Coaching goes a long way in football and we certainly feel that FSU has made some brilliant hires in the department, but there is no substitute for good old fashioned talent.
It was not that LONG ago where FSU just lined up and out-athleted just about everyone that we played, we feel with the 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes those days will be upon us soon.
However, those players are the underclassmen and you simply don't win at the HIGHEST levels of college football with underclassmen. This is a grown man's game and FSU will need serious help from it's juniors and seniors. Here is a look at the draft eligible players, where they sit today on NFL boards, and what they can do to help their stock. Here is FSU's "Big Board".
1. QB Christian Ponder: QBs are notorious tricky with the NFL draft. Just a year ago, Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead was "All World", a "Heisman candidate", about to lead the Rebels to their first SEC Title in many, many years. Well, he just signed as a Free Agent after a disastrous senior campaign. Just how bad was it for Snead? Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton was drafted and he wasn't. Enough said.
Ponder will enter his senior year with a premium draft grade(top two rounds) and it is hard to imagine him not living up to that 'hype'. Ponder's combination of athleticism, accuracy, and arm strength are ideally suited for the infamous West Coast offense, but he has the tools to fit a variety of schemes. Staying healthy will probably go as far as anything for Ponder to reach his individual goals (although Sam Bradford proved even an injury won't stop the NFL from reaching at times).
One issue is Colt McCoy's fall, we are not sure if that was size related, but it shows that QBs in the mold of Ponder/McCoy can be passed over by many teams. We think that both McCoy and Jimmy Clausen suffered from the 'need' at QB not being quite as urgent as it sometimes is. We hope that will be on an uptick next year. Ponder is on a short list with Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, and Case Keenum for the top overall QB in the draft.
2. LB Nigel Bradham (Junior): Bradham is draft eligible and despite no redshirt year he might be ready to take the next step. Bradham has improved each day he has been on campus, should that continue next year he should find himself with a first round draft grade(which means he should leave). Bradham has NFL size, speed, and athleticism, there are going to be very few things to pick apart his game.
Selfishly, we would love for him to return as a senior in 2011, at this time we put this at 50/50, perhaps if we can show enough of a pulse in 2010, he will WANT to return. Barring injury, either he is a premium draft choice or he will return.
3. OL Rodney Hudson: Hudson will be one of the more hotly debated players next year. A true force on the field, he does not possess prototype NFL measurables. Of course, we heard this when he was coming out of high school and all he has done is be a star since he stepped foot on campus.
He is not going to grow three inches, so to a certain extent he 'is who he is' and that probably is a 2nd to 4th rounder today(although Mel Kiper has him as his #1 OG for next year at this time). Hudson will certainly garner looks as a Center as well as a guard, so showing that versatility will not hurt.
4. WR Jarmon Fortson (Junior): This is like betting on the 20 horse Kentucky Derby this weekend, anything can happen here. Fortson has first round tools and is the type of big, athletic WR that is coveted in the league.
The problem is that he has not been near consistent enough to be taken that high. We hope that changes in 2010 and he develops into the "#1" type that his talent dictates.
One big game, followed by two where you disappear does not cut it when you play for a living, if Fortson 'gets it', he will have a huge year and make millions. If he doesn't, we will be sitting here next year saying the same thing. We will 'hedge' today and call him a 3rd rounder.
5. DE Markus White: White is the type of player that is typically taken between rounds 4-6, we think he is really starting to come around and will surprise in 2010 cementing his draft stock in that range(if not a touch higher). At 6'4, 265 White has the classic NFL 4-3 DE build, he just needs to show that he can consistently get after the QB.
6. LB Mister Alexander: Alexander is going to impress with his athleticism, the problem is that he does not have a lot of film showing him making plays. His athleticism will be intriguing and we can see him being a late round selection or signing a free agent deal. Special teams are going to be the best way for him to buy some time as he develops as a player.
7. OC Ryan McMahon: Like Hudson, McMahon is on the short side and already a Center, a position that is notoriously unpopular on NFL Draft Day. In other words, McMahon is going to be a late round selection or undrafted free agent. On the flip side, he is precisely the type of player that walks into an NFL training camp as a relative unknown and leaves with a spot on the team (if not practice squad). Kiper has McMahon at #3 amongst the centers entering 2010.
BONUS: We don't think that Andrew Datko will make the move to the league, but it is possible with a big junior year protecting Ponder. He did not redshirt, so three years is not a lot of time for an offensive linemen, but few players have progressed as quickly as Datko. This is a longshot, but one that is worth mentioning because of his prototype size at 6'6, 300.
BONUS PART TWO: Bert Reed probably has a little better chance of declaring for the NFL after his junior year. It is all about how he can run at the combine, should Reed blaze something in the low 4.4s(or perhaps break that barrier), he will be an attractive option in rounds 3-7 as a slot type. A couple of factors will be at play here for his return as a senior: how much confidence does he have in E.J. Manuel and whether he is getting any pressure from the young WRs.
CONCLUSION: It is certainly not 'back to the old days', but there is a little uptick here with three players that could find their way into the first round of the draft. The bad news is that two of the three are juniors and with the rebuilding project that has to take place, it would be great to see Fortson and Bradham as seniors in Garnet and Gold.