Thursday, December 18, 2014

Eagles draft watch: Players to watch in the BCS National Championship Game

Most football fans will be watching the BCS National Championship Game tonight. As long as you're watching, with the Eagles' season over, it's time to start paying attention to players who could be of interest at draft time. As you might expect from two teams playing for the National Championship, there are a lot of NFL prospects to keep an eye on, especially on the Florida State side.

Eagles draft watch: Players to watch in the BCS National Championship Game

Florida State offensive linesman Cameron Erving. (Steve Cannon/AP)
Florida State offensive linesman Cameron Erving. (Steve Cannon/AP)

Most football fans will be watching the BCS National Championship Game tonight. As long as you're watching, with the Eagles' season over, it's time to start paying attention to players who could be of interest at draft time. As you might expect from two teams playing for the National Championship, there are a lot of NFL prospects to keep an eye on, especially on the Florida State side.

Heisman Trophy winning QB Jameis Winston of Florida State will be the player who garners the most attention tonight, and rightfully so, but he will not be entering the pros this offseason. Here are the draft eligible players to watch.

Florida State

Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State (6'5, 320): Erving is the athletic blindside protector for Winston, and has been a huge reason for the QB's success. Against Clemson, Erving completely shut down DE Vic Beasley, who was the nation's leader in sacks at the time. Here's that game.

It's interesting that another Florida State OT was drafted highly last year. That would be Menelik Watson, who went to the Raiders at 42nd overall. Watson played RT his final year at Florida State, while Erving drew blindside responsibilities. Erving is likely to go in the first round, and the Eagles could be in the market for an OT with an aging Jason Peters entering the final year of his contract in 2014.

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Lamarcus Joyner, CB/S, Florida State (5'8, 190): This might be my favorite player in the country. Joyner played safety in 2011 and 2012, and moved to CB (a lot of slot CB duties) in 2013. If you watch his games, you can see him pop big TEs like Tyler Eifert, or shed blocks and make physical tackles against Georgia Tech’s run heavy option offense. He hits RBs and they move backwards.

At CB, you can watch him stay in the hip pockets of WRs, and look to make big plays once he gets the ball in his hands on INTs. He’s also a very effective blitzer from the slot.

Oh, and he’s a dangerous kick returner.

The issue… He’s only 5’8. But take a look at his work.

The Eagles have been hesitant to put Brandon Boykin on the outside because they don’t feel like they have anyone who can play in the slot. Joyner could either play some sort of safety / slot CB hybrid role, similar to the one Patrick Chung plays, but, you know... minus the awfulness. The issue with that would be that the Eagles would have two very vertically challenged DBs in their secondary.

Chip Kelly has said he prefers big people, and even noted today during his press conference. "(What we look for) in measurables never changes, but you still have to get a guy," said Kelly. "You just can't say we want a 6'3, 220‑pound safety. Well, there are none. Well, we're not going to play with 10. This is what we ultimately will continue to look for and continue to strive for, but you still have to make concessions."

Drafting Joyner in the first round would be a major concession on measurables, but Joyner’s talent and versatility could trump that.

Telvin Smith, OLB/S, Florida State (6'3, 218): So you like 6'3, 220 pound safeties, huh Chip? Welp... How about Telvin Smith? Smith plays LB for the Seminoles, but because of his size, NFL teams may opt to move him to safety. Smith, as you might imagine for a player who might be moved to safety, has tremendous cover skills for a LB.

Like Lamarcus Joyner, Smith is a similarly special versatile player, who does not have an exact position heading into the pros. That used to be looked at negatively. Now it's looked at as a positive, as NFL teams want to be "multiple," as in being able to show multiple looks without having to change their personnel on the field.

Smith can be a player who covers TEs and RBs, who can also be good enough in run support, whatever position you want to call him.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (6'5, 234): Benjamin is an athletic freak with incredible size at 6'5, 234. QB Jameis Winston has proven he's not afraid to throw it up and let Benjamin use his size to make a play. Personally, I think it would be a mistake for Benjamin to come out, since he's only a redshirt sophomore and could do great things paired for Winston for at least another year.

We're drawn to receivers with the kind of size that Benjamin has. In past Eagles training camps, fans often got fired up by the size of guys like DeAndre Brown and Ifeanyi Momah. Those guys couldn't play at the NFL level. While Benjamin is better than either of those guys, it is important to be careful not to overvalue size.

Early in the season, Benjamin didn't have great production, but part of that was because Florida State was blowing teams out, and when they did throw, he had to share targets with FSU's other talented receivers. In the last two games, Benjamin had 14 catches for 331 yards and 5 TDs. He also had 9 TD catches in his last 5 games. 

Christian Jones, LB, Florida State (6'3, 232): Jones has good size at 6'4, 232, and can run. Check out the 5:14 mark of this video, and watch him covering Clemson WR Sammy Watkins (an absolute certain 1st round pick) in the slot. This is extraordinarily impressive for a player his size. 

As noted in my Eagles needs article, the perception is that DeMeco Ryans had a great year. I really wonder if that's the case. At times Ryans looked slow, and it's possible that a more athletically gifted linebacker would have made more plays. Jones could be a player that gives the Eagles more depth and athleticism at ILB.

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State (6'2, 298): The Seminoles lost a bunch of very talented defensive linemen to the pros last year. Bjoern Werner was a 1st round pick, Tank Carradine was a 2nd round pick, Brandon Jenkins was a 5th round pick, and Everett Dawkins was a 7th round pick. To have that many players drafted from one unit on a defense is rare. Jernigan is the next in line of talented Seminole defensive linemen. He has good quickness from his DT spot, and would probably project to DE in a 3-4, which isn't a position of immediate need for the Eagles. 

Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State (5'11, 200): Another talented safety likely to be drafted in the middle rounds.

Bryan Stork, C, Florida State (6'4, 300): Could make sense as a backup to Jason Kelce if he falls to the later rounds.

Auburn

Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn (6'5, 320): Watching offensive linemen isn't fun, right? WRONG! Watch this dude block in the run game. This is just a straight up bully. Seriously, I'm not even going to write about how good he is as a run blocker. Just go watch him. You don't even have to have a keen eye for OL play. The guy looks like a high school kid playing pee wee football. 

However, because Auburn just hammers you with the run over and over, there isn't a lot of tape to evaluate Robinson on as a pass blocker. That's the risk. But when Auburn has the ball tonight, watch Robinson dominate in the run game against a defense loaded with talent.

Dee Ford, DE, Auburn (6'2, 240): Ford (6'2, 240) doesn't have the height that we suspect Chip Kelly will like from an outside pass rusher, but he could be an intriguing prospect to keep an eye on. Ford has 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles, despite missing the first 2 games of the season. More impressively, he's done it against good competition.

Go to the 6:50 and 7:27 marks of this video. Texas A&M is driving for the win, and Ford gets two sacks to end the game. They both came against Texas A&M RT Cedric Ogbuehi, a player some people think is a first round prospect. Those are bigtime plays against a good player in clutch situations.

Ford played 4-3 DE at Auburn, so his ability in coverage is a bit of an unknown, at least in the games of his that I have watched, so he might take some time to convert to 3-4 OLB.

Also, Ford can play the piano. So he has that going for him.

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn (5'9, 205): Mason is a workhorse who averaged 30.8 carries per game over Auburn's last 5 games. Mason finished as a Heisman Trophy finalist with over 1600 rushing yards, but the concern with Mason is that he could be a product of Gus Malzahn's offense.

Chris Davis, CB, Auburn (5'10, 200): He's not just the guy who returned the missed FG against Alabama. He's also a legitimate mid-round CB prospect.

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