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April 25, 2013

Trio of 'Noles taken in first round of NFL draft

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The moment was overwhelming, and the payoff after five seasons at Florida State was certainly sweet for EJ Manuel when it arrived on Thursday night.

Manuel fought back tears just moments after becoming the first quarterback taken in the 2013 NFL draft, going No. 16 overall to the Buffalo Bills. In one of the most unpredictable opening rounds in recent memory, Manuel was the first of three FSU players - Bjoern Werner (Indianapolis), Xavier Rhodes (Minnesota) - to have their names called during Thursday's first round.

"I am just so excited," Manuel said. "I am so proud to be a Buffalo Bill. I am just proud of family, all of my teammates at Florida St. and my coaches who helped me get to this point. I am just extremely proud and happy right now."

Manuel helped FSU to a 12-2 season, capping a 25-6 career mark and a school record 66.9 percent completion percentage. He also faced personal hardship during his senior season, learning his mother Jackie was diagnosed with breast cancer in September.

He was rewarded by becoming just the second FSU quarterback to be taken in the first round, joining former teammate Christian Ponder. Ponder was taken No. 12 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in 2011.

"I'm extremely happy for EJ," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said in a release following the pick. Fisher and his family were in New York for the draft on Thursday night. "He's a tremendous young man who has been a great representative of Florida State University. He's worked extremely hard to get to this goal. He's one of the main reasons that this program has been able to get back to national prominence because of the sacrifices he's made through his career as well as his development as a player. I'm extremely happy for him and his family. This couldn't have happened to a better group of people."

A polarizing draft prospect, Manuel was considered by some to be outside of the top five quarterbacks available. The Bills, who traded down from No. 8 overall to No. 16, opened eyes because West Virginia's Geno Smith and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib were still on the board. Smith was ranked as the top quarterback by most draft experts and Nassib was the staring quarterback for the Bills' new head coach Doug Marrone.

But Marrone opted for Manuel instead.

"(Manuel) can throw the football vertically down the field, he has a good arm, he can get himself out of trouble," Marrone said. "He can create things with his feet, he has good presence in the huddle, he's accurate and we are excited to have him."

Manuel was just as excited to be the first QB taken.

"It means a lot," he said. "This goes down as probably the best day, the best night of my life. To be the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, to be a first rounder, to be taken by the Buffalo Bills considering where I started from in January to this day now is ... I am just so proud and happy for the team I have and the people who helped me get to this point."

Manuel joins some familiar faces in Buffalo as the fifth FSU player on the Bills' roster. He joins offensive lineman Zebrie Sanders, linebacker Nigel Bradham, long snapper Garrison Sanborn and punter Shawn Powell.

Werner was the next Florida State player to find a home, going No. 24 overall to the Colts. The ACC defensive player of the year in 2012, Werner logged 13 sacks for FSU and became a stable force for an injury-prone defensive end unit. He became the first FSU defensive lineman to go in Round 1 since 2006.

"Bjoern is one of the great players in Florida State history and one of the most instinctive players that's ever been around," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "He's going to be a great professional player. He's another great ambassador for this university."

Werner was followed by Rhodes at No. 25 overall by Minnesota, giving him a chance to team up with Ponder. Rhodes, who entered FSU with dreams of playing wide receiver, was the fourth cornerback taken and one of three No. 1 selections by the Vikings on Thursday. Minnesota became the first team to make three first-round picks in the same year since 2001.

"He made the sacrifice of switching from receiver to corner and will go on to have a tremendous career in the NFL," Fisher said. He was a staple on our defense, really anchoring down that boundary corner spot for such a long time which was a key position for us."

The last time Florida State had at least three players drafted in the first round came in 2006 when four players - Ernie Sims, Kamerion Wimbley, Broderick Bunkley and Antonio Cromartie - were selected.

Two players who fell out of the first round, Menelik Watson and Cornelius Carradine, are expected to be drafted during Friday's second round.



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