NFL Draft 2014 preview: Jameis Winston, and other prospects to watch in BCS title game
The 2013 season brought us the notion of "Tanking for Teddy" -- losing for a shot to draft Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Could 2014 bring "Just Lose for Jameis" or "Wipeout for Winston"? (Insert your own additional catchphrase here.)
It very well might, should current redshirt freshman Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston decide to head pro after next season. Were he eligible to join the '14 draft, the Bridgewater versus Winston debate already would be on in full, likely with plenty of people in Winston's camp. After all, the 6-foot-4, 228-pound freak of nature won the Heisman Trophy in his first year as a starter and led his team to the BCS title game.
Winston set the tone right out of the gate, completing a staggering 92.6 percent of his passes with five total touchdowns in an opening-week win over Pittsburgh. There were some uneven moments, as one might expect with a freshman QB. His dominant team, including talented WR Kelvin Benjamin (mentioned again later), helped mask any miscues he made.
The Seminoles did not often have to come to his rescue. Winston threw 38 touchdowns passes to just 10 interceptions, while showing enough awareness to escape the pocket when the situation required it. The thought of his game developing further -- and he definitely can improve in terms of reading coverages -- is a scary one.
The upcoming draft has a number of intriguing prospects at quarterback, led by Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel. The 2015 QB class might be even more impressive, thanks to decisions by players like Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty to stay in school for an extra season.
Winston could be the best of the lot.
He now must avoid the so-called "Heisman hangover" and the "Sophomore slump." If he's able to navigate those roadblocks, the No. 1 pick in 2015 could be on the horizon.
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• Greg Robinson, OT: An NFL scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn that Robinson, a redshirt sophomore, is "in the top 10, 15 easy if he comes out." Auburn's O-line coach, J.B. Grimes, contends that Robinson could be the No. 1 overall pick if he waits for the 2015 draft.
So, the hype here is real. As is the potential. The 6-5, 305-pound Robinson has developed into an absolute monster on Auburn's front -- helping pave the way for the Tigers' top-ranked run game, as well as showing the tenacity to stay on blocks with the mobile Nick Marshall dancing behind him at QB.
Jake Matthews still sits as the 2014 draft standard at offensive tackle, but Robinson has very much closed the gap on him and the rest of the prospects at his position.
• Tre Mason, RB: "God willing, it's something good," Mason told AL.com of what he hopes to hear back from the NFL draft advisory board. The productive junior likely will declare for the draft if he gets relatively positive news.
Mason (5-10, 205) scored 22 rushing touchdowns this season, with 1,621 yards on the ground. Auburn's scheme (and guys like Robinson) deserve some credit for those numbers, but Mason has done more than enough to warrant NFL consideration. After this season, which included 283 carries, it's also hard to see how he could bump up his stock by playing for Auburn in 2014.
• Chris Davis, CB: You might know the play better than the player. Davis is the Auburn hero who raced back 108-or-so yards on the final play against Alabama to hand his team one of the most thrilling victories in college football history.
That moment aside, he's also a decent NFL prospect in the secondary -- and it took more than that historic moment versus the Tide to get him there. Davis has battled injuries throughout his career (including briefly in 2013), but he was an invaluable member of Auburn's defense this season.
"We didn’t know whether to give him most valuable player, most valuable special teams player or most valuable defensive player," Auburn's defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, told ESPN.com.
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• Christian Jones, LB: Jones will compete at the Senior Bowl later this month. He's coming off a strong season for the Seminoles, after nearly entering the 2013 draft following three years on the outside.
NFL teams seeking a pass-rusher will look elsewhere, despite his experience playing as a DE/OLB hybrid -- Jones has just eight sacks in four seasons. Those in need of an athletic stabilizer at an inside position, though, might be watching Jones with a very close eye in Monday night's action. He's shown the versatility to be productive from multiple linebacking spots.
• Cameron Erving, OT: While Robinson may be the fast-riser among the potential 2014 tackles, Erving has long been mentioned among the most exciting talents at that position. In fact, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave Erving a top-10 overall ranking way back before the regular season even started.
This was just Erving's second season on the offensive line; he spent 2011 and '12 as a defensive tackle for the Seminoles. Because of that late shift, there's still work to be done with the 6-6 Erving, yet he has shown more than enough ability already to solidify his status as a likely first-rounder. Winston would not have had the breakout freshman year that he did without Erving protecting his blindside.
• Kelvin Benjamin, WR: There is what feels like an infinite list of receivers headed for the 2014 draft -- a number growing by the day as underclassmen continue to declare. Benjamin, a redshirt sophomore, could be next.
He caught 50 passes for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, while developing into Winston's favorite target in the passing game. He stands 6-5 and 234 pounds, almost identical measurements to Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236). That comparison ought to give you some idea why NFL teams are anxiously awaiting Benjamin's upcoming draft decision.
Improving his consistency will be a focus for Benjamin moving forward. Assuming there are no unforeseen slips, however, the future is extremely bright for Benjamin as a physical receiver.
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