Over the past five drafts, the ACC has produced 185 draft picks and 26 first round picks, the second most in both regards over that frame of time. Can their 2016 class hold up to that lofty standard?
Quarterback: Jacoby Brissett, NC State
After not seeing the field for two years due to being low on the depth chart at Florida and sitting because of transfer rules, Brissett had a big time breakout year in his first season. He has very good size (6-3, 246), possesses a strong arm and athleticism to threaten a defense with. He puts his arm strength on display on the regular with aggressive passing downfield. He is incredibly confident, both as a passer and standing in the pocket. If a play breaks down, Brissett has the ability to either extend the play or escape to break a run. Either way, he is very dangerous. Where he runs into trouble is that he too often goes for a kill shot in the passing game and fails to see guys underneath and would much rather make the more difficult throw. While this results in "wow" plays, that type of style will not be replicated with the same type of efficiency in the NFL. Another issue that stands out is his general inaccuracy, but that seems to be a result of a hitch in his mechanics and should be cleaned up in his second year. There is a ton to like about Brissett going forward, but after one year of starting, there is still plenty work to be done.
Second Team: Everett Golson, FSU
Running Back: James Connor, Pitt and Shadrach Thorton, NC State
Ever since he walked onto Pittsburgh campus, James Connor has been a stud at running back for the Panthers. Last year, he earned All American honors after rushing for over 1,700 yards and 26 touchdowns! Connor does a good job of winning at the line of scrimmage with good eyes and decisiveness. He sees a hole come open and hits it at full speed. At speed, it is a pain in the ass to tackle the 6-2, 250 pound running back. He does not have speed, elusiveness or even overwhelming burst, but his pad level, natural strength and relentless running style will force any defender into making a business decision when they tackle him. His lack of dynamic movement ability is somewhat of a worry at the next level, so hopefully he could drop some weight while still retaining his natural power. Also, he has very little experience catching the football. There are some big flaws to his game, but Connor's power, size and relentless running style will translate into NFL production.
A bit of a fall off in numbers after Connor, Shadrach Thorton still had a successful junior season for the Wolfpack. He has good size (6, 218), decent quickness and good long speed. He does a good job of seeing the whole field and running to daylight. For a bigger back, it would be important to see him create more yards after contact, which is likely a product of poor pad level and lack of consistent leg drive. If he can tweak those two aspects of his game, he could be in for a nice final season in Raleigh.
Second Team: Max Willis, Boston College and Gus Edwards, Miami
Wide Receiver: Mike Williams, Clemson, Quinshad Davis, UNC and Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh
DeAndre Hopkins, Martavis Bryant and Sammy Watkins have all come and gone from Clemson and are making big impacts in the NFL right now and Mike Williams has a chance to make a similarly large impact at the next level. Williams has very good size (6-3, 205 pounds) with long arms and big hands. When the ball is in the air, it is likely that Williams will be coming down with it. He has very good ball skills, leaping ability and strong, dependable hands. Williams does a good job creating separation out of his breaks, but his route running is not consistently sharp and while he does have vertical speed, he is not much of a threat after the catch. I think Williams has immense potential for the NFL and he could be an all around threat if he gets more consistent in his route running.
Much like Williams, Quinshad Davis is a bigger receiver who does his best work with the ball in the air. At 6-4 and 210 pounds, Davis uses his body to box out defenders and attack the football. He has strong hands and very impressive leaping ability and body control. With the ball in his hands, he is not a huge threat after the catch, but he has good speed and his size makes him difficult to deal with in the open field. Even before the catch, Davis shows a lot of polish as a route runner and does a good job getting open all over the field. His drop-off in production can likely be attributed to dysfunction in quarterback and the offensive system. Hopefully Davis can more targets this season, as he has as much talent as any receiver in the country.
Tyler Boyd is one of the most productive and decorated receivers in the country and despite defenses knowing the ball is going his way, he is still able to produce for the Panthers. Boyd has outstanding route running ability which allows him to separate from much more athletic defensive backs and in traffic, Boyd is fearless going for the ball. He has very strong hands and good focus to match with very good ball skills. With the ball in his hands, Boyd has great open field vision, quick feet and a hard running style to help him create big yards after the catch. At the NFL level, I do think Boyd's lack of dynamic athletic ability will hurt him to the point where he will not be able to spearhead and offense, but I think his elite technique and dependability will make him an outstanding complimentary receiver.
Second Team: Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer, UNC, James Quick, Louisville
Tight End: Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
A former quarterback, Bucky Hodges possesses all the size (6-5, 249) and speed a team could want at tight end. In his redshirt freshman year, Hodges flashed a ton of potential as a matchup nightmare and threat down the field. He has all around rawness to his game, both as a receiver and a blocker, but his impressive athletic ability makes him incredibly intriguing. If he can hone his skill set further, he may want to come out of school early to get his name called early next year.
Second Team: Braxton Deaver, Duke
Offensive Tackle: Ivan Foy, Syracuse and Adam Bistonway, Pitt
After Justing Pugh and Sean Hickey receiver All Conference honors at tackle for Syracuse the last few years, Foy will be asked to step into some big shoes for the Orange. Foy (6-5, 286) has top notch movement skills in pass protection and in the running game, but his technique and awareness sometimes fail him. On top of that, his lighter weight makes him vulnerable to more powerful defenders, so it will be important for him to be able to add weight and maintain his athletic ability.
Last season, TJ Clemmings got all the hype for the Panthers, but Bistonway has a great opportunity to increase his stock and have just as good an impact this season. The 6-6, 305 pound tackle has great length and athleticism. To match, he plays with a nasty streak where he wants to block his opposition into the ground. He will have issues with leverage, and his awareness is still a bit raw, but he has some exciting potential.
Second Team: Taylor Gadbois, Miami and Eric Smith, Virginia
Guard: Landon Turner, UNC and Danny Isidora, Miami
Despite UNC being stagnant, overall, as a team, they still have quite a few interesting prospects, including Landon Turner. Turner is an imposing player with immense size (6-3, 325) and very significant strength. He plays with fantastic power and attitude and does a great job blocking down hill. He is not the best athlete, but he has great hustle and awareness to compensate. The biggest issue with Turner comes from poor hand technique, but it is a fixable trait that, hopefully, he can improve on. Guards do not get valued enough in today's NFL, but it is probably that Turner hears his name called early next year.
Like Turner, Isidora (6-3, 322) has great size and a serious nasty streak.I would hate to be a linebacker or defensive back that would have to deal with Isidora out in space because he wants to hurt those guys. He has very good athleticism and strength, but he is still incredibly raw. His flashes are immensely impressive, but he has a long ways to go before he can be considered a top tier prospect.
Second Team: Caleb Peterson, UNC and Tyler Hayworth, Wake Forrest
Center: Matt Skura, Duke
I love when the term lunchpail gets thrown around to describe physically underwhelming players, so let me go ahead and use it. Matt Skura is a lunchpail player who will bring his hard hat to work every day and eat his lunch out of a pail... Wait, let me stop and restart... Matt Skura may not have elite measurables (6-4,290) or athletic ability but he compensates with great technique, awareness and a lunchpail (dammit) attitude. Skura will likely have to wait a while to hear his name get called, but him having a long NFL career would not surprise me.
Second Team: Rob Trudo, Syracuse
Edge Defender: Dadi Nicholas/Ken Ekanem, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech fielded one of the best defenses in the league last year and that was in big part to their stud defensive end duo, led by Dadi Nicholas. While he is undersized (6-3, 236) Nicholas uses a fantastic first step, relentless motor and a strong lower body to make an impact on the defensive line. Tech loved to move him around the formation, so he is used to playing physically inside, but also using more finesse on the outside. His size allows him to get manhandled on occasion, so if he wants to increase his NFL stock, he needs to add size and strength to his toolbox.
His partner in crime, Ken Ekanem is also a bit undersized (6-3, 242), but actually plays to his body type. Meaning, he is not an undersized pass rusher who plays like a power player, he is an undersized pass rusher who plays with finesse. he maximizes his body type in order to win as a defender. Ekanem has great feet and bend in his hips and he does a good job bursting past blockers. He has good movement skills, but, like Nicholas, could improve his strength before he makes the jump to the NFL.
Second Team: Shaq Lawson, Clemson and Devonte Fields, Louisville
Interior Defensive Linemen: Sheldon Rankins, Louisville and Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech
Sheldon Rankins (6-1, 303) was used all over the defensive line for the Cardinals last season and he was a big part of their defenses success. He has very good leverage and brings a lot of power from his hips to disrupt blocking. He is not just a power player though as he also has good quickness for his size and play with a bit of finesse. He is not outstanding in any way, but Rankins is a solid, high motor player, who could make an impact in the NFL.
After losing most of last season to an injury, Luther Maddy is looking to rebound in a big way. During his last full season, Maddy was one of the best defensive tackles in the country, so it is hopeful that he regains form. While Maddy lacks elite size (6-0, 293), he has great quickness, anticipation and hand usage to help him function as a penetrating tackle at a very high level. It is important for him to prove he is healthy and back to 2013 form this year, as he could be a talked about name in a few months.
Second Team: Tyler Harris, Wake Forrest and Connor Wujciak, Boston College
Linebackers: Brandon Chubb, Wake Forrest, Terrence Smith, Florida State and Steven Daniels, Boston College
In an overall underwhelming group, it is important to look for positives with all of these players. For Chubb (6-0, 245), he does a good job compensating for mediocre size with very good recognition skills and an aggressive on the field mentality. He flies around and attacks the ball carrier at whatever costs and does not have issues fighting through blockers to make a play. He is not the best athlete and his size will hurt him at the next level, but he has a great head on his shoulders for NFL teams to take interest in him.
Much in the opposite vein, Terrence Smith has a much more impressive frame (6-4, 224) and athletic ability, but lacks consistent savvy on the field to viewed highly. He is aggressive, but often takes himself out of plays with poor angles and tackling. He will often find himself lost in coverage as well, and his lack of strength can hurt him when taking on blockers. There is an interesting skill set, but also a lot of work needed before Smith should see an NFL field as a starter.
At 5-11, 246, Steven Daniels is short, but he definitely is not small. He has a very well built frame and does a great job using his natural strength to fight through blocks and smash ball carriers. He is a very powerful tackler and often has no issues getting downhill to make a play. He lacks athletic ability to function at a high level in space, but I could see his fit inside a 3-4 defense where he has limited coverage responsibilities and is asked to attack the line of scrimmage on a regular basis.
Second Team: Kelby Brown, Duke, Marquel Lee, Wake Forrest and Deon Clarke, Viriginia Tech
Cornerbacks: Mackenzie Alexander, Clemson and Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
In what seems like a very stacked defensive back class, Mackenzie Alexander (5-11, 185) has gone unheralded to this point, but he may be one of the first defensive backs taken. Alexander has top notch athletic ability, technique and awareness to play in man coverage. He does a great job working from the line of scrimmage to slow down receivers and then will stay inside their pocket through a play. His lack of bulk hurts him as a tackler and he needs to do a better job of locating the ball. Last year was his first year playing at the college level, so his high level of play is very exciting in regards to what he could be moving forward.
In 2014, cornerback, Kyle Fuller was taken top fifteen in the NFL draft, and it is possible his younger brother could go even higher. Fuller has tremendous instincts in coverage, good size (6-0, 197), athletic ability and willingness to make big time tackles in coverage and the run game. He is very apt in both zone and man coverage and does a good job locating the ball while it is in the air. His biggest issue is his technique, specifically his footwork, can get him in trouble from time to time. Even with that downfall, Fuller has a very strong NFL skill set.
Second Team: Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech, and Lafayette Pitts, Pittsburgh
Safety: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State and Jayron Kearse, Clemson
Despite him moving to cornerback this season, I wanted to list Ramsey as a safety because of how damn good he is there. He has good size (6-1, 205), with long arms and elite athletic ability. His long speed, burst and leaping ability are tremendous for a man his size, and every bit of it is evident on the field. He plays with an incredible level of awareness over the top of a defense and his range is reminiscent of famous Eagles safety, Earl Thomas. Not only is he incredibly good over the top, he is an asset in the slot and is a tremendous force against the run. His ability to locate the ball carrier and attack the line of scrimmage is better than most linebackers. His move to cornerback is intriguing and it would not shock me one bit if he was a first round level corner, but at safety, he is one of the most impressive defensive backs I have ever seen.
Another member of a talented Clemson secondary, Kearse has not gotten the recognition he deserves as a potentially top fifty talent at safety. He has very good range and overall athletic ability for his size (6-4, 205) and is incredibly physical when attacking ball carriers. He could stand to add some size to his frame, as he is a bit lanky, and he could eliminate wasted movement from his game. However, his size, athletic ability and ball skills make him an incredibly impressive prospect with room to get much better.
Second Team: Deon Bush, Miami and Jeremy Cash, Duke
While they lack talent along the offensive line and at linebacker, the ACC has a ton of offensive and defensive skill talent as well as some intriguing defensive lineman.