Florida State: Stay-or-Go Advice for Draft-Eligible Underclassmen
Florida State has as much talent as any team in the country, evidenced by the fact that the Seminoles are 13-0 and set to play Jan. 6 in the BCS National Championship against 12-1 Auburn.
On the offensive side of the football, while Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston is only a redshirt freshman and guaranteed to return in 2014, there are potential early entries for the NFL draft along the line, in the backfield and in the receiving corps. Defensively, since most of the two-deep is either seniors that have run out of eligibility or underclassmen just getting started on their FSU careers, only one junior appears ready to make the jump to the pros.
While he has downplayed the rumors, telling reporters Wednesday he would only talk about his 'Noles and Gus Malzahn's Tigers in the upcoming title game, it's no secret that the married father of two could make a lot more money in Austin than he currently does in Tallahassee. As we've seen repeatedly on the coaching carousel in recent years, Fisher's recently-signed contract extension doesn't prohibit him from trading in his garnet and gold for burnt orange.
Fisher's future and whether or not Florida State captures the crystal trophy will clearly be factors in the decision, but here are six Seminoles with legitimate cases for chasing their Sunday dreams now, with a best guess—and a bit of unsolicited advice—for each.
WR Kelvin Benjamin
The skinny: A 6'5", 234-pound redshirt sophomore from Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Fla., Benjamin really came on strong down the stretch and appears to have finally grown into his massive frame.
The numbers: Benjamin has reeled in 50 balls for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013, with his average of 19.1 yards per catch leading the 'Noles and making him one of the true big-play artists in the nation.
The case to stay: Much of what he does is due to the obvious matchup problems he presents and his pure athleticism in the open field, so imagine how good he could be if he turns himself into a Kenny Shaw-like route-runner.
The case to go: He's older than your typical sophomore, turning 23 years old in February, plus he stands a reasonable shot of being selected in Round 1 since he's built like Calvin Johnson.
Best guess: There's a 70-percent chance he goes to the NFL. The draw of another season playing with Winston may not be enough to keep Benjamin in his No. 1 jersey. He's going to be a rich young man in the near future.
Should he go? No. He's still raw. There's work to do.
OT Cameron Erving
The skinny: A 6'6", 320-pound redshirt junior from Colquitt County High School in Moultrie, Ga., Erving is only in his second season at left tackle after making the transition from defense prior to the 2012 campaign.
The numbers: While statistics aren't easy to come by for an offensive lineman, Erving earned the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the ACC's premier blocker and a place as an Associated Press second-team All-American.
The case to stay: His name has been sliding down some mock draft boards of late, so he might no longer be a first-round choice. plus his relative youth at the position means he can improve with more experience.
The case to go: There seems to be a run on left-tackle prospects in the draft every spring because an elite one is worth his weight in gold, and there's every reason to think he'll test well at the Scouting Combine.
Best guess: There's a 60-percent chance he goes to the NFL. With most of the O-line returning, the Seminole offense could be unstoppable next year. However, Fisher has been recruiting JUCO linemen hard in case Erving departs.
Should he go? Yes. Fisher saw this coming. He knew what he had.
WR Rashad Greene
The skinny: A 6'0", 180-pound junior from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Greene is already one of the most decorated pass-catchers in 'Noles history and on the verge of a 1,000-yard season.
The numbers: Greene has caught 67 passes for 981 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013, leading the team in both receptions and yards receiving.
The case to stay: With 50 more catches, 1,281 more yards and 11 more TDs, he'll become FSU's career leader in all three receiving categories, and Winston's return makes that trifecta quite reasonable.
The case to go: The professional passing game is at its peak, with seemingly every franchise regularly featuring four- and five-wide formations, so his play-making ability will be coveted.
Best guess: There's a 10-percent chance he goes to the NFL. While he has good size and great speed, he doesn't possess the measurables that make for a first-round pick. Another year of similar production could do it, though.
Should he go? No. The kid is a worker. He's humble, too.
DT Timmy Jernigan
The skinny: A 6'2", 292-pound junior from Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., Jernigan is a one-man wrecking crew along the defensive line and capable of playing multiple positions in the pros.
The numbers: Jernigan has recorded 54 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one pass breakup and one pass defensed in 2013, with his tackles-for-loss total leading the Seminoles.
The case to stay: First-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has only scratched the surface of what he can do with his Nick Saban-like scheme, especially with so much talent at his disposal.
The case to go: Because Jernigan can be a one-gap penetrator in a 4-3 or a two-gap nuisance in a 3-4, he can't get much better in college and is a virtual lock to go in the first round of the draft.
Best guess: There's a 90-percent chance he goes to the NFL. And no intelligent FSU fan would begrudge him, either. He has provided three years of dominant play down in the trenches.
Should he go? Yes. What else can he do? He'll be a force.
TE Nick O'Leary
The skinny: A 6'3", 248-pound junior from Dwyer High School in Palm Beach, Fla., O'Leary now looks like the player that was unquestionably the top tight end recruit in the country for the class of 2011.
The numbers: O'Leary has registered 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, plus he showed how dangerous he is in the red zone by snaring three TDs in the season opener at Pittsburgh.
The case to stay: Fisher finally showed that he can indeed take advantage of a bona fide pass-catching weapon at the tight end position, so O'Leary should be the front-runner for the John Mackey Award in 2014.
The case to go: Not only does he have the flexibility to also line up out wide or in the backfield, but scouts, general managers and coaches alike will appreciate his much-improved blocking on tape.
Best guess: There's a 20-percent chance he goes to the NFL. The grandson of golf legend Jack Nicklaus doesn't need to provide for his family any time soon. Sunday football can wait. He's having too much fun right now.
Should he go? No. He's not a freak athlete. Those guys leave early.
TB James Wilder Jr.
The skinny: A 6'2", 229-pound junior from Plant High School in Tampa, Fla., Wilder is a second-option battering ram in the Florida State backfield who specializes in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
The numbers: Wilder has rushed 78 times for 542 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013, and his yards-per-carry average of 6.9 is awfully impressive for a guy who is handed the ball a lot on obvious running downs.
The case to stay: While he has the pedigree, as his dad was a pretty good tailback in his own right, he has yet to separate himself from Devonta Freeman as the primary ball-carrier for the 'Noles.
The case to go: Converted safety Karlos Williams appears to have jumped over him as the No. 2 runner behind Freeman, so there's little reason to think Wilder will get more touches next season.
Best guess: There's an 80-percent chance he goes to the NFL. There aren't a lot of three-down backs left in the pros. The position simply takes too much week-to-week punishment. Wilder can contribute as a reserve right away.
Should he go? Yes. More Williams means less Wilder. He's a legacy, too.