The ACC has enjoyed success in the NFL draft for the last few years now as well as a renaissance on the college football stage. Three years in a row, an ACC team was in competition for a championship and three years in a row, the ACC has had a top five pick. This season, the conference is poised for another successful year in both facets, considering the best quarterback in the country is entering his junior year at Clemson...
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Deshaun Watson enjoyed a truly special season in 2015. He rushed for over a thousand yards, passed for over four thousand and was within a few plays of a National Championship and an undefeated season. Watson is a bit undersized by NFL standards, standing at 6-3 and 220 pounds, but that is where his concerns basically fall off. Watson has a strong arm, great accuracy and an ability to be aggressive down the field. He possesses impressive poise and ability to decipher defenses. As an icing on the cake, Watson's dynamic mobile ability makes the entire offense around him better and, paired with his passing skills, makes it impossible for defenses to game plan for him. Watson is one of the best quarterbacks in college football and one of the better prospects in the last few years. If he can stay healthy, there is little question he should be the 2017 draft's top quarterback.
Second Team: Deshone Kizer, Notre Dame
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Since stepping onto the field at FSU, Dalvin Cook has been the best playmaker on the Seminoles offense. The six foot, 200 pound lightning bolt has a mind numbing combination of acceleration and speed. The way in which Dalvin Cook outruns angles forces the watcher to rewind a play just to double take if Cook's speed actually happened... On top of being a speed freak, Cook has impressive balance and ability to break tackles in space. His speed also makes him an asset in the short passing game. Cook will likely be the main cog in the Florida State offense once again and will have an outstanding shot at both Heisman contention and being the first running back selected in 2016.
Elijah Hood, UNC
UNC enjoyed a major rebound of a season after years of wallowing in mediocrity and running back Elijah Hood was a big part of the team's rebirth. At six foot, 220 pounds, hood has the build of a power back and the strength to match. Make no mistake, Hood's ability to power through defenders is not where his dynamic as an offensive weapon stops. The third year running back has outstanding athletic ability for a player his size, possessing agility and burst. Hood's ability made him a key factor in UNC's offense in his first year as a featured player and he can continue to build this season, potentially increasing his NFL stock.
Second Team: James Conner, Pittsburgh and Wayne Gallman, Clemson
Mike Williams, Clemson
Mike Williams could have been in contention for being the top receiver in the country last year, potentially entering the draft afterward... Unfortunately, Williams suffered a scary neck injury early in the season that knocked him of the entire season. If he can fully rebound from injury, Williams will have the chance to be the first receiver selected in 2016. He has a rare blend of size (6-4, 220 pounds) and speed. He is strong with great acceleration and his ability makes him dangerous at every level of the field. Theoretically, 2016 will be him and Deshaun Watson's first full season together, setting up for a potentially explosive year from the both of them.
Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech
Offense has not been Virginia Tech's calling card for quite some time, but Isaiah Ford could be part of a potential offensive turnaround. At 6-2, 190 Ford has nice size and knows how to use it with the ball in the air. Ford does a great job using his frame to box out defenders and win at the catch point. On top of that, Ford has very nice movement skills for his size, able to create yards before and after the catch. Ford will need to get more consistent catching the football, as he often has focus drops, and he will need to overcome shoddy quarterback play, but there is no reason why Ford can not produce a second year in a row and put himself in the conversation for a potential day two pick.
Second Team: Ryan Switzer, UNC and Artavis Scott, Clemson
Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
After originally getting recruited to Virginia Tech, Bucky Hodges was converted to tight end and that conversion may have served him best considering he could go in the top 50 of the NFL draft. At 6-7, 240 pounds, Hodges looks more like a receiver on steroids than a conventional tight end and his athleticism is evident every time the ball snaps. He is a natural receiver and his size makes him a bull at the catch point and a pain in the ass to tackle once he has the ball. He is not a great blocker due to his relative lightness for the position, but his dynamic ability as a pass catcher puts him in contention for the top tight end next year.
Second Team: Jordan Leggett, Clemson
Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
After Ronnie Stanley went sixth overall in 2016, the Fighting Irish have big shoes to fill on the left side of their line. Of course, who better to fill big shoes than the 6-8, 300 pound Mike McGlinchey. Technically McGlinchey has experience protecting the blind side as he was the right tackle when left handed quarterback, Malik Zaire was starting. McGlinchey has impressive movement skills for his size and plays nasty. At 6-8, he is a bit lean and his height does cause some natural problems with leverage, but McGlinchey is incredibly solid with a chance to increase his stock on the left side of the line.
Adam Bisnowaty, Pitt
Pitt has been doing a great job moving the football, especially in the running game, and they would not be able to do that without their stud tackle, Adam Bisnowaty. At 6-6, 305, Bisnowaty has a stout build, pairing strength with great attitude to steamroll through defenses. Bisnowaty has very few flaws in his game, although some may worry he has already reached his ceiling. Despite that some might consider Bisnowaty to be maxed out, it is clear that he is already a very good NFL prospect.
Second Team: Jon Heck, UNC and Roderick Johnson, FSU
Dorian Johnson, Pitt
Another piece of Pitt's talented offensive line is senior guard, Dorian Johnson. The 6-5, 300 pounder is just as nasty as his teammate, Bisnowaty, but has even better potential. Johnson is a nice athlete with long arms and heavy hands. He can get a bit over aggressive in his blocking, which can hurt his efficiency as a blocker. If he can contain the beast a bit in 2016, he could be one of the better guards in the draft this year.
Caleb Peterson, UNC
UNC's offensive prolificacy would not be possible without a talented offensive line and Caleb Peterson and his 300 pounds were main cog's in that offensive line. Peterson is a good athlete, with great size and strength. Despite his athletic ability, he still has a ways to go as a player. Peterson could stand to improve his technique and awareness as a blocker, but there is little doubt how good of a player he can be.
Second Team: Tyrone Crowder, Clemson and Wilson Bell, Florida State
Nick Linder, Miami
Nick Linder is looking to follow his brother, Brandon's, footsteps to this NFL. Linder is 6-3, 300 pounds and very stout in the middle of the Miami line. He is a strong player with a great attitude, technique and awareness. He is a very solid player who's dependability should make him a solid NFL player.
Second Team: Jay Guillermo, Clemson
Derrick Nnadi, FSU
The key to every defense is a great interior. At 6-1, 300 pounds, Derrick Nnadi is built like a brick in the middle of a defensive line. Nnadi's naturally great pad level makes him impossible to handle for a center and he is strong as hell with a high motor. Nnadi is not the type to take over a game as a pass rusher, but he is a disruptor and a player who will command attention in the middle at the next level.
Calvin Watkins, Clemson
Calvin Watkins was a big piece of Clemson's defense that dominated all year and helped the Tigers get to a championship. Watkins is a high effort defender with good burst off the line and excellent technique. He battles on every snap and that allows him to play a part as disruptor on the defensive line. Watkins' size affords him versatility at the next level, as he could play any position along the defensive interior, though he will be most affective as a three technique in a 4-3 defense.
Second Team: Jarron Jones, Notre Dame and Kentavious Street, NC State
Harold Landry, Boston College
Boston College, despite their being unwatchable on offense, had a dominating defense in 2015 and Harold Landry was the leader on that defense. The 6-3, 245 pound defensive end may be undersized, but his strength, speed and motor make him impossible to handle for offensive tackles. Many people will be concerned with the amount of "almost plays" he has, so if he can finish better in 2016, there is no reason he should not be considered a top defender.
Demarcus Walker, FSU
Derrick Nnadi is not the only talented defender on the Florida State front... Demarcus Walker is a high effort defender on the edge whose size and physicality allow him to wreak havoc on offenses. He is not a great athlete, but his strength and activity help him produce on the edge. His lack of athletic ability hurts his ceiling, but his attitude as a player will help him be productive at the college and pro level.
Second Team: Devonte Fields, Louisville and Al Quadin Muhammad, Miami
Matt Milano, Boston College
Another piece of the Boston College defense is dependable linebacker Matt Milano. The undersized linebacker (6 foot, 220 pounds) makes up for his lack of weight with excellent awareness and athletic ability. He flies all over the field and does a great job anticipating where the play is going as to make up for his lack of ability to beat blocks naturally. It is going to be difficult to keep him clean at the next level, but his motor and athletic ability at least make him a roster as a special teams player.
Ben Boulware, Clemson
One of the more underrated pieces of the Clemson defense was their inside linebacker, Ben Boulware. Boulware is not a great athlete, but he is a smart player who is physical and a dependable tackler. I would not trust him in space at the next level, but, similar to Milano, there should be a place for him on an NFL special teams unit somewhere.
Matthew Thomas, Florida State
Despite missing the 2015 season due to a shoulder injury, Matthew Thomas has potential to rebound and be the best linebacker in the conference in 2016. Thomas is a very good athlete with speed, size and physicality to consistently attack the line of scrimmage. Thomas has the ability to be a great linebacker, but needs a healthy season to show it.
Second Team: Matt Galambos, Pitt, Keith Kelsey, Louisville and Deon Clarke, Virginia Tech
Cordrea Tankersly, Clemson
If there is a question of who will be the third first round pick off Clemson's defense in three years, look no further than their talented cornerback. Cordrea Tankersly is a great athlete who moves in coverage effortlessly. He has excellent footwork and great size. He is a defensive coordinator's dream from a tools standpoint and if he can build on his excellent sophomore season, he is a surefire first round pick.
Trumaine Washington, Louisville
It is tough for undersized corners to make it in the NFL these days, but if a player has great ball skills like Trumaine Washington, they have a shot of overcoming their size. Washington is physical, with great quickness and awareness. His ability to make plays cannot be understated and he will continue to need to make those plays to stand above his size.
Second Team: Marquez White, FSU and Breon Borders, Duke
Josh Harvey Clemons, Louisville
Long ago, Josh harvey Clemons was one of the top recruits in the country committing to Georgia... A few years, a suspension and transfer later and Josh Harvey Clemons is playing on the Louisville defense. The 6-4, 230 pound safety is built more like a linebacker than a safety, but his athletic ability allows him to flow around in the secondary. He is a playmaker who can make an impact in the passing and running game, but his inconsistency as a player makes him maddening to watch. He has a lot of tools and with the right coaching staff, could be an impact NFL player, but he has a long way to go before he should be considered a top safety prospect.
Quin Blanding, Virginia
Similar to Josh Harvey Clemons, Quin Blanding was a top recruit coming out of high school. Blanding has faded a bit into obscurity, but more because Virginia has not been a top team recently. Blanding has good size and athleticism to impress. He can get a bit overaggressive as a tackler and in coverage, but has playmaking ability on the back end of a defense. If he can become more consistent and not give up as many big plays, Blanding could be a high pick come next spring.
Second Team: Jadar Johnson, Clemson and Jamal Carter, Miami