TALLAHASSEE -- As has long been expected, Florida State will be without one of its top defenders next season. According to a news release from FSU, junior defensive end Bjoern Werner will forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft process.

"I'm grateful to Coach [Jimbo] Fisher and Florida State for giving me the opportunity to be a Seminole and play for one of the top college football programs in the country," Werner said in the release. "I've learned so much from the coaches, especially [defensive ends] Coach [D.J.] Eliot, and have been able to play with some of the best players in the country."

ESPN.com's Joe Schad first reported Thursday afternoon that a source close to Werner said the junior would leave FSU following a season that saw him earn all-conference and consensus All-America honors. With 40 tackles and an ACC-leading 13 sacks, he was one of the biggest contributors to FSU's defense this season. The unit entered Tuesday night's Orange Bowl ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Werner told reporters immediately after the Orange Bowl that he wanted to take a couple days before he made an announcement about his future known. He also had been saying that he and his wife had come to a decision, but that they wanted to wait until after the bowl, just in case their minds changed.

"I've enjoyed my time at FSU and will cherish the time I spent as a Seminole," Werner said.

A native of Berlin, Germany, Werner came to the States to compete at the all-boys Salisbury Prep School in Salisbury, Conn. He came to FSU in 2010, and was an instant contributor as a true freshman. For the last two seasons, he anchored a defensive line that likely will see five NFL Draft selections this year, including three who are potential first-rounders.

Draft analysts have declared Werner a likely top-5 projection. He could be taken as high as No. 2 overall. He would be the highest drafted FSU defensive player since defensive end Peter Boulware went fourth overall to the Baltimore Ravens in 1997.

"It's the best decision for him and his family," Fisher said. "Not only is he a great football player, but he's an unbelievable person. His leadership on and off the field will impact this program for years to come.

"I wish him nothing but the best and he will always be remembered as one of the great players in FSU history."

Ends Brandon Jenkins and Cornellius Carradine also could be first-rounders. Tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud should be selected in the draft, as well.

Werner adds his name to a growing list of Seminoles who are leaving early. Junior cornerback Xavier Rhodes declared his draft intentions after the Orange Bowl. Last month, Jenkins, who would qualify for a medical redshirt after a season-ending foot injury in FSU's season opener, announced his plans to leave.

Chris Thompson, a senior running back who had hoped to be given a medical redshirt exemption after having season-ending injuries the last two seasons, told the Orlando Sentinel he was dropping his appeal and wanted to enter the draft.

Junior safety Lamarcus Joyner informed Fisher of his decision to stay at FSU earlier Thursday afternoon. The Seminoles are hopefuly he'll be joined by junior linebacker Christian Jones, who has said he plans to make his decision known in the coming days.

Email me at coharvey@orlandosentinel.com, and follow on Twitter at @os_coleyharvey.