May 2, 2006
TALLAHASSEE -- When attempting to project where players will go in the NFL draft, there are so many variables involved. Talent, of course, sits at the top of the list, followed closely by a team's specific need and the character of the individual player.
And, as Florida State proved once again this year, it doesn't hurt to have a track record with some very important ties to certain franchises.
Four Seminoles were selected in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, tying a school and ACC record. Linebacker Ernie Sims, defensive end/linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and cornerback Antonio Cromartie all were snapped up within the first 19 picks.
"I'm tickled for them," FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "Those guys came in and worked hard and put themselves in position to be a No. 1 pick, and it happened for them. ... It speaks very well for what they've been able to do here at Florida State."
It also speaks volumes for the Seminoles. If you're counting at home, FSU now has turned out 23 first-round draft choices since joining the ACC for the 1992 season (1993 draft). That's one more than the entire league produced from 1954-1979.
What only the closest observers or draftniks might have picked up is that all four Seminoles are tied, in some way, to the teams that picked them. Credit FSU's draft history, ability to promote its players and some incredible talent over the years for the assist.
Take the case of Sims, the No. 9 pick of the Detroit Lions. He was considered a late-first or second-round prospect when he submitted his name to the NFL Players Association for evaluation in December. Armed with that information, Sims declared for the draft as a junior, and now he will reap the rewards for setting NFL coaches and execs aflutter with his combine and Pro Day performances.
While Sims' reputation and solid play as a two-year starter went a long way toward positioning him for a big day, it didn't hurt that he had the Lions in his camp from the start.
Detroit senior vice president and assistant general manager Martin Mayhew is a Tallahassee native, just like Sims. Mayhew also played his college football for the Seminoles, just a handful of years after Sims' father suited up in the FSU backfield. Mayhew was among the 150 team reps on campus for Pro Day. Not surprisingly, he found the time to speak to the Sims family.
Wimbley's connection to the Cleveland Browns, who used their No. 13 pick on the agile big man, is less direct but no less important.
Few NFL types have made their presence felt more on the FSU campus than Browns general manager Phil Savage. His relationship with Bobby Bowden dates back more than 15 years, to when Savage assisted with the Bowden Passing Academy as a graduate student at Alabama. Savage was scouting for the Baltimore Ravens when the club selected defensive end Peter Boulware and converted him into a Pro Bowl outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. That's the same plan the Browns have for Wimbley.
"Kamerion Wimbley is a player we have been sitting on for about two months," Savage said, after the Browns pulled the deal off following a trade. "To be able to get a little bit of a pick in the later part of the draft and Kamerion was a bonus for us."
At this point, Savage favorably compares Wimbley to Boulware, for his ability to get to the quarterback off the edge or cover a back on a pass route in the flat.
With the very next selection, Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid dipped into a rather deep and still-developing pool of Florida State defensive tackles for assistance, selecting Bunkley at No. 14. That should have come as no surprise, considering that the last time Reid took a defensive tackle in the first round, it was former FSU star Corey Simon in 2000. Simon helped establish the Eagles as one of the NFC's top defenses.
"I landed at a great place," said Bunkley, who broke Simon's single-season tackles-for-loss mark with 26 last year. "There's athletes around everywhere. It's a great place. I'm ready to go."
So is Cromartie, who sat out the 2005 season following a knee injury sustained in July that led to reconstructive surgery. Cromartie went No. 19 to San Diego, a team with very little history of selecting Seminoles high on draft day but a great need at corner. The 6-3 Cromartie will be an ideal fit in the AFC West, where the crop of big wideouts such as Oakland's Randy Moss and Denver's Javon Walker -- both of whom spent time at FSU -- demanded a favorable physical matchup from the Chargers.
San Diego's relationship with FSU is Buddy Nix, the assistant general manager who called Andrews one of his closest friends. It was Nix who timed Cromartie at 4.38 in the 40 on Pro Day and saw him leap 44 inches in the vertical jump. Nix's report to coach Marty Schottenheimer was enough to sway the franchise's decision. The Chargers had Cromartie as their top pick on the draft board.
"I like big corners, and this young man certainly meets that criteria," Schottenheimer said. "He's a unique physical talent."
The Chargers didn't have much film on Cromartie, but the body of FSU's work in the draft -- through the first round, 99 Seminoles had been selected since the 1993 draft -- probably was proof enough.
No doubt, Florida State's draft-day numbers will forge longer-lasting relationships, not only with the NFL set, but potential recruits as well.
JOHNSON, 23, WANTS PRO CHALLENGE
Based on Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton's postseason travel itinerary, which includes a recruiting trip overseas, the Seminoles weren't surprised when junior big man Alexander Johnson said he was going to hire an agent for the upcoming NBA draft.
"I'm going, no question," Johnson told the St. Petersburg Times. "I'm 23. I'm ready to play with the big boys. That's my dream, and I'm close to my dream."
Johnson originally entered his name in the NBA draft but said he would not hire an agent, leaving open the option to return for his senior season. With Johnson, the Seminoles were expected to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998.
Johnson did stay in school for the balance of the spring semester and completed his final exams. That led many to believe that he was seriously considering a return. Oddly, on the same day he was quoted in the newspaper, he told one FSU assistant that he hadn't made up his mind.
The truth is, he sounded as if he had made up his mind to move on in an interview prior to the Seminoles' second-round NIT game with South Carolina.
"I feel like the guys that are going into this draft, I can compete with them, even though my numbers don't show it," Johnson said. "I feel like I'm better than some of them, to be honest. I know with my quickness and speed and my game, I feel like I can play two positions. ... If my chances are good, I'm going to take that ride (to the NBA)."
Hamilton, ever a step ahead of the game, consequently took a flight to see if he could find a replacement for his big man.