the Bowden era I think FSU struggled a bit getting high level athletic kids at many positions. I think there has been a nice upgrade under Fisher."

Schools with most players drafted
Florida State 11
Alabama 9
LSU 9
Florida 8
Georgia 8
South Carolina 7
Fisher's biggest impact has been at quarterback. With EJ Manuel going No. 16 in the first round, the last three starting quarterbacks handled by Fisher have been selected in the first half of the first round (LSU's Jamarcus Russell No. 1 in 2007, Christian Ponder No. 12 in 2011 and Manuel).

Manuel going in Round 1 surprised many draft experts, but Manuel played it cool for reporters acting like he knew all along he was destined for an early pick. He was also quick to credit Fisher and playing in FSU's system as a major factors in Bills' decision to take him with their first pick.

"Learning the situations, understanding down and distances and the small things that people don't really talk about very much, that's what I learned a lot at Florida State," Manuel told BuffaloBills.com's Chris Brown. "The X's and O's is where I really think I wowed a lot of the GMs and that's where I think I helped raise my draft stock."

Fisher also had a major hand in the recruitment and development of the other two first rounders. After former assistant coach James Coley spotted Bjoern Werner while checking out a school in Connecticut, Fisher quickly approved the offer despite his three-star status and lack of experience. He also insisted that the native of Germany play defensive end even though other schools and Rivals.com projected him as a college defensive tackle.

Xavier Rhodes, who was drafted No. 25 overall by the Minnesota Vikings, was a high school wide receiver who wanted to stay at that position in college. Despite his wish to remain on offense, Fisher convinced the Miami native to move to defense since he had the potential to become an elite cornerback both in college and the NFL. Rhodes admits that he was initially upset about the position switch but has been singing a different tune since his potential was realized at cornerback.

"He was mad at me for about a year," Fisher said when asked back in October about moving Rhodes to cornerback. "Now he hugs me, we laugh about that now. I say 'See I told you. I wasn't doing that to be detrimental.' I thought he had a great future there."

There's every reason to expect that FSU's success in the draft will continue, at least in the near future. Based on the recent highly rated recruiting classes and a good number of talented upperclassmen, FSU should have plenty of elite draftable players in 2014. In a way too early mock draft, draftsite.com has four Seminole players - Timmy Jernigan, Christian Jones, Lamarcus Joyner and Bryan Stork - going in the first two rounds of next year's draft.

It's those kind of numbers, Fisher's work on the recruiting trail - and perhaps a boost from three days of priceless advertising - that has Florida State going in the right direction.

Round Name Pos Pick Team
1 EJ Manuel QB 16 Buffalo Bills
1 Bjoern Werner DE 24 Indianapolis Colts
1 Xavier Rhodes CB 25 Minnesota Vikings
2 Cornellius "Tank" Carradine DE 40 San Francisco 49ers
2 Menelik Watson OT 42 Oakland Raiders
5 Chris Thompson RB 154 Washington Redskins
5 Brandon Jenkins DE 162 Washington Redskins
6 Dustin Hopkins K 177 Buffalo Bills
6 Nick Moody LB 180 San Francisco 49ers
6 Vince Williams LB 206 Pittsburgh Steelers
7 Everett Dawkins DT 229 Minnesota Vikings



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