2015 NFL DRAFT
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A.J. Nicholson

Height: 6-1 | Weight: 252 | College: Florida State
 
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Overview

The linebacker tradition continues in the Nicholson family. Nicholson's father, Darrell, was a standout performer at that position for the University of North Carolina, playing alongside Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. Darrell was drafted in the sixth round of the 1982 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He played one season in the league before heading north to play in the Canadian Football League, where he helped Toronto win the prestigious Grey Cup, the CFL's version of the Super Bowl. Nicholson's younger brother, Derek, was a teammate at Mount Tabor High School and joined Nicholson in the Florida State linebacker unit in 2005.

Nicholson was a highly recruited linebacker at Mount Tabor High School, where he was named a Parade and Prep Stars All-American. He added USA Today All-USA second-team honors and was rated the third-best middle linebacker in the nation according to Max Emfinger.

He was rated the eighth-best linebacker in the nation according to School Sports and selected to the Athlon Sports Top 100 High School Seniors and the Alliance Sports Top 100 lists. The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Super Southern 100 team choice recorded 147 tackles as a senior and made 170 tackles with 23 stops for losses as a junior.

Nicholson selected Florida State over Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida and Texas. He played in every game as a true freshman, recording 23 tackles (14 solos) with a sack in 2002. Nicholson started three of 13 games in 2003. He posted 55 tackles (36 solos) with three stops for losses and recovered three fumbles, advancing one 23 yards for a score.

He took over weak-side outside linebacker duties as a junior, leading the team with 88 tackles (39 solos), including four sacks and 11.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He caused a fumble, recovered two others and intercepted a pass. Nicholson again led the team in tackles in 2005, posting 100 hits (53 solos) with 10 stops for losses and 12 quarterback pressures. For that performance, he was awarded second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors.

In 50 games with the Seminoles, Nicholson started 27 times. He finished his career with 266 tackles (142 solos) and six sacks for minus-19 yards. He totaled 25.5 stops for losses of 63 yards and 21 quarterback pressures. Nicholson caused three fumbles and recovered five others, returning one 23 yards for a touchdown. He also deflected six passes and had three interceptions for 59 yards in returns and a touchdown.

Analysis

Positives: Has solid overall muscle tone, well-built upper body frame that can carry at least another 15 pounds of bulk, good bubble and thick legs and thighs … Shows adequate flexibility and change of direction agility working down the line … Does a decent job of slipping off and avoiding blocks when working in-line … Aggressive athlete who plays with good emotion … Does a good job of reading blocking schemes and scraping to the ball … Downhill type who is better when avoiding blocks than when taking them on …

Delivers solid tackles and has the functional strength to bring down ball carriers on contact … Has the lateral range to chase down plays along the sidelines … Plays until the whistle … Has the loose hips needed to get depth in his pass drops and shows a short area burst to close on receivers vs. plays in front of him … Times his leaps well to deflect passes and can close on the ball in a hurry once he locates it … Slippery through traffic, showing good urgency closing on the pocket … Does not have the strength to create piles, but attacks fullbacks with good pop in attempts to clog the rush lanes.

Negatives: Lacks ideal foot speed to cover receivers outside the short area … Might be better suited for middle linebacker due to his straight-line speed and ability to make plays in front of him, as he will lose relationship with the opponent when having to cover much ground … Struggles to stack and shed when working inside the box … When offensive linemen get into his body, the battle is quickly over (poor hand usage to disengage) … Lacks natural hands for the interception (several opportunities resulted in deflections, as he dropped a few and let others absorb into his body) … Best when protected by his defensive tackles, as he is not stout vs. the inside run and gets engulfed too often by offensive linemen … Has major off-field issues that need further examination … Does not have the foot speed to match up with slot receivers and some backs in the passing game.

Nicholson is an aggressive tackler who does a good job in run containment, but due to a lack of ideal size, he can be engulfed by larger blockers when trying to slip through traffic. He has a quick short area burst to push the pocket, but is best when his defensive tackles are occupying blockers so he can take a clear lane into the backfield.

Nicholson relies a lot on his read-and-diagnose ability to get a jump on the ball, as his speed is only average and he lacks the sudden burst to surprise linemen coming off the edge. He is effective at timing his jumps into the backfield, but if he has to run long distances, he fails to seal the deal and get to the passer (better at applying pressure than making the sack).

His big problems occur in traffic, as he does not keep his hands active to prevent blockers from attacking his body. He is not the type who will stack and control and while he has strong legs, he will get pushed back when he gets too narrow with his base.

Nicholson shows good effort chasing down the ball. He can deliver enough pop to stop the ball carrier and has the hand strength to drag the opponent down. He has the loose hips to change direction and move laterally, demonstrating the vision to recognize underneath routes. He gets good depth dropping back in the seam, but just does not have the foot speed to stay on the receiver in long routes.

His off-field issues continued to mount in 2005. He was involved in two alcohol-related offenses and was also sent home from the Orange Bowl after a woman accused him of sexual assault. While he is a good tackler and a vocal team leader, he does talk a lot of "trash" on the field. With his off-field issues, lack of ideal size and speed, his struggles trying to shed blocks and possible durability questions (right knee), he could slip right out of the draft's first day after being projected as a very early round pick prior to the 2005 season.

Career Notes

In his two years as the starting weak-side linebacker, he led the team in tackles during both seasons … Helped the team rank third in the nation in rush defense (83.03 ypg) in 2004 and 14th (108.38 ypg) in 2005 … Registered 188 of his career 266 tackles during his last two seasons.

2005 Season

All-Atlantic Coast Conference second-team selection … Butkus Award semifinalist … Lined up at weak-side outside linebacker, leading the team for the second consecutive year with 100 tackles (53 solos) … Had a 2-yard sack, 10 stops for losses of 22 yards and 12 quarterback pressures … Caused a fumble and deflected two passes … Gained 59 yards on two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown … Helped the team rank 14th in the nation in total defense, allowing only 309.23 yards per game.

2005 Game Analysis

Miami … Opened the season with three assisted tackles and two pass deflections … Teamed with defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley to stop tailback Tyrone Moss for a 1-yard loss on a fourth quarter run.

The Citadel … Posted four solo tackles, including one that stopped tailback Duran Lawson for a 1-yard loss on a second quarter run off right tackle.

Boston College … Registered a career-high 19 tackles (17 solos), including a stop behind the line of scrimmage, intercepted two passes, deflected another and had a pressure, earning Walter Camp Foundation National Player of the Week honors … On the game's first play from scrimmage, he intercepted a Quinton Porter pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown seven seconds into the game … On BC's next drive, Nicholson again intercepted a Porter pass, returning it 39 yards to set up a 20-yard scoring strike from FSU QB Drew Weatherford to Greg Carr.

Syracuse … Made four tackles (3 solos).

Wake Forest … Collected 12 assisted tackles and 1.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage … Stopped QB Cory Randolph for a 2-yard loss on a third quarter bootleg.

Virginia … Added nine tackles (4 solos) … Had a 22-yard interception return of a Marques Hagans pass nullified when FSU linebacker Ernie Sims was penalized for roughing the passer in the third quarter.

Duke … Delivered four hits (3 solos) and sacked QB Zack Asack for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-6 play at the end of the second quarter.

Maryland … Came up with six tackles (3 solos) and sacked QB Joel Statham for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-5 play as time expired, preserving a 35-27 win.

North Carolina State … Totaled 13 tackles (1 solo) and 1.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Clemson … Posted eight hits (7 solos), including one that stopped tailback Reggie Merriweather for a 1-yard loss in the fourth quarter.

Florida … Added 10 tackles (6 solos) and caused a fumble on the first play of the second half when he tackled tight end Tate Casey after Chris Leak fired a 27-yard reception and middle linebacker Buster Davis recovered the ball.

Virginia Tech (ACC Championship) … Helped the team earn an Orange Bowl invitation by making eight tackles (5 solos).

Penn State (Orange Bowl) … Did not play after he was sent home and suspended from the team (see Off-Field Issues).

2004 Season

Took over weakside outside linebacker duties, leading the team with 88 tackles (39 solos) … Helped the unit rank third in the nation in rushing defense (83.03 ypg), fourth in scoring defense (14.08 ppg) and seventh in total defense (283.83 ypg) … Added four sacks for minus-16 yards and 11.5 stops for losses of 35 yards … Intercepted a pass and batted away two others … Had four quarterback pressures, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

2004 Game Analysis

Miami … Opened the season with nine tackles (1 solo) and recovered a fumble by QB Brock Berlin in the first quarter to set up an FSU 45-yard field goal.

Alabama-Birmingham … Posted five hits and 2.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, as he twice sacked QB Darrell Hackney for losses totaling 7 yards.

Syracuse … Totaled nine solo tackles and two stops for losses of 9 yards.

Wake Forest … Stopped tailback Chris Barclay for a 3-yard loss and delivered six tackles (5 solos).

Duke … Added a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage and a season-high 14 tackles (5 solos).

North Carolina State … Followed with five tackles (4 solos) and two stops for minus-9 yards.

Florida … Credited with an 8-tackle (1 solo) performance.

West Virginia (Gator Bowl) … Stopped tailback Kay-Jay Harris for a 3-yard loss and produced 12 tackles (6 solos).

2003 Season

Played in every game, starting vs. Duke, Wake Forest and Notre Dame at weakside outside linebacker … Recorded 55 tackles (36 solos) with three stops for losses of 5 yards and four quarterback pressures … Caused a fumble and recovered three others, returning one 23 yards for a touchdown … Also deflected two passes.

2003 Game Analysis

Maryland … Recovered a fumble by tailback Bruce Perry and delivered six tackles (4 solos).

Duke … Posted seven tackles (5 solos) with two fumble recoveries, returning one 23 yards for a score.

Miami … Tackled tailback Jarrett Payton for a 3-yard loss and came up with five tackles (3 solos).

Colorado and North Carolina State … Produced five tackles in each game.

Miami (Orange Bowl) … Finished the year with four tackles (3 assists).

2002 Season

Played in 13 games as a true freshman … Was in on 23 tackles (14 solos) with a 1-yard sack and a quarterback pressure.

Injury Report

2005: Underwent surgery in May to repair a right knee torn medial collateral ligament.

Agility Tests

Campus: 4.7 in the 40-yard dash … 386-pound bench press … 458-pound squat … 357-pound power clean … 28-inch vertical jump … 10'0" broad jump … 32-inch arm length … 10 5/8-inch hands … Right-handed … 13/32 Wonderlic score.

Off-Field Issues

2005: Was involved in a car accident in February, where he was rear-ended. He tried to settle with the other driver, but police arrested both parties for driving under the influence and reckless driving. Nicholson pleaded no contest to the DUI. He was fined and given six months' probation, which he will serve through the beginning of February 2006.

On June 10th, Nicholson was subdued with a Taser and arrested around 2 a.m. Friday after hiding from police in bushes at an off-campus apartment complex under construction, according to Tallahassee Police Department records. Nicholson was taken to the Leon County Jail, charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest without violence, and released on $150 bond. Nicholson was already placed in a pretrial intervention program over his February arrest on DUI charges in Tallahassee.

According to a TPD shift report, two officers on patrol at 1:58 a.m. observed a man running into an apartment complex under construction at the 600 block of W. Virginia St. and, due to time and circumstances, felt they had ``reasonable suspicion'' to stop him. The man, later identified as Nicholson, instead hid in nearby bushes, where the officers found him. When he refused to comply with officers' orders, he was subdued with the Taser and placed under arrest.

Police then learned from off-duty officers working at a nearby nightclub that Nicholson had fled when officers at the club had attempted to eject him following an incident involving ``disorderly conduct and drinking violations.'' Nicholson was ordered to appear in Leon County Circuit Court on June 28.

Nicholson was suspended for the 2006 Orange Bowl after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at the team hotel early Thursday morning on December 28th. "We talked to Mr. Nicholson and let him go," Hollywood Police Department Det. Carlos Negron said. "We have no probable cause at this time to make an arrest. It's an open case."

Police received a phone call at 3 a.m. Thursday from a woman alleging she had been sexually assaulted at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, where the FSU team is staying. Players arrived Wednesday to begin practice, and the incident occurred during their first night in town.

Coach Bobby Bowden said before practice Thursday that he had suspended Nicholson, a senior who would have been playing in his final game at FSU. "A.J. Nicholson will be sent home and will be suspended from this ballgame for violating a team rule," Bowden said. "That's about all I'll say about it."

Nicholson, whom Negron said was cooperative throughout questioning, was released at about 10 a.m. His family confirmed that he was returning home. "This is so out of character for A.J.," said Nicholson's grandmother, Patricia Nicholson Stover. "He's a Christian young man. He was raised up in the church. He would not assault anybody."

Nicholson's mother said her son told her his roommate, senior linebacker Sam McGrew, was in the room while Nicholson and the woman were together. She said Nicholson asked the woman to leave after she declined to have sex and that he and McGrew were later awakened by the police.

"He feels horrible about it. He is so upset," Natalie Nicholson said. "He could barely talk. He was crying so hard and he couldn't understand why this was happening. "These are the pitfalls of the athlete. If you're not very careful about who you allow in your area, anybody can say anything, I can accuse you of anything, run down to the police station and say you assaulted me, and you have to prove that you didn't." Linebackers coach Kevin Steele -- whom Natalie Nicholson said went to the police station with her son -- said players had been told about the suspension but were not given details.

High School

Attended Mount Tabor (Winston-Salem, N.C.) High School, playing football for head coach Bob Sapp … The highly recruited linebacker was named a Parade and Prep Stars All-American … Added USA Today All-USA second-team honors and was rated the third-best middle linebacker in the nation according to Max Emfinger … Also rated the eighth-best linebacker in the nation according to School Sports and selected to the Athlon Sports Top 100 High School Seniors and the Alliance Sports Top 100 lists … The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Super Southern 100 team choice recorded 147 tackles as a senior and made 170 tackles with 23 stops for losses as a junior.

Personal

Sports Management/Social Science major … Father, Darrell, was a standout performer at that position for the University of North Carolina, playing alongside Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. Darrell was drafted in the sixth round of the 1982 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. He played one season in the league before heading north to play in the Canadian Football League, where he helped Toronto win the prestigious Grey Cup, which is the CFL's version of the Super Bowl … Nicholson's younger brother, Derek, was a teammate at Mount Tabor High School and joined Nicholson in the Florida State linebacker unit in 2005 … Born 6/25/83 … Resides in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

 
 
 

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