The 2017 NFL Draft was a strong one for the ACC, with North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky going 2nd overall to the Bears and Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams going 7th to the Chargers. A total of 43 ACC players were selected, but the majority of them came in the later rounds. This draft season, the ACC is much stronger at the top, and on defense.
Other Prospects Considered:
Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Louisville- Jackson was in serious contention for the top five, but after his clunker against Clemson, he had to be dropped.
Mark Walton, Running Back, Miami- He’s only played one game this year, so more action should drive his stock up
Josh Sweat, Defensive End, Florida State- Sweat sometimes gets lost in the shuffle on a dominant Seminoles defense, but he has good burst and power coming off the edge.
Mitch Hyatt, Offensive Tackle, Clemson- Should probably be in the top-five, but I can’t break down offensive linemen very well
The Top Five:
- Quin Blanding, Safety, Virginia- Through his first three seasons, Quin Blanding (above) has been a tackling machine for the Cavaliers. He’s recorded over 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons for Virginia, and already has 33 through three games this year.
Blanding is the best pure tackling safety in the class, and can make tackles is space, as evidenced by his 212 career solo tackles. At 6’2” 210, Blanding has the size to matchup with larger receivers, and has enough speed to play in a cover three scheme at the next level, which will allow him to create plays from his deep safety spot. Look for Blanding to fall somewhere in the back of the first round or early second round.
- Christian Wilkins, Defensive Tackle, Clemson- Despite being as a defensive tackle, Christian Wilkins (above) has played all over the defensive line in his time at Clemson. That versatility alone helps drive his draft stock way up. When on the edge, Wilkins shows incredible burst off the line. His agility is what makes him a matchup problem on the inside as well. His ability to get off the ball is outstanding, and it leads to disruptive plays and tackles for loss.
Wilkins is not a polished pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination, which may lead him to a defensive tackle role at the next level. Wilkins’s size and speed will create problems for opposing inside linemen, who won’t have the agility to stay in front of Wilkins.
Wilkins’s versatility will drive him up draft boards, which could lead him to be a top-20 pick.
- Harold Landry, Defensive End, Boston College- Harold Landry (above) could have easily entered the NFL Draft last year following a year in which he led the FBS in sacks with 16.5 sacks in just 12 games for the Eagles. The first thing that jumps out about Landry is his incredible quickness and first step off the edge. He regularly beat opposing tackles just based on pure speed alone, and forced an incredible seven fumbles in 2016.
While he may not be the strongest against the run, he showed good discipline and didn’t over pursuit too much, which resulted in 22 tackles for loss. An overlooked part of his game is his motor. Landry continuously made plays down the field on both runs and passes.
While Landry’s numbers may take a significant hit, he’ll be facing double and triple teams all year long. Through three games, he only has one sack. The numbers may not blow anyone away like they did last year, but he’ll still gather first round interest with his ability to rush the passer, and his previous track record. Other people may not be as high on Landry, but he could sneak into the top 20.
- Deon Cain, Wide Receiver, Clemson- It’s been a little bit of a slow start for Deon Cain (above) in 2017, but he’s still showed off the big play abilities that have made him a first round prospect. With 126 yards on just eight catches, one for a touchdown, Cain is still growing into the first option role, and is still developing a rapport with Kelly Bryant (who was almost an HM in his own right).
His ability to stretch the field will pay dividends as the season wears on into ACC play. Cain has a knack for making big plays when it matters most, and his production will increase as ACC play continues.
If Cain’s production doesn’t ramp up, he could fall out of the first round even in a shallow wide receiver class. Based on track record, he should be fine and solidify himself as a top 15 choice as the season wears on.
- Derwin James, Safety, Florida State– James (featured/above) might be the best overall prospect in the class of 2018, despite missing most of last year with a knee injury. James’s ability to play in the box and as a single high safety separate him from the rest of the secondary prospects in the country.
James makes plays at all levels, and recorded 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in his freshman year. Despite only playing in one game due to the effects of Hurricane Irma, James still sits near the front of every mock draft. In that opening matchup against Alabama, James was all over the field making six tackles and recording .5 sacks and .5 tackles for loss.
There’s no doubting James’s steady play will continue this year, and is he can avoid major injury, he’ll find himself a top five draft choice.
Cover Photo via ProFootballtalk
Other Media via Virginia Sportswar, Courant, Medium, IndependentMail and DraftBreakdown