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Noles in the Pros: Where do FSU’s departing defensive stars project in the NFL draft?

With the season over, here is the initial standing of Adam Fuller’s unit

Braden Fiske celebrates after Kalen DeLoach scores a touchdown during Florida State Seminoles win over the Clemson Tigers 31-24 in Clemson, South Carolina.
Charles Mays/Tomahawk Nation

For many on the 2023 Seminole’s roster, their attention has turned to Dublin.

For those departing the program, their eyes fixate on Detroit.

The NFL Draft will occur in the Motor City in just over three months, where former Florida State players should take center stage. Multiple Seminoles on both sides of the ball will be looking to hear their name called, from potential first-round (and even top 10) selections to later-round pick-ups.

Draft evaluations are fluid and change rapidly, but before the combine and all-star events begin, let’s take a look at how some of those players are being projected — I previously released my scouting reports for the FSU offense and their draft projections and today is the defense’s turn.

The growth of the defense throughout the season should translate into high selections. As the veteran-laden group tightened the screws on opposing offenses, the increase in production increased their stock. While Jared Verse projects as the only first-rounder, a few more departures could hear their name called on draft weekend.

Defensive end Jared Verse

Measurables as listed from FSU:

6’4’’ 260 lbs

Scouting report:

Pros: Verse, FSU’s highest projected draft pick right now, became a human wrecking ball down the season's stretch. He put early concerns about production to rest as he finished the year with nine sacks and 41 total tackles. The Albany transfer transcended his play, body, and draft stock during his two seasons in Tallahassee. Verse is a wrecking ball, consistently overpowering offensive tackles and smashing them back into their quarterback. Verse plays with a mean streak and can best be described as a bull in a china shop. He converts speed to power as well as anyone in the draft and sinks his hips to bend the edge when needed. After practice, the defensive and offensive lines would do 1-on-1s. Verse consistently blew past the helpless tackles as he often made the starters look like back-ups and the back-ups look like high schoolers. He should distinguish himself at the combine due to his projected testing numbers. His football IQ took another step this season and remains an underrated part of his game. Offenses rarely fooled him with misdirection, and Verse could be seen at the right place and time.

Cons: Jared Verse struggled at points during the year in run defense. Some of that was by design, as offenses would try to run away from him or make Verse the player in conflict. Other times, he had poor gap discipline and rushed too far up the field, trying to make a play that was not there. His season run defense grade from PFF is a slightly above-average 65.3, although two of his three highest totals came in the final three games. He struggled with production early on in the season, which could be attributed to many factors, but without question, he played his best games toward the end of the year. Verse still has a way to go regarding the refinement of his pass rush. He must add more moves to his repertoire to become a constant three-down force at the next level.

Outlook:

As mentioned earlier, Verse projects to be the highest Seminole draft pick. His work as a pass rush supplants him as one of the top two edge rushers in this draft (Dallas Turner, the other name). Verse’s name will only rise with his prototypical frame and dominant tape in the year's second half.

Draft Projection: Top 15 pick

Defensive tackle Braden Fiske

Measurables: 6’5’’ 297 lbs

Pros: If Keon Coleman became the poster child for what one year at FSU can do for a player’s draft stock, then Fiske is his defensive counterpart. The Western Michigan transfer began the year on the outside, looking in for getting drafted to receiving all-star invites left and right. Fiske transformed himself into Florida State’s best interior pass rusher. Mike Norvell could not take him off the field as his snap counts grew from the beginning of the year to the end. Standing 6’5, Fiske uses his powerful frame and long arms to overpower and get on top of interior offensive linemen. He explodes off the ball, and his suddenness results in quick internal pressure. His six years of experience translated to a high football IQ. Adam Fuller used Fiske's stunts and twists the whole season, often resulting in Fiske blowing up the play. His production speaks for itself; he usually makes the most impact in pressing moments.

Cons: While Fiske burst onto the scene this season, his game still primarily revolves around his pass rush. Florida State played Fiske significantly more on passing downs than run snaps, given that is the weakness in his game. The Western Michigan transfer struggled all season tackling, resulting in a lackluster 60.6 tackling from PFF. His run defense did not fair much better, finishing this season with a 69.6 grade, according to PFF. Fiske only projects average athleticism in the NFL, affecting his ability to be a three-down defensive tackle. He played six seasons of college football, and being 23 years old raises questions about how much he can improve his game at the next level.

Outlook:

Fiske’s production, game knowledge, and interior presence make him a surefire pick in late April. His draft stock will fluctuate during the evaluation period as five lists of DTs will have five different rankings of the players. At the next level, Fiske can play the 1 or 3 technique but will mostly play in sub-packages on passing downs.

Draft projection: Early Day 3 pick

Defensive lineman Fabien Lovett

Measurables: 6’4’’ 318 lbs

Scouting report:

Pros: Lovett returned for his final season of eligibility, finishing what he started with Florida State. The fifth-year senior played every game this season after being limited through spring camps, bringing a consistent presence to a robust defense line. The Vicksburg native made his name in the last two seasons for his ability to stop the run. According to PFF, Lovett was the runner-up on the Florida State roster in run defense and played the most run snaps on the FSU defense. Weighing over 300 pounds, he quickly takes on double teams and anchors himself along the line of scrimmage. He uses his catching mitts for hands to wrap up ball carriers, as PFF did not record him missing a tackle on the season. However, his most impressive attribute comes off the field. Lovett became the heartbeat of the roster. The Seminole leaders this year were more on the quiet side and led by example.

Except for Fabo.

He constantly motivated players throughout the season, and plenty of second-half comebacks are credited to his halftime pep talks. All rosters need adults in the room like Lovett, and he will not be surprised by the maturity required in the NFL.

Cons: Lovett feels like the opposite in some aspects of Fiske in terms of evaluation. He struggled in pass rush this season and regressed from where he was a season ago. He often just tried to overpower opposing linemen without a go-to pass rush move, something much harder in the NFL. Lovett usually came in on 1st and 2nd down and was not a part of the sub-packages on the third down. This also resulted in lower snap totals for the 5th senior year, as he played less than 30 snaps in 11 of 13 games. He battled through injuries all of spring and during the season, so the best film on Lovett came two years ago, not this season.

Outlook: Lovett can carve out a role on an NFL roster as a run-stuffing defender. However, given his shortcomings with his pass rush moves, he is not projected to be a three-down lineman. During the lead-up to the draft, he will need to prove that the drop in production this year does not define his career at Florida State.

Draft projection: Middle Day 3 pick

Linebackers Tatume Bethune and Kalen DeLoach

Outlook:

Like I did previously, I will group my draft outlook for position group players who do not expect to be drafted. The Seminole linebackers entered into FSU lore to finish their careers, but their chances of being drafted are much different. DeLo and Tatum are undersized for the linebacker position and, coupled with average athleticism, will struggle to keep up with the quicker backs at the next level. In pass coverage, they struggled at times in Tallahassee due to their foot speed, and those concerns will be amplified in the NFL. Similarly, tackling became an issue for each player the entire season, leading to explosive offensive plays. DeLo improved as a blitzer this season, but that is not a true draftable skill that would differentiate him from someone else. Each player stayed an extra year in college, so they will be older rookies, which adds uneasiness to how close to their potential they already reached. A thin linebacker draft class may aid Bethune and DeLoach, but gaining traction in scouting circles will be an uphill battle.

Defensive back Jarrian Jones

Measurables: 6’0’’ 191 lbs

Scouting report:

Pros: Jarrian Jones became the defining player in Mike Norvell’s program. He went ten toes deep and transformed himself from an outcast to a shutdown corner. Jones played a specific role in the Seminole’s defense. Adam Fuller often tasked him to follow the receiver in the slot, and the fifth-year senior became the nickel corner. He excelled in his role. Against the stiffest competition, which this season came from Ricky Pearsall and Xavier Restrepo, Jones excelled. He held the former to the lowest receiving yard total on the season and the latter without a catch. His production stands out amongst the other corners around him. According to PFF, He was the highest-rated defender for the entire season.
Furthermore, Jones’ wiry frame lets him stay in phase with receivers throughout their routes. He uses his fluid hips to hang with the quicker receivers inside but possesses impressive ball skills to break on attempted throws coming his way. As a run defender, Jones is a willing tackler. PFF graded his run defense at an above-average 74.2, and he finished in the high 70s in tackling for the season's final three games.

Cons: Jones’ impressive role as a nickel corner made him the straw that stirred the drink for the Seminoles on the back end. Unfortunately, that also caps his draft stock. The NFL looks for outside shutdown corners before looking to slot corners. Given where his success came from in college, Jones is not projected to play in that position. He needs to put on weight and would struggle against the more physical receivers in the league. His foot speed will make it challenging to play with some of the faster players, as he relied on being quicker than fast in college and used his agility to stay connected.

Outlook: Given how Jones impressed this season, he played himself into a position of being drafted, which was not a sure thing to start the season. At the next level, he projects to be a nickel corner who will play on passing down sub-packages. If he can put on more weight during the offseason, he could be able to play more as a tenacious corner willing to get off blocks and stop the run.

Draft Projection: 5th round

Defensive backs Renardo Green and Akeem Dent

Outlook: Like DeLoach and Bethune, neither the Green nor Dent project to be drafted now. They each excelled in their roles with Florida State but do not have the measurables to warrant a pick in April. They are undersized for their position, as neither weigh more than 200 pounds. Green and Dent stand just at 6’0’’, the baseline for playing secondary in the NFL. They are each older players, staying for a fifth year in school, so they are not projected as developmental prospects. Dent feels like the more likely between the two, given it is a thinner safety class, and his numbers to end the season were off the charts. He played strong safety with FSU but does not carry the weight to become a thumper at the next level and will struggle against the speedier NFL receivers. Each player has all-star game invites coming up, so they could raise their draft stock soon.