NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
After a few slow months it’s about time to start ramping back up the football and NFL Draft machine. We now can flip the page to 2014 and begin to search for the top prospects to watch during the season. The Atlantic Coast Conference is our first preview where I predict the All-Conference Teams and project the top five prospects at each position within the conference.
As was the case in 2013-14, the ACC is loaded with NFL caliber talent once again in 2014-15.
Let’s take a look.
Top Five Draft Eligible Prospects by Position
1) Jameis Winston, Florida State (RSo.) – The reigning Heisman Trophy winner and leading contender for the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Winston should lead Florida State into the National Championship discussion once again.
2) Anthony Boone, Duke (Sr.) – David Cutcliffe protege is poised for a huge season after breaking out in 2013. Boone leads a talented Duke offense and should post huge numbers in Cutcliffe’s passing system.
3) Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina St. (Jr.) - After sitting out last season to complete his transfer from Florida the former top High School recruit finally gets his chance to run the show. Brissett has NFL size and a big throwing arm. With an impressive season he could rise quickly in the eyes of NFL personnel.
4) Cole Stoudt, Clemson (Sr.) – Sat behind Tajh Boyd for three season and now Stoudt finally gets his chance to lead the high powered Tiger offense. Stoudt has shown flashes when given a chance to play the last three seasons, amassing a 72.3% completion rate and a 8 touchdowns to only 1 interception. He’ll have to fight off incoming Freshman Deshawn Watson to hold the job.
5) Terrell Hunt, Syracuse (Jr.) – Well-built, dual threat QB began to emerge late last season. His performance against Boston College really impressed me and I’m anxious to see how Hunt builds upon the momentum he established last fall.
1) Duke Johnson, Miami (FL) – One of the best Running Backs in the country and a legitimate Top 50 talent. Johnson is a home run hitter that has averaged well over 6.0 yards/carry during his two seasons at Miami. He’ll be the focal point of the Miami offense once again and if he can stay healthy could generate some Heisman buzz. Johnson will battle Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, TJ Yeldon, and Mike Davis for the next 9 months to determine who will be the first RB off the board in the 2015 NFL Draft.
2) Karlos Williams, Florida St. (Sr.) – Made the switch to RB from the defensive backfield early last season. With Devonta Freeman and James Wilder departing for the NFL, Willimas will be the lead back in 2014. He’s an athletic freak with and NFL ready body type. He’s one of the players I’m most excited to watch heading into the season.
3) Dominique Brown, Louisville (Sr.) – There is a big drop off in talent from the first two backs on this list to Brown. None the less, Brown is a big, powerback that led the Cardinals in rushing last season. He’ll pair with Michael Dyer to form one of the more dynamic backfields in college football.
4) Kevin Parks, Virginia (Sr.) – A returning 1,000 yard rusher and team captain. Parks is poised for a monster season after becoming the first Cavalier RB to break the 1,000 yard threshold since Alvin Pearman in 2004. Parks also caught 38 passes in 2014 showcasing an every down back skillset.
5) Michael Dyer, Louisville (Sr.) – Yes, Michael Dyer is still playing college football. It seems like a decade ago that Dyer was the hero in Auburn’s National title run. He saw the field some in 2013, but injuries limited his carries most of the season. After a Spring Game in which he ran for two touchdowns, expectations are pretty high that he can re-establish himself as an NFL prospect.
1) DeVante Parker, Louisville (Sr.) - A case can be made that Parker is the best Senior receiver in the country. He was close to entering the NFL Draft and could have been a Top 100 selection in 2014. Parker will have to adjust to a new offensive system and a new QB in Will Gardner. Despite that Parker’s combination of size, athleticism, and savvy should make him one of the most dominate playmakers in college football this coming season.
2) Rashad Greene, Florida State (Sr.) – Returning First Team All-ACC receiver Greene was overshadowed by 1st Round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin in 2013. Another WR that contemplated making the leap to the NFL, but wisely choose to return for his final season in Tallahassee. Greene has been an impact player since the minute he stepped on campus, but must continue to add bulk and strength to his frame to maximize his draft chances.
3) Quinshad Davis, North Carolina (Jr.) – Big, athletic, red zone threat didn’t have the year many expected in 2013. QB Marquis Williams is back and with another full off-season learning Larry Fedora’s system the UNC offense should be more potent in 2014. Davis is a boom or bust talent. He can really elevate his draft stock with a strong season or become an after thought if he starts off as slow as he did last year.
4) Jamison Crowder, Duke (Sr.) - Crowder is an ultra-productive, undersized receiver and return-man that is the favorite to lead the nation in receptions during 2014. Crowder is coming off a 108 catch Junior Season and averaged over 16 yards per punt return. He projects as a slot receiver at the next level and should generate plenty of NFL buzz over with another season like last year.
5) Charone Peake, Clemson (Jr.) – Peake hasn’t lived up to expectations to this point in his career. He’s battled injuries and has been completely neutralized by former 1st Round selections Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. Peake is the wildcard on this list as he’s a player with all the physical tools, but has yet to put it all together on the football field.
1) Nick O’Leary, Florida State (Sr.) – I saw O’Leary dominate Boston College as a Freshman and he’s been firmly on my NFL radar ever since. He’s a throwback, all-around tight end that caught 33 balls last year. O’Leary has been in two motorcycle crashes over the last year and avoided serious injuries in both. If he stays healthy and continues to improve as a receiver he’ll be one of the first Tight Ends selected in next year’s draft.
2) Clive Walford, Miami (FL) (Sr.) – Started 25 games over the last three seasons and generated NFL Draft buzz early last seasons. Walford needs to be more consistent and improve on his ability to get open in key situations.
3) Gerald Christian, Louisville (Sr.) - Florida transfer finished with 426 yards and 4 touchdowns as a Junior. Will combine with Devante Parker to form the best WR-TE duo in the entire ACC.
4) Braxton Deaver, Duke (Sr.) – Deaver is a sleeper TE prospect coming off a solid Junior campaign in which he caught 46 pass for 600 yards. Deaver should be one of the focal points of the Duke offense and is a tough match up for linebackers in the middle of the field.
5) Stanton Seckinger, Clemson (Jr.) – Former Wide Receiver took over the starting Tight End job last year and caught 21 passes. Seckinger has a long way to go, especially as a blocker, but will see in uptick in production as Clemson tries to replace the losses to the passing game.
1) Cameron Erving, Florida State (Sr.) – Two year starter at Left Tackle emerged as one of the best linemen in the country last season. Debated entering the draft last season, but probably made the right decision to return to school and try to solidify his draft status as a first round pick.
2) Sean Hickey, Syracuse (Jr.) – Has experience playing both tackle positions and made the switch to Left Tackle in 2013 replacing former first round pick Justin Pugh without any drop-off. Hickey has great strength and it shows when he’s blocking down or firing off in the run game. He’s a well-rounded tackle prospect and if he can improve his fundamentals in pass protection can become a day two selection in the NFL Draft.
3) Ereck Flowers, Miami (FL) (Jr.) – Completely overshadowed by the human enigma that was Seantrel Henderson the past few seasons, but Flowers is the better offensive tackle. Earned the starting Right Tackle job as a True Freshman and graded out over 90% in most games he played. In 2013 he moved to the left side and once again was a standout performer for the Hurricanes. He great size – mobility combinations and has all the physical tools necessary to play at the next level and I expect his stock to skyrocket this year.
4) Bobby Hart, Florida State (Sr.) – His future in the NFL might end up being as an Offensive Guard, but since Florida State has two of the best Guards in the country Hart is forced to play Right Tackle. He started all 14 games last year and graded out very well despite being new to the position. He’s rough around the edges and can be exploited by speed to the outside, but his ability to open holes in the run game leaves me intrigued.
5) Jamon Brown, Louisville (Sr.) – A massive offensive tackle prospect (6’6/346) and another player that’s played both tackle positions. Played on the Left Side in 2013, but he’s ideally suited for the right side or a move inside. I’m anxious to watch him closely in 2014 to see if he’s improved technically or still tries to win with pure physical tools.
1) Tre’ Jackson, Florida State (Sr.) – Out of all the players that decided to return to school, I was most surprised by Jackson’s decision. Back in January I thought he’d have a chance to be the 1st or 2nd Guard selected in the NFL Draft and he’ll certainly have a chance to do that in 2014. Jackson is a massive human that creates problems for defenders with his size and quickness off the ball. His footwork is very good for such a big interior lineman and something that separates him from many of his counterparts.
2) Laken Tomlinson, Duke (Sr.) – Tomlinson isn’t a household name right now, but he will be before the end of the season. Tomlinson wins with his combination of physical gifts (size, mobility, and natural power). As he learns how to use angles, his hands, and anticipate blocks better he’ll become even more dominate. Tomlinson might be Duke’s best pro prospect in at least the last ten years.
3) Josue Matias, Florida State (Sr.) – Not only do Jackson, Tomlinson, Matias represent the three best OG prospects in the ACC, they could be the three best in college football. Matias is built like an Offensive Tackle and knows how to use his size and length to neutralize opposing defenders.
4) Landon Turner, North Carolina (Jr.) – Three year starter at Right Guard, he has a knack for putting his opponent on the ground. A former High School All-American, Turner should combine with Sophomore OT Jon Heck to form 2/5 of a solid offensive line in Chapel Hill.
5) Bobby Vardaro, Boston College (Sr.) – Started 33 straight games at Left Guard and really elevated his game in Steve Addazio’s power run scheme. I was impressed with Vardaro’s toughness, physicality, and ability to set up his blocks quickly last season. Boston College routinely faced 9-10 men in the box throughout last season and yet they were still able to dominate teams with the run. Vardaro is an under the radar prospect, but someone that could be drafted in the late rounds of the 2015 draft.
1) Andy Gallik, Boston College (Sr.) – Three year starter that has accumulated 27 starts and 34 appearances since stepping on Campus. Gallik was the key cog in the offensive line that produced a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. He’s very intelligent, processes information quickly, and is generally able to get his man engaged/blocked quickly to move to the next level. He’s a Rimington Trophy Candidate and legitimate NFL Draft prospect.
2) Jake Smith, Louisville (Sr.) – A First Team All-AAC Selection in 2013 and a 2014 Rimington Trophy Candidate, Smith could easily be number one on this list, but I went with Gallik because I’m seen him do more damage in the run game.
3) Austin Barron, Florida State (Sr.) - Florida State lost the 2013 Rimington Trophy winner Bryan Stork to the NFL, but shouldn’t miss a beat with the experienced reserve moving up the depth chart. Barron started three games as a true freshman in 2011 and has been a starter on Field Goal units the past few seasons. There is no relation to former Seminole OT Alex Barron (thankfully).
4) Shane McDermott, Miami (FL) (Sr.) – 2013 Third Team All-ACC Selection. He’s started the last two seasons and played in 10 games as a true freshman. Known for his smarts both on and off the field, McDermott graduated from Miami in under three years.
5) Ryan Norton, Clemson (Jr.) -Started all 13 games as a Sophomore and graded out at a high level. Norton is undersized, but if he can continue to improve his technical ability, there is no reason why he can’t play at the NFL level in two years.
Defenders and the All-ACC Team can be found on Page Two.