Amidst the excitement about the Big Ten regaining national credibility, the SEC maintaining college-to-NFL dominance and the Pac-12 pumping out first-rounders in the NFL Draft, it can be easy to overlook the ACC. Not so fast. The conference had the second-most players drafted this year with 47, trailing only the SEC's 54. The ACC also tied the Pac-12 for the most first-round picks with nine.
Much of the strength of the ACC in this year's draft came from Florida State, which had 11 players selected overall. Because of that, the Seminoles are a little light on prospects for 2016. Clemson is somewhat down as well, with five players picked in the draft and left tackle Isaiah Battle going in the fifth round of the supplemental draft earlier this month. For the 2016 NFL Draft, the prospects are distributed pretty evenly throughout the conference. Several of SB Nation's ACC bloggers helped us look ahead at the conference's best draft-eligible players.
BOSTON COLLEGE - BC Interruption
(This section was written by A.J. Black of BC Interruption)
Connor Wujciak, DT (senior): A very strong nose tackle who continues to improve year in and year out. Last year BC was No. 2 in the country against the run, and Wujciak's ability to break down protection was a big reason for that. If he continues to improve and BC again has a top-10 rushing defense, I could see him going in Round 3 or 4.
Mehdi Abdesmad, DT (senior): A huge physical tackle, the Canadian has had two seasons cut down by injuries. He is a well-rounded player, so you have to think his injury history may scare off some teams. If he can put together a full season, he may gain some NFL attention.
Harris Williams, G (senior): Boston College has a history of pumping out offensive linemen, and Williams may be the next in this series. Like Abdesmad, Williams has a history of injuries, but a healthy season of blowing open holes for BC's running game and we could hear Williams' name on draft day.
Justin Simmons, DB (senior): Simmons is a big, physical defensive back who has played mostly safety, but may transition to cornerback this year. He is not much of a threat in terms of speed or coverage, but his physicality may attract some teams.
Steven Daniels, MLB (senior): A run-stopping physical linebacker, Daniels may lack the speed NFL teams are looking for at LB. He's large for a linebacker in terms of weight (257 pounds), but a year anchoring the linebacking corps may raise the eyes of some NFL scouts.
CLEMSON - Shakin The Southland
(Brian_Goodison of Shakin the Southland handled the Mackensie Alexander write-up and Kadar took the rest)
Mackensie Alexander, CB (junior): Mackensie Alexander is likely going to be the highest player taken from Clemson in the 2016 draft. He is a lockdown college cornerback who projects well to the NFL. He has the speed to go up against the burner receivers while also being strong enough to go up against the more physical receivers. The one physical attribute he does lack a little bit of is height. Clemson measures him at 5'10, which might knock him down a few picks.
Alexander redshirted the 2013 season due to a muscle injury that never quite healed right. The coaching staff decided to let him heal rather than risk further injury. Last year, Alexander stepped into the starting CB role and absolutely dominated. He became the No. 1 CB on the best defense in the country, in large part because of his work. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables often asked Alexander to defend the opposing team’s best player on an island, and he succeeded.
Really Alexander’s only big mistake came against Florida State. The redshirt freshman had managed to shut down Rashad Greene for most of the night until he slipped, leading to a 74-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. The rest of the year he was dominant enough that many opposing teams tried to throw away from him.
For the 2015 season, Alexander’s improvement is going to come from making minor adjustments everywhere. He will need to put on a little more weight, work on a few agility drills, and then get ready for an even more demanding season. Clemson’s DL experiences a lot of turnover after last year and does not have the depth to be as dominant. This will put more pressure on Alexander in coverage and presents an excellent opportunity. If Alexander is able to repeat last season’s performance, his stock is likely to shoot up for the NFL Draft, possibly even propelling him into the first round. As frustrating as that would be for Clemson fans, he definitely deserves the opportunity after all of his hard work and excellent play.
Mike Williams, WR (junior): Williams is the latest really good Clemson wideout, and last season he quickly emerged from Sammy Watkins’ sizable shadow. Williams is a big-play vertical receiver who can make some incredible catches. He averaged 18.1 yards per catch a season ago and really excels getting up the field on vertical routes.
Shaq Lawson, DE (junior): A blue-chip recruit for Clemson, Lawson has been fairly productive as a backup, totaling 21 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He could be in store for a breakout season as Clemson’s lead pass rusher.
DUKE - Duke Basketball Report
Jeremy Cash, S (senior): Duke is starting to produce legitimate talent under head coach David Cutcliffe, and his next product is Cash. The senior safety excels in playing in the box, and Duke often uses him to blitz the quarterback. He was quite effective at getting into the backfield against Miami, both against the run and going after the quarterback. He’s decent as a coverage safety and has the size to play against tight ends, but he needs to get much better in this area.
FLORIDA STATE - Tomahawk Nation
(Bud Elliott of Tomahawk Nation and SB Nation college football recruiting handled this section)
Jalen Ramsey, DB (junior): Ramsey is perhaps the best defensive player in college football and is now moving to boundary corner -- the position he came in at and was initially recruited to play before injuries to others necessitated the move to safety and nickel in 2013 and 2014, respectively. He has ideal size and will test off the charts at the combine.
Roberto Aguayo, K (RS junior): He is probably the best kicker in college football.
Beyond that, every other draft eligible player on the roster has some major questions. Terrance Smith, if he stays healthy (has not been able to throughout career), has a chance to get drafted at linebacker. Defensive tackles Nile Lawrence-Stample and Derrick Mitchell have also been oft-injured, but they'll also have a shot.
Then there is the Everett Golson question, if he even wins the job.
GEORGIA TECH - From the Rumble Seat
(This section is courtesy of the team at From the Rumble Seat. Click here for more 2016 Yellow Jacket prospects)
Adam Gotsis, DE/DT (senior): With Gotsis' athleticism and pure talent, there will be NFL teams drooling over him by season's end. And standing at 6'5, 282 pounds, Gotsis also has the versatility to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense, or strongside defensive end in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense. The best thing that Gotsis can do to improve his draft stock this season is go out and play. He's got a little bit more experience around him this year, so the opposing offensive lines now know that there is more than just Gotsis to worry about now. With that, it seems pretty likely that Gotsis could have his best season on the Flats this year.
Jamal Golden, FS (senior): Golden is on the fringe of being a good NFL prospect. He has got the athleticism down. He also showed last year that not only is he capable of making big plays when he needs to, but that the ability came from watching film. He is also a very good returner. The thing that I believe is holding him back is sustained success. He proved last year that he was better than a lot of people thought. If he can continue to show that he's a good safety, which means playing good coverage in addition to just being a ballhawk, Golden definitely will be given a shot in the NFL.
LOUISVILLE - Card Chronicle
Devonte Fields, DE (junior): There are few more intriguing prospects than Fields. He had a phenomenal freshman season at TCU, played just three games in 2013 and then moved on to community college last season. He has a checkered past, but his level of play on the field is high. He’s got solid size, good athleticism, and showed the ability to dip the edge and turn the corner in a hurry.
Sheldon Rankins, DT (senior): Rankins is a complete defensive lineman. He finished last season with 53 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Rankins can shoot the gap and get to the quarterback, occupy multiple blockers in the run game and help push the pocket. Coaches will love Rankins’ motor and scouts will question his size at a listed 6'2 and 303 pounds.
MIAMI - State of The U
(Miami write-ups courtesy of Jerry Steinberg of State of The U. Find more of their 2016 prospects here)
Deon Bush, S (senior): As is the case with any of Miami's draft-eligible players for 2016, a lot can change between now and next April. But of said group, Bush is the player I feel will end up with the highest draft grade by the conclusion of next season. His size, speed and ball-hawking nature should lead to a second- or third-round selection in 2016. With a big season, he could even end up among the first 32 players picked. (More on Bush here.)
Tracy Howard, CB (senior): Tracy Howard has all the tools to be a big-time college cover corner and a high draft pick. But his film needs to match his talent. Additionally, it will help his cause if UM moves him around some this year and lets him cover on the outside and the slot. (More on Howard here.)
Tyriq McCord, OLB (senior): This coming season is going to be a very interesting one for McCord. Al Golden, Mark D'Onofrio and Co. switching him to OLB seems more of an indication of the lack of depth at that spot -- as well as the potential emergence of both Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad at DE -- than it does with McCord being a natural fit. Nonetheless, it could be a blessing in disguise for the senior, in terms of impressing scouts. (More on McCord here.)
NORTH CAROLINA - Tar Heel Blog
Landon Turner, G (senior): Turner takes the title of the ACC’s best interior blocker. He’s a strong blocker in the phone booth and will fit right in on an NFL team that runs a power line. He’s not going to be a guard who will get out in the move and pick defenders off in the open field, but he shouldn’t be expected to. If he can turn up his aggression a little bit this season, a spot in the top 100 picks in the draft should be attainable.
Quinshad Davis, WR (senior): Davis was expected to be a sensation a year go, but he had merely a decent season with 41 receptions for 470 yards and six touchdowns. Davis can extend to get some bad passes, which is a necessity playing for the Tar Heels. Although Davis may not profile as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver in the NFL, he has good size and good enough hands.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE - Backing the Pack
Jacoby Brissett, QB (senior): To date, Brissett has not quite been the sum of his impressive parts. He has NFL size at 6'4 and 235 pounds, and he put together an impressive 23:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio a season ago. But he’s incredibly inconsistent as a passer. He completed 66.7 percent of his passes against Florida State a season ago, and followed it up the next week against Clemson by completing just 22.2 percent. The tools are there – including good athleticism and solid arm strength – but he needs to show more overall development to be considered a legit NFL starter.
PITTSBURGH - Cardiac Hill
Tyler Boyd, WR (junior): Boyd is Pitt’s best wide receiver prospect since Larry Fitzgerald a decade ago. Boyd is a dynamo after the catch, able to generate yards with his speed, foot quickness and the ability to make defenders miss. The junior has good hands and has thus far shown the ability to run a variety of routes. In the red zone, Boyd will aggressively high-point the ball and really times his jumps well.
James Conner, RB (junior): Is there a player whose draft status will be more dependent on a 40-yard dash time than Conner? Probably not. He’s an old-school, big and burly runner who simply overpowers college players. He smashed his way to 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns a season ago, and he got a lot of it after contact. But how high will a running back get drafted if he runs a 4.8? Conner also has to get better in the passing game. He wasn’t involved in it much last year with just five catches.
SYRACUSE - Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician
Rob Trudo, G/C (senior): Syracuse is extremely light on draft-eligible NFL talent with Trudo getting the nod as the team's best prospect. He projects as a backup interior offensive lineman who can play center or guard. A starter of 33 games, the plan is to move Trudo inside to center this season.
VIRGINIA - Streaking the Lawn
(Virginia's entry is courtesy of Paul Guttman of Streaking the Lawn)
Maurice Canady, CB (senior): He's a big CB with good speed and great instincts. Canady started two games as a true freshman on a team that was loaded with DBs. In three years, he's recorded five interceptions and 23 pass breakups, including three picks and 12 breakups in 2014. His draft position will probably be determined largely by his NFL Combine performance. If he can run a 4.4 at 6'2, 200 pounds, then he could go in the first round. More likely, he's a Day 2 pick.
VIRGINIA TECH - Gobbler Country
Kendall Fuller, CB (junior): There is arguably no better player in the ACC this season than the Hokies' junior cornerback. Fuller has already had three brothers play in the NFL, including budding second-year star Kyle Fuller with the Chicago Bears. Don't expect gaudy stats from the youngest Fuller at Virginia Tech this season as teams are likely to avoid his side of the field. For a junior-to-be, Fuller displays good instincts and attacks the ball at the catch point. He has good size at 6'0 and 197 pounds and if healthy, he should find himself in the first round of the draft.
Dadi Nicolas, OLB (senior): Some thought Nicholas might have gone pro after a 2014 season in which he had 18.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He had an injured shoulder at the end of last season, which may have played into his decision to return to Blacksburg. Nicolas is an impressive pass rusher with speed and moves. He probably won’t stick at end in the NFL, but it’s clear he has the athleticism to handle linebacker. If he plays with more power as a senior, he should improve his draft stock considerably.
Bucky Hodges, TE (redshirt sophomore): Is there a new precedent for redshirt sophomore tight ends entering the draft after Minnesota's Maxx Williams went pro after last season and was picked in the second round by the Baltimore Ravens? If so, Hodges has an opportunity to make a case for himself. He has NFL size at 6'6 and 249 pounds, with good athleticism and natural ability in the red zone. While Hodges is a little behind as a blocker -- he played quarterback before converting to tight end -- he has a high level of athleticism at what is traditionally one of the draft's weaker positions.
Luther Maddy, DT (senior): Remember him? Maddy had to sit out most of last season after having two knee surgeries. He’s not the biggest defensive tackle, but he gets disruption with speed and effort.
WAKE FOREST - Blogger So Dear
Brandon Chubb, OLB (senior): Entering his third season as a starter, Chubb is coming off a junior season in which he had 109 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Chubb is capable of playing inside and out and shows good toughness and instincts against the run.