Friday, April 26, 2013

FSU Players Shock The World In The 2013 NFL Draft.

E.J. Manuel directs the FSU offense against Duke
Yowsa. How dare the Buffalo Bills bypass West Virginia QB Geno Smith and take Florida State QB E.J. Manuel with the 16th pick of the draft? I mean, didn't they know that if a QB was going to be drafted in the first round, it had better be Geno because ESPN was all set to do its pre-planned dog and pony show featuring Smith? When the Bills opted to take Manuel instead, all the talking heads could do was scratch their heads and wonder who this guy was. E.J. Manuel? ESPN's Mel Kiper didn't even have Manuel as one of his top 4 QB prospects.

E.J. Manuel
Man oh man, how the talking heads' heads were exploding after Manuel's name was called. For what seemed like an eternity, all you heard from them was that the Bills wasted a pick on Manuel; that he's a project; and that he has "slow" eyes (????). The talking heads said the same thing about Ponder two years ago. Just ask the Vikings if they think they wasted a pick by taking him in the first round against conventional wisdom. As I recall, the same heads had the same thing to say about Ponder.

Understandably, if you're paid to predict how the draft is going to go and then a team does something unexpected, it kind-a makes you look bad. In order to wipe the egg off your face, the only way to justify your existence is by throwing the team and the selected payer under the bus, run over them, back it up, run over them again, and then repeat the process ad nauseum. At least  that's how it was last night. But let's not forget that if these self anointed draft Nostradamouses had a real clue about how players will pan out in the NFL, they would be getting bazillions of dollars from the Cowboys' Jerry Jones or countless other owners to stockpile their teams.

E.J. Manuel
I've had the pleasure of photographing E.J. for 5 years and have watched him mature into a 6'5", 237 pound lean, mean, fighting ma-chine. He was a Parade High School All American; led FSU to a 12-2 record his senior year, capping off the season by winning the Orange Bowl; was MVP of the Gator Bowl his sophomore season, allowing legendary Coach Bobby Bowden to ride off into the retirement sunset with a victory over (wait for it...) West Virginia (did I mention that the experts had FSU as a huge underdog because back-up Manuel was filling in for injured starter Ponder?); and beat Notre Dame and South Carolina in his other two Bowl appearances. Buffalo, wash off the tire tracks and don't look back. You're going to love E.J. and soon you'll be telling Mel and the boys "Nah na nah na nah, na."

Bjoern Warner (95) records a sack during the 2013 Orange Bowl
FSU fans didn't have to wait long for another Seminole's name to be called last night. With the 24th pick, the Indianapolis Colts took Bjoern Warner. Warner is a monster who will wreak havoc on NFL offenses. Still reeling from the Manuel embarrassment, the ESPN analysts were retrained in their praise of Warner and only begrudgingly gave him his due.

Bjoern Warner celebrates after recovering a fumble
Warner has played all of 5 years of football - 2 in high school and 3 at FSU. He opted for the draft at the end of his Junior year after watching two other FSU starting DE's go down with injury this past season. Before taking up football, Warner played soccer in his native Germany which ain't exactly easy for a guy 6'3" and 266 pounds. In 3 years at FSU, Warner racked up 23.5 sacks despite being double teamed most games. Imagine what he's going to do after he plays the game for a while.

Jacory Harris (8), meet Xavier Rhodes (27)
Last but not least, CB Xavier Rhodes was taken by the Vikings as the 25th pick, and by this time, ESPN had swallowed all the Manuel-crow it had eaten. The draft swamis thought this was a good pick for the Vikes and recognized Rhodes for the physical, gifted corner that he is.

Xavier Rhodes (27) gathers one of his 8 career INT's
Rhodes is a 6'1", 210 pound beast of a CB who hits like a Mack truck and covers receivers like a blanket. He runs a 4.43 40-yard dash and has a 40.5" vertical leap despite his frame. One of my favorite memories of Rhodes was the Miami game this past season when Rhodes made UM QB Jacory Harris his female dog for most of the game. Like Warner, Rhodes leaves FSU after his junior year after starting all three years with the Seminoles. He racked up 8 career INT's and would likely have had many more but opposing teams knew better than to throw to his side of the field.

Doak Campbell Stadium
Doak Campbell Stadium won't be quite the same next season without these three athletes but I'm happy that they will have the chance to live their dreams in the Big Show. It was a privilege to shoot them while they were in Tallahassee, but beyond that, a true pleasure to have gotten to know them. Oh, and ESPN? Get over yourselves.

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