Florida State could lose as many as four key pieces of its defense to the NFL Draft after Tuesday’s Orange Bowl against Northern Illinois.
A quartet of underclassmen — highly regarded junior defensive end Bjoern Werner, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, safety Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones said they won’t announce whether they’re turning pro until sometime after next week’s game.
One of those four stands above the rest in the eyes of NFL evaluators.
That would be Werner, who has 13 sacks and is rated the draft’s eighth-best prospect by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.
Werner said he already has decided whether to turn pro but won’t announce it until after the Orange Bowl.
“Numbers really do show how good he was,” Kiper said.
“He always had his hands in passing lanes. Werner finds a way to disrupt either as a rusher or by constantly knocking down passes. Reads the game really well. Strong but athletic. Great ball awareness.”
Kiper ranks Rhodes fourth among junior cornerbacks.
“As long as I’m getting somewhere in my life and staying where I’m at, and that’s being in the top four in my position, then I’ll be good,” Rhodes told the Orlando Sentinel, adding that he is still weighing his options.
If Joyner returns to FSU, he would enter next season considered among the nation’s top half dozen safety prospects.
Jones, an outside linebacker, is rated the 31st-best junior prospect overall, according to NFLdraftblitz.com.
Defensive end Brandon Jenkins, who sustained a season-ending foot injury in the first game of the season, already has announced his plans to turn pro.
Incidentally, Kiper has FSU senior Dustin Hopkins rated as the draft’s top kicker.
Florida State said it had sold or distributed more than 6,000 of its 17,500 allotted tickets to the Orange Bowl.
Conversely, Northern Illinois said it has sold or given away 8,000 of its 17,500 tickets, including 2,800 to students. Northern Illinois also indicated Thursday that it will give back 7,000 of its tickets to the Orange Bowl, which the OB will distribute for free to youth groups, military, policemen and firemen, among others.
Orange Bowl spokesman Larry Wahl said the game is within “1,000” of being a sellout because the OB counts the 35,000 tickets allotted to the two schools as tickets sold.
So there could be thousands of empty seats for the game, even if it ends up being declared a sellout. Capacity for the game is 72,500.
noles ‘very sharp’
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said his players were “very sharp” Thursday during his team’s first OB practice in Miami. “I was worried, being off four or five days,” he said.
• FSU hasn’t played in the Orange Bowl since losing to Penn State in 2006, and Fisher said: “You realize, ‘I’m playing in the Orange Bowl.’ I watch this game on TV my whole life. This is a BCS bowl. We haven’t been here in a long time. I think the kids are starting to feel the excitement.”
• One of Fisher’s challenges is convincing his players that an opponent from the Mid-American Conference poses a threat.
“I watched a ton of film on them, and I know they’re a heck of a team,” Fisher said. “They won 21 of their last 22. They’re sound in all three phases, make a lot of plays, aggressive.”
Asked if it’s difficult to get a good gauge on Northern Illinois because of its regular-season competition, Fisher said: “Not really. Even when you’re watching high school film, you know a good player when you see one. They’ve got a bunch of good football players.”