According to Rob Rang, the senior NFL draft analyst for CBSSports.com, Florida State junior defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is worthy of a first-round pick.
Like all programs that win the national championship, Florida State must deal with a handful of players who want to end their college football careers on a high note and make themselves available early for the NFL draft.
On the offensive side of the football, running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. are both headed to the pros, as is receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Because he originally redshirted upon arriving in Tallahassee, Benjamin can depart despite having just finished his sophomore campaign.
Defensively, while there is only one name leaving eligibility on the table, he was arguably the most dominating player on the field throughout the BCS title game against Auburn: defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.
No Freeman nor Wilder means many more carries for rising senior Karlos Williams in the Seminole backfield, plus rising sophomore Ryan Green had a cup of coffee as a rookie this past season and former 5-star signee Mario Pender, soon to be a redshirt sophomore, should finally be ready to contribute. FSU doesn't have another manchild pass-catcher on the roster to take over for Benjamin, although rising sophomore Isaiah Jones is 6'4" and 200 pounds and appears to have a very bright future if he can stay healthy.
Jernigan, naturally, is not so easy to replace, as he was capable of playing both the 0-technique and 1-technique tackle positions at an incredibly high level—the former in a three-man front, the latter in a four-man front. The depth chart suggests that rising junior Nile Lawrence-Stample will have a chance to fill Jernigan's ample shoes, and it may be now or never for rising sophomore Justin Shanks.
As for the Sunday prospects of Freeman, Wilder, Benjamin and Jernigan, I consulted with one of the best draftniks in the business, Rob Rang of CBSSports.com, for an exclusive scouting report.
A 5'9", 203-pounder from Miami, Freeman carried the ball 173 times for 1,016 yards (5.9-yard average) and 14 touchdowns while adding 22 receptions for 278 yards (12.6-yard average) and an additional score.
The least flashy of the Florida State tailbacks but the most reliable, he cracked the 100-yard mark three times in 2013 and found paydirt at least once in 12 of 14 games—including a trio of TDs Nov. 9 versus his hometown Hurricanes. Along the way, Freeman became the first Seminole to eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground since all-time great Warrick Dunn did it for the third and final time in 1996.
Rang Says: "A Ray Rice clone due to his naturally low center of gravity, shifty feet, surprising power and reliable hands out of the backfield, Freeman emerged as FSU's most dependable back and projects well at the next level. While his size could keep Freeman in more of a complementary role rather than as a lead back, his toughness and ability to help on all three downs could quickly make him an invaluable component."—Draft Projection: Second to Third Round
James Wilder Jr.
A 6'2", 229-pounder from Tampa, Wilder rushed 81 times for 563 yards (7.0-yard average) and eight touchdowns and tacked on another three catches for 27 yards (9.0-yard average) through the air.
Even if his tenure in garnet and gold turned out to be less than spectacular, he did play the part of a short-yardage and goal-line specialist reasonably well. The son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend James Wilder could really kill the clock in the second half of a blowout, too. Wilder had a nose for the end zone and ended up tallying 20 rushing TDs on only 226 career carries, which equals one score for every 11.3 times he was handed the rock.
Rang Says: "Possesses more exciting traits than Freeman and most of the other backs in the 2014 draft class, demonstrating surprising balance and burst for a back of his frame, as well as impressive power and determination to fight through would-be blockers. While boasting many exciting traits, Wilder is a bit of gamble. He can get impatient when the hole isn't obvious, doesn't protect the ball with both arms and is a long-limbed athlete whose frame and physicality could lead to durability problems."—Draft Projection: Third to Fourth Round
A 6'5", 243-pounder from Belle Glade, Benjamin reeled in 54 passes for 1,011 yards (18.7-yard average) and 15 touchdowns, including the title-clincher in the national championship game with only a few precious ticks left on the clock.
Impossible for corners and safeties to cover one on one because of his tight end-like build, he developed instant chemistry with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and enjoyed a three-game stretch—Nov. 23 vs. Idaho, Nov. 30 at Florida and Dec. 7 against Duke in the ACC title game—in which he recorded eight TDs. Near the end zone, be it a fade pattern to the corner or a dig route across the middle, Winston simply had to loft the ball up high and let Benjamin go up and snare it.
Rang Says: "Possessing a rare combination of height, broad shoulders, leaping ability and deceptive speed, Benjamin is a true mismatch on the perimeter. He possesses the body control and strong hands to snatch passes out of the air, but occasional lapses in concentration can also result in some ugly drops. Workouts could play a key role in Benjamin's final ranking in 2014's ultra-competitive receiver class, as he appears to have build-up rather than explosive speed."—Draft Projection: Second Round
A 6'2", 292-pounder from Lake City, Jernigan was credited with 63 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, with the tackles-for-loss total leading the team.
Not even a starter until 2013 due to all the depth in front of him as a freshman and sophomore, he made a season-high nine stops in the national title game and looked to be totally unblockable at times—only Auburn's lightning-quick pace could slow him down, as Jernigan was gassed on the sideline for a portion of the fourth quarter. He should be attractive to any NFL defense no matter the system, 4-3 or 3-4, as he has proven to be a gifted playmaker in both one- and two-gap schemes.
Rang Says: "A stout run defender who is able to hold up at the point of attack due to his strength and pad level and possesses the lateral agility and burst to penetrate and disrupt. Comes with some risk, as he's only been a full-time starter for one season, but was a difference-maker for the Seminoles in 2013 and may just be scratching the surface of his potential."—Draft Projection: First Round