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April 28, 2012
Linebacker Nigel Bradham concedes, laughing, that life will be different in Buffalo.
The scenery will be different and the weather will be a drastic change for the Crawfordville, Fla. native, but most of all, it's difference comes in the form of a life-shifting opportunity in pro football. Bradham was picked by the Buffalo Bills in the fourth round (No. 105 overall) of the NFL draft on Saturday, becoming the first of four FSU players taken.
"It was very exciting when I got a call," said Bradham, who watched the draft with his family in Crawfordville, located about 20 miles south of Tallahassee.
The next FSU player to be selected was offensive lineman Zebrie Sanders, who was also picked by Buffalo but in the fifth round (No. 144 overall). The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted cornerback Mike Harris in the sixth round while offensive tackle Andrew Datko rounded out the FSU selections when he was picked in the seventh round by the Green Bay Packers.
Bradham was extremely productive at Florida State, leading the Seminoles in tackles the past three seasons including 86 stops in 2011. Bradham was also a force on special teams, which made him more valuable in the eyes of NFL scouts.
"I'm extremely happy for Nigel and his family," FSU head football coach Jimbo Fisher said. Bradham became the first FSU player to be taken by Buffalo since Sam Cowart in 1998. "I know he's worked very hard in accomplishing this goal. He was a phenomenal player at Florida State - one of the best we've had. He's an outstanding young man. I'm sure he's going to be a great pro and I'm looking forward to watching him at the next level."
Bradham will head to Buffalo later this week for the team's rookie minicamp and will be joined by Sanders and another FSU teammate, punter Shawn Powell, who inked a free agent deal with the Bills following Saturday's draft.
Bradham was surprised to get the call from Buffalo; he said he only spoke with the Bills once in a sitdown interview prior to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis in February. But Bills general manager Buddy Nix said Bradham "is a force on special teams" and said that Bradham "looks like Tarzan, I mean, he's really cut up."
Nix said that Bradham has some work to do to polish his game as a linebacker, but Bradham is expected to compete for time on special teams right away.
"You know I think he (covers the pass) pretty good," Nix said. Entering January's Senior Bowl, Bradham felt the biggest question mark surrounding his game in the eyes of scouts was his ability to cover.
"I think he has to improve the other stuff," Nix said. "He can run with seam routes, you see him do it. He's got good speed. He's a little bit straight-line and he might be just a fuzz late on some of the reads and the instincts, but he's really a hitter. He punishes them."
Bradham is looking forward to the chance, differences and all.
"I expect it to be great for me," Bradham said. "I expect to come in and contribute on special teams and hopefully be able to contribute as a linebacker as well. I'm just going to be working hard every day, try to learn the scheme ,pick it up quickly and have good chemistry with my teammates."
Sanders slides to fifth round
Once considered a fringe first-round value, offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders slid to the fifth round before being drafted by Buffalo at No. 144 overall.
Now with an NFL home, Sanders will have an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.
"It's going to be a great opportunity playing with the Bills," Sanders said. "I'm glad they spent a pick in me and trusted me with that. It's going to be nice just being able to go up there and compete with Nigel (Bradham) and hopefully earn a spot on the field."
Sanders was accomplished at FSU, starting all four years - 50 total games including 36 consecutive starts - on the offensive line. He earned first-team All-ACC honors in 2011.
But Sanders' stock began to slide after a rough performance at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. in January.
"I'm going to tell you why he was (available in the fifth round), I think. He had a bad Senior Bowl," Nix said. "He had tried to lose some weight and he worked them in at guard and that kind of threw him off. He didn't have a good Senior Bowl. I think it scared off everybody. It actually scared us some. You couldn't get it out of your mind.
"We say that all-star games are not going to move a guy up or down, but once you see it you know it's hard not remember that. You go back to his body of work he played good and he's got some of that strength back."
Nix said he liked Sanders' versatility with his ability to play either tackle spot.
"The good thing about that old boy is he started 50 (sic) out of 53 games," Nix said.
Harris, Datko round out FSU draftees
Mike Harris will stay in state to start his NFL career. The cornerback was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the sixth round (No. 176) on Saturday.
"They're getting a smart player, someone who's willing to do anything to help the team succeed and be successful as an organization," Harris said. "I'm looking to go in and contribute anyway I can to help the team win football games."
Harris, a junior college transfer who was a key contributor on FSU's defense the past two seasons, was second on the team with 58 tackles last season.
"I'm very proud of Mike," Fisher said. "I know it was a very long process for him and a dream come true. Mike did a phenomenal job for us. He's a winner. "He's a guy who's very instinctive, who understands the game and can play a multitude of positions. I'm happy he's going to have this opportunity and I know he's going to do very well."
Lineman Andrew Datko was considered an early-round pick during his career at FSU, but a multitude of shoulder injuries hurt his professional football prospects. But Green Bay took a chance, selecting him in the seventh round (No. 241 overall).
"I have to say I'm relieved," Datko said. "It was a long wait but absolutely worth it. The Packers are going to get a player that's going to work as hard as I can to earn a spot with the organization. I'm ready to get it rolling."
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