Last year, North Carolina State University filled the NFL Draft with prospects. Florida State contributed its normal superstar to the draft festivities, and Louisville sent in controversial quarterback Lamar Jackson.
From this, it is clear to see than the ACC is a hub for NFL Draft prospects.
However, it is not all new starters along the Atlantic coast. Teams like Miami and Clemson are both returning a plethora of starters as they look to control their conference.
The talent level in the conference may be at an all-time high, and this should continue with an impressive 2019 cast of characters. This will make the draft process even more exciting as there is a ton of talent to evaluate.
Let’s take a look at the top ten prospects that (should) come out of the ACC this year.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
An under-the-radar passer, Daniel Jones has impressed many with his quality play with next to nothing around him.
An atrocious offensive line in front of him has made his time as a Blue Devil difficult, but his talent has prevailed. His arm talent has room to grow but is above average for the class he’s in.
Jones offers a high floor with his adequate accuracy, safe decision making, and decent escapability, but I have doubts about his playmaking ability. He doesn’t have an especially live arm and when he is out of structure he struggles.
The Duke passer needs to work on his improvisation skills and being able to deliver strikes with different arm angles. Jones should see ample improvement in the coming months and can certainly put himself in the middle of the day one talks.
Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville
Probably Lamar Jackson’s biggest asset during his time at Louisville. As a Cardinal, he flashed exceptional athleticism and a knack for catching the deep ball. Helping Jackson stretch the field was a common occurrence, but he does not need to run a nine route to make a big play.
Smith is a great runner after the catch and can turn practically anything into a large gain. He may not have the first round hype around him, but he’s on track to make a splash this college football season. The combine may boost his stock and confirm the great athlete he looks like on film.
Without Lamar Jackson throwing to him, it is possible his play may falter, but for now, he is a legitimate NFL prospect.
Austin Bryant, EDGE, Clemson
The first of a multitude of Clemson defenders on this list, Bryant is a solid edge rusher who possesses a balance most in this class don’t have. He is just as, if not better, against the run than he is against the pass, which is strange in its own right but not necessarily concerning.
His quality technique and average athleticism help him get to the passer on a regular basis. This season, he will have to work on his bend and burst if he wants to become a day one draft pick.
Pretty consistent overall, Bryant has a lot to like, but he needs to build off of his strengths to ensure a big 2018-’19 campaign.
Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State
NC State’s targets this year will help out quarterback Ryan Finley a ton this year, and that starts with Harmon.
Harmon is a great route runner and possesses an astounding amount of body control, paramount in making certain catches in the NFL. A clear playmaker, Harmon can stretch the field without elite speed. He is a specialist in getting open and is threatening for opposing corners to face off against.
Harmon is not athleticism-reliant and is creative with his double moves. His solid hands only sweeten the package he brings to the table, which could be very Keenan Allen-like.
Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
To reiterate, this Clemson defense is scary good. The better of the two Tigers edge rushers, Ferrell contains a sky-high ceiling. A force on nearly every play, Ferrell uses his size and athleticism to get the best of opposing tackles.
This season, he needs to become more consistent, as tackling woes and a lack of versatility are plaguing him when in all honesty, they shouldn’t. His technique has some variance to it and as he becomes more experienced, he will only get better.
Far from a guarantee, but I can see him being picked in the top 15 this April.
Jaquan Johnson, S, Miami
Johnson, similar to many other college football stars, is a returning starter for a Power 5 team. There are plenty of reasons to like Johnson, who is arguably the best safety in this class. He is a turnover machine and is athletic enough to make some big plays.
He is lockdown when he is not the lone safety and his ball skills are top notch. His hard hits and forceful strips make him one of the most exciting players in the ACC. Going forward, Johnson will have to warm up to the deep safety role, which will add to his versatility, and eventually, draft stock. To do this, he will need to improve his man coverage, range, and mental processing.
Even if he doesn’t take that next step, Johnson should be a top five safety in this year’s class.
Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State University
One of the better quarterbacks in this class, Francois is another passer who has to deal with getting hit… a lot. He did not play much after injuring himself against Alabama in the season opener, but his 2016 film is impressive. His intangibles are years ahead of where they usual are for QB prospects and he has a nice blend of arm talent and athleticism.
If the off field issues clear themselves up, there will be at least one team that falls in love with this kid. His pocket presence makes it hard to not love this Florida State passer.
Christian Wilkins, iDL, Clemson
Coming into the year dubbed a first rounder by many, Wilkins looks to develop into a top five talent this year. However, I’m not sure I see the first round buzz.
His arms are extraordinarily short and it shows. Talent-wise, he is a beast against the run, but is inconsistent in rushing the passer. He lacks athleticism that would lead to him becoming a more versatile threat. Anyhow, Wilkins is a technical wizard who has the tenacity any coach would love out of his star defensive lineman.
He could certainly make the jump into the elite category of defensive linemen, but he is not quite there yet.
Tre Lamar, ILB, Clemson
I promise I’m not a Clemson fan; this Clemson defense is just so good.
Tre Lamar is an exquisite 3-4 linebacker at the next level who constantly impresses in the run game. He isn’t close to being an elite athlete, but his instincts are killer and he is smart enough to manage himself in coverage and in pursuit. He is a solid tackler and a hard linebacker to block.
Lamar is in for a huge year as the Tigers inside linebacker and he could have the best year of anyone on that defense.
Ryan Finley, QB, North Carolina State
My preseason QB1 is the Wildcats QB, Ryan Finley.
With a strong supporting cast, he is poised for a big year, which will only improve his draft stock. His arm is average, but he is strikingly accurate, poised under duress, and a playmaker out of structure, Finley can be more than a game manager, though his ceiling is not much higher than that of a low-tier franchise quarterback.
He’ll have to work on his decision making skills and progression speed, as these two issues can be exceedingly detrimental at the next level if not improved upon.
Overall, I really like the package Finley brings to the table.
Dexter Lawrence, iDL, Clemson
Right now, there is not a better player in the ACC than Dexter Lawrence.
The Clemson product has all the potential in the world with his blend of size, strength, and pure talent. His gap manipulation and leverage skills are off the charts and his repertoire of skill moves buries opposing offensive lineman. He can line up along any gap and wreak havoc off the edge or from the interior. More than effective against both the rush and pass, making him an impact player on all downs.
He is not the most athletic, or close to it, but he is a force to be reckoned with and the top prospect in the ACC going into this season.