Thirteen former Florida State football players are heading to Indianapolis, Ind. for the annual NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium and each makes the trek north with something to prove to league scouts, general managers, owners and coaches.
The combine, which every year provides hundreds of collegiate football players the opportunity to impress NFL decision makers, officially gets started Saturday with the tight ends, offensive linemen and special teams and concludes Tueday, Feb. 26 with the defensive backs. The Seminoles, who tied LSU for the most combine invitees this year, will be represented on all four days and all the action airs on NFL Network.
Their work at the combine will then be followed by Florida State Pro Day on March 19.
Here's a look at each of the 'Noles that were invited to Indianapolis with a breakdown of what they have to show NFL personnel, with added comments from NFL.com's draft guru, Mike Mayock.
Tank Carradine // Defensive End // Combine Number: DL07
Had he finished his senior season at FSU healthy, Carradine would likely be a lock for the first round and potentially a top-10 selection. In two years with the 'Noles, the former junior-college All-American showcased his quick first step, leverage, explosion and strength at the point of attack and became known as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's best defensive ends.
A torn ACL in the Florida game is the biggest question mark for Carradine as NFL teams will want to see how healthy he is now and how much further he has to go in order to be fully back to 100 percent. How much Carradine will compete in Indianapolis has not been officially announced but rumors have circulated around the Internet that his rehabiliation process is ahead of schedule.
Most mock drafts have Carradine going somewhere between the second and third round but a few have seen him slip into the late first round. NFL Draft analyst Josh Norris recently listed Carradine as his No. 11 overall player -- high praise but something that Carradine has the ability to justify with a big combine and pro day (assuming he's fully healthy). "He's probably going to go in the second or third round," Mayock said in his combine conference-call this week, "and somebody's going to get a steal with this kid because of his natural upside."
Everett Dawkins // Defensive Tackle/Defensive End // Combine Number: DL08
Dawkins came to Florida State as a 6-foot-2, 240 pound defensive end that wound up playing the majority of his career as an effecive and consistent -- albeit undersized -- defensive tackle. Five years later, the Duncan, S.C. native heads to the combine in a similar position: is he an outside pass rusher or an inside run stuffer?
Despite playing in the middle througohut his collegiate career and at that same spot in the Senior Bowl, Dawkins could find himself at defensive end at the next level. How he measures in Indianoplis and how he tests in the speed and strength areas of the combine will go a long way towards determining that as one team could see him as a perfect fit at tackle and another team could see the same benefits but as an end.
Dawkins has been projected anywhere from a late-round pick to undrafted in mocks at this point in the process so a big performance at Lucas Oil Stadium is important for the longtime Seminole if he wants to hear his name called in April.
Dustin Hopkins // Kicker // Combine Number: PK06
As the all-time NCAA Division I leader in field goals made and points among kickers, Hopkins is definitely going to get a chance in the NFL. But will he be drafted or will that chance come as an undrafted free agent after the selection process is complete? Projecting kickers in the draft is always a difficult process because you never know if teams are going to use one of their few picks on a special teams-only player.
At the combine, Hopkins has the chance to generate some buzz because he'll likely test very well. If he chooses to run the 40-yard dash (not something kickers normally do), Hopkins will probably post a pretty interesting time -- even if being fast is not a precursor to being a successful kicker (hello, Sebastian Janikowski).
NFL decision makers already know what Hopkins can do; they know he's got a rocket leg, can hit consistently from 50-yards plus and is automatic on extra points. But does a team think they can get him without using a draft pick? If Hopkins shows off at the combine, he may give them no choice but to make him a mid- to late-round selection. And who knows, as the Jacksonville Jaguars showed last year when the selected Cal punter Bryan Anger in the third round, all it takes is one team to fall in love with a prospect and make that pick.
Brandon Jenkins // Defensive End/ Outside Linebacker // Combine Number: DL20
Now 5 1/2 months removed from his season-ending Lisfran injury, Jenkins will finally get to show NFL teams that he is back to the player he was before -- a speed-rushing defensive end that nearly left a year early for the draft before returning for the 2012 season with a lot of pro hype. Before that setback in the Seminoles' season opener, Jenkins was considered one of the nation's top defensive ends. Now, he's out to show that if healthy he is the same player he was before: known for his quickness of the edge, strength and speed in getting to the quarterback or ball carrier.
In addition to showcasing the status of his rehabilitated foot, Jenkins also will also get the chance to answer some questions about what position he projects to play at the next level. Is he a 4-3 defensive end or is he a 3-4 outside linebacker? The transition from college pass rusher to stand-up rushing linebacker in the NFL has been one made successfully by other players in the past and Jenkins was going to be used more as a stand-up rusher at FSU before his injury.
His measurements will be key in Indianapolis as teams try to make this important decision about the Tallahassee native and it could go a long way towards determining where he gets drafted. A year ago, mocks had Jenkins as a late first rounder but he is now being projected in many cases as anywhere from a second- to third-round selection depending on his health.
EJ Manuel // Quarterback // Combine Number: QB09
Of all the FSU players at the combine, the case could be made that nobody has more to gain -- or lose -- than Manuel. Like most of the uper-echelon quarterbacks in the draft, there doesn't seem to be a consensus guess on what Manuel will have his name called. The wide range of predictions typically comes with draft analysts views that Manuel, while blessed with good arm strength, size, athletic ability and leadership qualities, lacks the consistent accuracy that is required of starting NFL quarterbacks. The Virginia Beach, Va. native has also been accused of having "happy feet" when under pressure.
But each of those limitations are areas that can be coached up and corrected in the right system. What can't be taught is Manuel's NFL-ready frame, his speed when making plays outside of the pocket and all of the on- and off-feild intangibles that he brings to the table. That is why Manuel's performance Saturday when the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers work out will be so important. Many head coaches and general managers have only seen film of Manuel in action during his time at FSU and in the Senior Bowl when he was named MVP for leading three scoring drives. Now they'll get to see Manuel in person where his footwork, accuracy and 40-yard dash time will all be watched and scrutinized by powerful decision makers.
"I like his attitude," Mayock said. "I just want to see him come out and rip it this weekend. Just throw the ball. Don't worry about it. Sometimes his technique isn't always consistent, his footwork, etc. But that doesn't matter. Get out there, let me see your arm talent. Throw the ball."
With no clear-cut top quarterback in this draft, a strong Manuel performance in Indianapolis could generate quite the buzz -- and perhaps an earlier-than-expected draft selection come April.
Nick Moody // Linebacker // Combine Number: LB22
After switching from safety to linebacker for his senior season this past year, Moody will head to Indianapolis as an unheralded draft prospect focused on showing NFL personnel that his experience playing on two different levels of a top-flight defense makes him a worthy addition to their respective team.
Moody is better known as a run-stopper so any drills that showcase his skills in the passing game will be especially critical. In a league where linebackers are now charged with stepping out on to an island and defending new-breed tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, Moody has to show that he can handle that aspect of the game.
A former four-star recruit in 2008, Moody has not popped up on very many full-draft mocks in the past few months but he could push for a day-three selection after a strong combine and pro day next month.
Lonnie Pryor // Fullback // Combine Number: RB26
The best fullback in the 2013 NFL Draft? Some believe so and Pryor is out to prove those people are right when he works out Sunday.
During his four-year career at FSU, Pryor was always revered as a great teammate that selflessly set aside his dream of being the next Warrick Dunn and instead stepped into the thankless role of fullback. Thanks to that attitude and the fact that he was still able to carry the football over the past four seasons, Pryor's selfless decision is certainly going to pay off now as NFL folks will love the fact that he has experience as a blocker, runner and pass catcher.
It will be interesting to see what Pryor's measurements are when he weighs in at Lucas Oil Stadium this week. At FSU, his weight fluctuated and typically corresponded to what his primary duties were in the 'Noles' backfield. If he was heavier, he was typically being asked to serve more as a blocker; if he was lighter, he was used more as a single-back and second option in the "pony formation." Pryor has been working out in Arizona since January and probably discussed with his trainers and other trusted individuals in his inner circle in deciding an ideal weight to enter the NFL. What that number is, we'll find out soon.
Greg Reid // Cornerback // Combine Number: DB35
Reid was dismissed from Florida State prior to his senior year and enrolled at Valdosta State before tearing his ACL and never playing a down of college football again. Unlike other situations where players leave schools and wind up somewhere else before entering the NFL, Reid never played anywhere other than FSU so the NFL has him listed as one of the Seminoles' 13 invitees -- a number that is the most that the program has sent to the combine since 2001.
While in Indianapolis, it will be important for Reid to discuss openly and honestlywith teams his off-field issues from the past while also showing that his knee is healthy. Like Carradine and Jenkins, exactly how far along in the rehabilitation process Reid is at this moment is not officially known so there is a chance he may not be able to compete in all of the drills.
If he can, the former cornerback and star punt returner will get a chance to remind everyone that his physical play helped mask his smaller frame. Hopoefully Reid can get an opportunity to remind scouts, general managers and coaches that he was pretty electrifying with the football in his hands, too.
Xavier Rhodes // Cornerback/Safety // Combine Number: DB36
Rhodes is widely considered to be the second-best cornerback in this draft behind Alabama's Dee Mliliner and has a strong possibility of hearing his name called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the opening round at Radio City Music Hall. But Mayock brought up a point that had not yet been discussed about the 'Noles' lockdown defender: could he play another position at the next level?
"I think if you're looking at corner, a guy like Xavier Rhods who is a corner or safety," Mayock said. "He's a 215-pound corner from Florida State. He right now has mostly a second-round grade as a corner or safety, depending on what he runs."
Whether you agree with it or not, the 40-yard dash is extremely important to every prospect regardless of position but for Rhodes it may determine where he lines up as a professional if Mayock is right. Never known for his blazing speed at FSU, Rhodes made a name for himself because of his unique size and length at the position -- a lethal combination that made throwing-windows virtually non-existent for opposing quarterbacks. So will too much scrutiny be put into what he does in those four to five seconds he's sprinting on the Lucas Oil turf? Or will it in fact make teams view him as a safety? Either way, Rhodes still expects to be an early selection.
Rodney Smith // Wide Receiver // Combine Number: WO30
Lanky, long and dependable (he caught a pass in a school-record 39 consecutive games), there's no doubt that Smith will get a shot with an NFL team. Receivers that stand around 6-foot-6 and but move like they are six-feet tall don't grown on trees. Smith is considered quick but not overly fast so a good 40-time will obviously help, as will his performance on the bench press. Teams want to know if the 220-pounder is strong enough to deal with the daily battles he is going to go through with defensive backs at the next level and if he can be physical enough to go up and snag passes out of the air using that tall frame.
Most pre-combine mocks that do all seven rounds have Smith going as a late-round selection so there is tremendous opportunity for the Miami, Fla. native to improve his stock and wow his potential new team when the receivers work out Sunday.
Chris Thompson // Running Back // Combine Number: RB32
Everybody's favorite 'Nole, Thompson heads to the combine as a running back that probably would have become the first FSU player since Dunn to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season had he not been lost for the year in the Miami game. After fracturing two vertebrae in his back in 2011, concerns will accompany Thompson everywhere he goes in Indianapolis as teams will be leary of his injury history. Not helping matters is Thompson's small stature.
But for every inch and pound he lacks compared to the draft's other tailbacks, Thompson makes up for it in heart, speed and playmaking ability. Prior to his knee injury, Thompson looked like a mid-round selection because of the dangers he could be for opponents as not just a runner but a receiver out of the backfield. He never actively returned kicks at FSU but that could also be a role that an NFL squad sees as an area that Thompson could immediately contribute.
How much Thompson will be cleared to participate over the weekend is not officially known after having ACL surgery a few months ago.
Menelik Watson // Offensive Tackle // Combine Number: OL54
Arguably the combine's most intriguing player, you can bet that every NFL team will be watching intently when Watson lines up for each of his drills. By now his story is well known (abbreviated version: Marist basketball player from England turned junior-college football player with no experience that winds up at FSU and excels as starter at right tackle) but what isn't known is where the 6-foot-6, 320-pound mauler winds up in the draft.
Could someone that has played less than 25 games of football in his entire life possibly be a first rounder?
"He has first-round talent," Mayock said. "I know he's raw and undeveloped. But I get ezcited when I see a physical set as good as his. He looks like a natural left tackle to me. ... For me the real test for Watson is how he tests out with the teams. Is he smart, a hard worker, does he learn quickly? All of those things will ultimately determine if he gets his name called in the first round."
After electing to not return for his senior season, Watson is expected to post eye-popping numbers at the combine and very well could solidify himsels as one of the draft's top tackles -- and top stories.
Bjoern Werner // Defensive End // Combine Number: DL47
The combine can't get started soon enough for Werner.
Throughout the season and then in the first month or so of the off-season, many analysts not only had Werner pegged as one of the draft's top defensive ends but perhaps one of its top players. Many mock drafts have made it seem as though the German-born pass rusher's selection at No. 2 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars was all but a formality. But over the last few weeks, more and more analysts have begun punching holes in Werner's game. The same folks that had him as a top-five selection now have him slipping to the mid- to late-teens in the first round.
"I'm not seeing a quick twitch ability to get to the quarterback," Mayock said. "Werner is a tough kid, he's got a good motor. He's got a good get-off; I like his end usage, especially fkr a guy that's playing a lot of football."
The combine will be huge for Werner to remind everyone just how talented he is, and if he succeeds perhaps he'll be in contention to be FSU's highest drafted football player ever.