Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Orange Bowl: Northern Illinois vs. Florida State
The upstart Huskies have their work cut out for them against the Seminoles, who could be playing for the national title if not for a flukish bad day against North Carolina State. The Seminoles are loaded with future NFL talent.
Foremost among that talent is DE Bjoern Werner, a 6’4”, 256 pound tour de force who will be a top 10 overall pick in the upcoming draft. The German native bagged 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, displaying a ruthless blend of power, speed, and intelligence. He is an excellent example of why coming to the game of football late isn’t always a bad thing, as he never developed poor technique or bad habits. His hand placement is exceptional, and he innately understands how to beat a block. When you watch him, notice how he is never distracted by outside forces; his focus is on his task on the play, and he succeeds at his task far more often than not. While not blessed with the outstanding athleticism of many edge rushers, Werner makes up for it with a solid first step and a variety of moves that keep offensive tackles off guard. He will remind Lions coach Jim Schwartz of Kyle VandenBosch in his prime, and he is very much a candidate to be the #5 overall pick to Detroit.
Werner spent most of the year opposite Cornelius “Tank” Carradine, but Tank tore his ACL last month and will miss this game. They were already missing Brandon Jenkins, a dynamic, athletic stand-up pass rusher who has missed the entire season. Both figure to be no worse than 4th round picks and would have potentially been 1st rounders without injury.
Even without those guys, the Noles still have some more punch. DT #93 Everette Dawkins is an intriguing interior presence with a quick first step and a jolting arm jab. The redshirt senior doesn’t show up much on the stat sheet, but when you watch Florida State play you see his value. Dawkins is very good at controlling the interior of the line and forcing plays outside, and he is smart at not giving up lane containment. Because he doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, his draft stock is middle rounds, but Dawkins is a guy who can step right in and be an effective part of a good defensive line. He offers some promise as a 3-4 DE for a team like the Steelers or Packers as well. Also watch how he coordinates with #92 Anthony McCloud inside as well. McCloud has some potential as a NFL nose tackle at 6’2” and a strong 325 pounds. He missed the first half of the year with a torn pectoral muscle that will water down his draft stock, but he has enough awareness and strength to merit a 5th or 6th round look.
CB #27 Xavier Rhodes is widely expected to declare for the draft, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Rhodes is a very physical, aggressive man coverage specialist who is very good at jamming and disrupting timing. Watch his fluid hips when he changes direction and turns and runs down the field. His length and intensity both stand out, though he can be overaggressive at times. Teams tried hard to avoid throwing his way. It will be interesting to see how he handles a mobile, dual threat QB like Jordan Lynch, who will make him declare early on a play if he’s defending the run or the pass. He is certainly in play for the Lions with their 2nd round pick.
Junior LB #7 Christian Jones is less likely than Rhodes & Werner to declare, but he has a bright NFL future when he chooses. He is in the mold of Lavonte David and Zach Brown, speedy outside backers that fly all over the field and makes solid fundamental tackles. Lions fans watching might think they’re watching a taller version of Justin Durant.
QB #3 EJ Manuel has been frustrating as a draft prospect. He is straight out of central casting physically at 6’5” and a coordinated, athletic 240 pounds. Manuel has decent arm strength and can put real zip on intermediate throws, and his accuracy is often excellent. But far too often Manuel is slow to make decisions with the ball, and he is prone to making the wrong decision more than you like to see. In games against Florida and Georgia Tech he proved too indecisive and unable to process the defense quickly enough. If he wants to be more than a late-round pick that fights for backup NFL status, he needs to show he can make the correct decision quickly and consistently throw the ball with enough pace instead of softly lobbing shorter throws.
WR #84 Rodney Smith has great length at 6’6” and he wears his 219 pounds well. He gets a bit lost in the shuffle, as the Noles spread the ball around to a barrage of receivers. Smith is a vertical threat that makes a nice target outside the numbers, and he is good at reaching out and securing the ball with his hands near the sidelines. He is pretty straight-linish and needs some route running polish, but look for him when he gets isolated and burns deep.
Florida State also has a kicker with strong potential to get drafted, which seems to be a growing trend. #18 Dustin Hopkins has a very strong leg and is accurate beyond 50 yards. He’s from the school district my children attend, which means I’m pulling hard for him to nail a 53+ yarder and boot all his kickoffs out of the end zone in this one.
Northern Illinois only has one real prospect for 2013 in DE #95 Sean Progar. He’s got a polished variety of pass rush moves, and that got him 8.5 sacks and another 11 tackles for loss. This is a game where Progar needs to show he can excel against the big boys, as the MAC isn’t exactly teeming with offensive line talent. He might fit better at the next level as a 3-4 OLB, though he lacks the fluidity and burst to be more than a situational player.
If you like to scout ahead, QB Jordan Lynch is worth watching. Heck, he’s worth watching just or the fun of it. He is an exceptional dual-threat QB, leading the nation in rushing with 1771 yards and 19 touchdowns while also throwing for just under 3000 yards. Lynch is plucky, quick, and runs the read option like a poor man’s RG3. Unfortunately he is small at just 6 feet tall and doesn’t have a great arm or patience in his reads as a thrower. Still, he’s very entertaining and could give the Seminoles defense real fits.