The question came almost as soon as Florida State had walked off the confetti-strewn field into their locker room. Initially, they were asked “What does this mean?” and “How does it feel?” questions that never really went anywhere because most of them were either celebrating or shocked the Seminoles were BCS National Champions.
Then, the inevitable came for prized underclassmen like Devonta Freeman, Kelvin Benjamin and Cameron Erving: “Have you thought about your professional career? Will you enter the draft?”
And almost all of them had a variation of: “I need to talk to coach Fisher first. Then I’ll decide.”
Those talks are over now and who’s staying and who’s going has been decided (at least through various media reports). Here’s what the FSU underclassmen chose and some analysis whether they made the right decision or not.
Benjamin has been a prized, athletic specimen since his Glades Central High days in “The Muck,” which is known for producing top-quality football players. In 2012, whispers had circled around Benjamin breaking out but it never happened. Too many dropped passes. Lazy work ethic. Sloppy route-running. He never entered the national conversation.
That’s changed now. He’s a freak on the football field with deceptive speed because of his massive frame. He’s almost a power forward playing wide receiver with his ability to post up and jump over almost any defender. While his catching consistency needs improving, Benjamin deciding to turn pro was smart. His stock will only increase incrementally at this point and he turns 23 years old in less than a month.
A huge reason for FSU’s ability to scheme and mix packages defensively this season. Jernigan eats blocks like a grown-ass man, consistently forcing double teams and attention of offensive lines. He will be the most difficult position to replace for Florida State next season, but he needed to leave. Jernigan is easily a first-round draft pick this year, likely a top half depending on an NFL team’s needs.
Devonta Freeman & James Wilder, Jr.
Running backs’ careers are short, go get paid when you can.
Freeman improved in all the areas he needed this past season, demonstrating his ability to pass-block and better reading holes and blocking of the offensive line. He’s the safer pick of the two RBs and will only rise in value with his work ethic under an NFL coaching staff.
Wilder, Jr. is probably the more interesting prospect, should he commit to changing his running style. He still runs too upright and like a linebacker (which is probably his more natural position). He could’ve stayed, but FSU’s back field is loaded next year. Karlos Williams (see below), Ryan Green, Mario Pender (pending academic eligibility) and Dalvin Cook (top recruit in state of Florida) will all fight for touches next year.
Staying at FSU:
2014 is a loaded tight end class and O’Leary doesn’t jump out as a premiere weapon yet. If he wanted to, O’Leary would be drafted this year. But he’s a Day 3 selection at this point because of his position, but can distance himself as a top TE next season.
I always felt Greene was coming back for one more year. Him and Winston are close (Greene had Winston, some other skill position players and Bobby Hart over for dinner every Sunday night during the season), which I think played into his decision. However, I don’t know if he was right in returning. If he’s going for another championship, I get it. But unless he explodes in 2014, which is hard for an FSU offense that spreads it around so much, his stock won’t budge as much as he might hope.
Some thought he’d leave and get drafted high, but he’s not a premiere tackle after his second year at the position. While he kept Jameis Winston’s jersey clean for the most part, Erving is still susceptible to top-tier defensive ends beating him. He’s still adapting his muscle to that of an OT (meaning more upper-body strength) and needs to learn better instincts. Overall, smart for him to return.
Josue Matias and Tre Jackson
This guard tandem could be top in the nation. Either of them could have left, got paid and earn good money. Nobody would judge. Most guards don’t impress enough to warrant high-draft selections but both could jump up the boards with impressive play in 2014. Either decision would have been smart, to be honest.
Karlos Williams, Sr.
I believe Williams will transform into an elite-tier running back next year. Why? The insistence by Jimbo Fisher and coaching staff for Williams to convert from safety to running back and his incredible natural talent he displayed within weeks of playing RB. Some people are just born to run. That’s Williams. Although I think he would’ve impressed scouts with drills and at the NFL Combine, his decision to return is smart because of his potential. Should he realize it, Williams will be late first-round/early second-round selection next year. Now, he’d likely be scooped up in rounds 5-7. Out of anyone, Williams, and the ’Noles, have the most to gain by his return.
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