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NFL-ready running backs among top prospects in the ACC

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College football prospects worth keeping an eye on.

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The ACC boasts the reigning National Champions in Clemson. Despite having several star defenders drafted to the NFL, the Tigers return a handful of NFL prospects and quite a few that could be first round picks. Among the conference, the running back position runs deepest with one clearly elite prospect and a handful of future NFL contributors.

Quarterback

Bryce Perkins, UVA: Only two players had over 2,600 passing yards and 900 rushing yards in 2018. First overall pick Kyler Murray and… Bryce Perkins. The 6’3”, 215 pound passer had a fantastic redshirt freshman year and is poised for a phenomenal 2019 season. Perkins is a multi-dimensional threat who might play in the shadow of Trevor Lawrence in the ACC, but he is an exciting player to watch.

Second Team: Ryan Willis, Virginia Tech

Running Back

Travis Etienne, Clemson: In what should be a loaded 2019 running back class, Travis Etienne stands out as the potential top player. The 200 pound homerun-hitter has scored 37 touchdowns in two years despite only touching the ball 311 times in that time. For reference, former second overall pick Saquon Barkley had 43 rushing touchdowns in three years but it took him 671 carries to get there. Needless to say, anytime Etienne touches the ball, defensive coordinators hold their breath.

AJ Dillon, Boston College: Despite the Golden Eagles telegraphing Dillon’s usage over his career, the 240 pound bruiser has found ways to dominate. Dillon is a powerful runner with solid athleticism for his size. While his projection is still as a two down back, he causes a lot of trouble any time he runs the ball

Second Team: Cam Akers, FSU and Cade Carney, Wake Forest

Wide Receiver

Tee Higgins, Clemson: While all the hype on the Clemson offense revolves around Trevor Lawrence, some love should be shown to his talented pass catchers. Higgins, in particular, could be a high first round pick next season. The 6’4” pass catcher scored 12 times last year and projects to put up even better numbers as Lawrence takes over as the full time starter for the Tigers.

Emeka Emezie, NC State: NC State had a trio of exciting pass catchers and with former number one receiver Kelvin Harmon off to the NFL, Emeka Emezie will take over as the primary threat in the Wolfpack passing game. The 6’3” receiver can play inside and outside. It will be interesting to see him take on a bigger role.

Second Team: Joe Reed, UVA and Damon Hazelton, VT

Tight End

Dalton Keene, Virginia Tech: Tight End is not a deep position in this draft class or in the ACC in general. Dalton Keene was amongst the most prolific tight ends in the country last year and finished last year hot. If he’s to build on last season, Keene could assert himself amongst a shallow class.

Second Team: Cole Kmet, Notre Dame

Offensive Tackle

Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame: Liam Eichenberger had an up in down first season starting at tackle for the Irish, but the 6’6” tackle is expected to take a huge step in 2019. Eichenberg is a solid athlete with long arms and heavy hands. Many project him to follow in the long line of highly touted Notre Dame offensive linemen.

Ben Petrula, Boston College: Boston College loves the ground-and-pound game and ben Petrula is pivotal in that offensive approach. The 6’5” road grater is a physical, experienced blocker and teams will love the bully energy he brings to the field.

Second Team: Tremayne Anchrum, Clemson and Charles Heck, UNC

Offensive Guard

Tommy Kraemer, Notre Dame: Tommy Kraemer is widely considered among the top offensive line prospects going into the 2019 season. The 6’6”, 320 pounder is an athletic and physical presence in the running game. Him and Eichenberg are going to be huge figures in the offensive line discussion this year.

Second Team: Sean Pollard, Clemson and John Simpson, Clemson

Center

Victor Oluwatimi, Virginia: A former Air Force player, the new transfer is heading into a whole new offensive system. Oluwatimi is athletic, as you need to be in the Air Force offense, but he will need to prove pro-readiness in Virginia’s system. With little competition among center prospects, Oluwatimi could make some serious money this season.

Second Team: Sam Heckel, Syracuse.

Edge Defender

Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame: Playing next to Julian Okwara and Jerry Tillery in 2018 ment Khalid Kareem did not get a ton of attention paid to the noise he was making. The 6’5”, 265 defender is versatile where he can play on the line and flashes ability to disrupt on passing and running downs. With Tillery gone to the NFL, Notre Dame will need Kareem to have a huge season.

Julian Okwara, Notre Dame: Among this season’s most intriguing defenders, Julian Okwara could be among the best. The 6’5” pass rusher has great burst and is a major threat any time a quarterback drops back to pass. While he could improve as a run defender, teams will love his pass rushing prowess.

Second Team: Alton Robinson, Syracuse and Kendall Coleman, Syracuse

Interior Defensive Linemen

Tanner Karafa, Boston College: With Zach Allen in the NFL, Tanner Karafa is Boston College’s top playmaker on the defensive line. The 6’3”, 285 pound tackle is very quick which makes him too much to handle for ACC offensive linemen. He will need to make some noise on his own with his teammate off to the NFL while proving he is a strong run defender for a smaller tackle.

Marvin Wilson, Florida State: Despite underwhelming numbers, there is excitement brewing around Marvin Wilson’s NFL prospects. At 6’5” and nearly 320 pounds, Wilson is an athletic specimen who has immense potential. If he can scratch the surface this season, NFL teams will be interested.

Second Team: Miles Fox, Wake Forest and Larrell Murchison

Linebacker

Isaiah Simmons, Clemson: A hybrid player; people will debate up and down if Isaiah Simmons projects as a safety or linebacker in the NFL. However, the 6’2”, 230 pounder seems to fit closer to the line of scrimmage. Simmons is fast and physical with a nose for the ball. He had nine and a half tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles last year. Simmons is probably a first round pick next spring if he keeps up this level of play.

Shaquille Quarterman, Miami: Miami has a pair of talented linebackers on their defense this year. Quarterman filled up the statsheet last year with 10 TFLs and six sacks. He is a versatile defender who can run, hit, blitz. Miami loves moving him around their defense and so will NFL teams.

Michael Pinckney, Miami: Quarterman’s partner in crime, Michael Pinckney is undersized but there is nothing small about his play. He is a smart, instinctive player and a leader on the Hurricane defense.

Second Team: Rayshard Ashby, Virginia Tech and Justin Strnad, Wake Forest and Max Richardson, Boston College

Cornerback

Bryce Hall, UVA: One of the top cornerbacks in the country, Bryce Hall chose to return to school last year to secure first round status. The 6’1” defender has NFL size and has flashed impressive ball skills. He had an impressive 22 PDs last year and teams will love his ability to make plays with the ball in the air.

Essang Bassey, Wake Forest: Wake Forest figures to have a very solid defense this season with the unit being led by their senior cornerback. Bassey is a smaller defender but he’s a physical playmaker. He figures to be a slot corner in the NFL at his size, but his grit and ball skills will garner a lot of interest.

Second Team: Mark Gilbert, Duke and Trajan Bandy, Miami

Safety

Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame: A leader on the Notre Dame defense, Alohi Gilman is shooting for NFL prospect status this year. While Gilman is not considered a top tier athlete, he has tremendous football IQ and plays at 100 miles per hour all game. He is a true gamer.

Joey Blount, UVA: With Juan Thornhill in the NFL, Joey Blount will be the playmaker on the back of the Cavalier defense. At 6’1”, Blount has great size for a safety and shows off good range to find the ball. Blount was seen as a more polished player than Thornhill last year and this year he won’t be playing in the shadow.

Second Team: Reggie Floyd, Virginia Tech and Leonard Johnson, Duke