1. Tajh Boyd – QB – Clemson
Boyd is not only best player on the conference’s best team, but he is the most important player to their title hopes. The reigning ACC Player of the Year has all the tools you want in your quarterback, and then some.
2. Duke Johnson – RB – Miami
It’s hard to believe that Johnson can be the best back Miami has ever had, but he is indeed that good. The sophomore has the vision of Clinton Portis, the agility of Edgerrin James with the break away speed of Willis McGahee.
3. Sammy Watkins – WR – Clemson
Watkins had a down year in 2012, but is still the conferences most dangerous player. Jack-of-all-trades player who can score anywhere, at any time. Rumors about his nonchalant approach to last season have surfaced, but if his head is back in the game this fall, he could easily be number one on this list.
4. Stefon Diggs – WR – Maryland
If Sammy Watkins is the ACC’s best playmaker, then Stefon Diggs is a close second. The kid can do it all, and often times, was asked to do it all for a stale Maryland offense. Diggs will also be one of the nation’s top return men in 2013.
5. Jeremiah Attaochu – LB – Georgia Tech
Attaochu will get to display this fall why I believe he is the best defensive player in the ACC. Switching from OLB to DE in GT’s new 4-3 base defense won’t slow this guy down. It will just show how good he is as a full-time pass rusher. Violent hitter with a mean streak, he Attaochu has a chance to rank in the country’s top tier in sacks.
6. Lamarcus Joyner – CB – Florida State
In a defense that is oozing with talent, Joyner may be the best of the bunch. The All-ACC safety will move back to cornerback and will reap the benefits of being in his natural position.
7. Christian Jones – LB – Florida State
Like Joyner, Jones is another Seminole that can be counted on to play multiple positions in his defensive unit. He can play all three backer spots in FSU’s 4-3 base defense. Jone is a high energy, high motor tackling machine that gets to the ball carrier in a hurry (and delivers a pretty mighty thump when he arrives).
8. James Hurst – OT – North Carolina
Hurst will carry on the streak of North Carolina linemen-turned-highly regarded prospects going pro, following Jonathan Cooper’s route of last season. The All-American candidate and three-year starter will be counted on to protect Bryn Renner’s blindside and pave the way for the Tar Heel’s potent rushing attack.
9. Tre Boston – S – North Carolina
Boston is truly one of the finest safeties in the country. He can play either cornerback spot or either safety spot. Fittingly, his playmaking ability sometimes makes it seems like there are four Tre Bostons playing at the same time. His range, sure tackling and high football IQ puts him in position all over the field for North Carolina.
10. Antone Exum – CB – Virginia Tech
Exum tore his right ACL playing pickup basketball last winter, so his status for 2013 remains in doubt. When healthy, he is a fantastic cornerback for the Hokies. The two-year starter has a special knack for getting between quarterbacks and their target, breaking up 16 passes in ’12, while picking off five passes.
11. Rashad Greene – WR – Florida State
While the new direction of Florida State’s passing game post EJ Manuel remains to be seen, Greene will be one of the top deep threats in the ACC. Surrounding this guy with other top-end talent makes guarding with single coverage nearly impossible, as he regularly blows by cornerbacks and safeties. Greene’s straight-line speed is second only to Stefon Diggs amongst ACC wideouts.
12. Kareem Martin – DE – North Carolina
North Carolina finished third in the country with over eight tackles for loss per game last season, and much of that can be attributed to Kareem Martin. The senior is the ultimate disruptive force who can slither in the backfield and make plays. His 15.5 TFL led the Tar Heels. He also chipped in four sacks and eight quarterback hurries.
13. James Gayle – DE – Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech ranked second in the ACC in both scoring defense and total defense last year, and after James Gayle turned down the NFL to remain a Hokie for one more season, their chances of repeating that feat are very good. The two-time All-ACC selection does an excellent job at engaging offensive tackles, reading the play and then reacting, a testament to Bud Foster’s coaching. Over the past two years, Gayle has racked up 12 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hurries.
14. Quinshad Davis – WR – North Carolina
Only four other freshmen exceeded Davis’s 61 catches last season. Now that he will be the Tar Heels main target, you can expect to see that number, as well as Davis’ national attention, increase. Davis’ specialty is using his big body to get the ball. Whether he is boxing out defends or outjumping them, Davis can just snatch the ball out of mid air.
15. Vic Beasley – DE – Clemson
Vic Beasley’s game has many similarities to former first round draft pick Bruce Irvin: Undersized, but extremely explosive coming off the edge. At 225 pounds, Beasley doesn’t have the ideal size of your prototypical defensive end, but his sheer athleticism and elite quickness gives him the advantage over most blockers he’ll face in 2013.
16. Timmy Jernigan – NT – Florida State
Timmy Jernigan has flashed his talents over the past two seasons filling in for Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. With the pair of defensive linemen now in the NFL, many believe Jernigan can carry on in the tradition of great Florida State defense tackles now playing a full-time role. Jernigan is as disruptive a nose tackle as there is in America. When he isn’t shedding blockers, he is pushing them into the laps of the quarterback.
17. James Wilder Jr. – RB – Florida State
James Wilder Jr. does have a chance to have a very special season down in Tallahassee. Chris Thompson has graduated, meaning the former blue-chip recruit is now truly the Seminoles feature back. Wilder has all the tools and weapons around him to be one of the best running backs in the country. He is fast, physical and has great instincts. He will battle Duke Johnson all season for the ACC’s best back.
18. Devin Street – WR – Pittsburgh
Devin Street’s 73 catch, 975 yards and five touchdowns from last season become even more impressive when you consider he has been playing with quarterbacks like Tino Sunseri. Despite subpar performances from his signal-callers, Street has been able to put up big numbers. The long and athletic wideout is a silky-smooth route runner, has great hands and should see his statistics improve with better quarterback play.
19. Logan Thomas – QB – Virginia Tech
An abysmal spring game for Thomas is certainly troubling, but so was the rest of a Virginia Tech’s offense that is still in transition to new coordinator Scot Loeffler. If Thomas and his fellow Hokies can make the proper adjustments by fall, Thomas can return to his 2011 form when he accounted for 30 touchdowns and threw only 10 picks.
20. Ross Cockrell – CB – Duke
Ross Cockrell is the one bright spot on an otherwise porous Duke secondary. Cockrell intercepted five passes and had 13 break-ups, making plays even when quarterbacks deliberately threw away from him. He also has a toughness in run support, totaling 71 tackles last season.
21. Aaron Donald – DT – Pittsburgh
Aaron Donald hopes to have as much success in the ACC next season as he did last season in the Big East. Donald’s ability to control at the point of attack helped the Panthers immensely against the run last season. Donald tallied 64 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble en route to being named All-Big East.
22. Eric Ebron – TE – North Carolina
North Carolina’s stud tight end Eric Ebron has the type of versatility, ball skills and body type that will make him a highly-coveted pro prospect. The Tar Heels will line this guy up all over the field trying to set up mismatches and is a menace when he has the ball in his hands. Ebron caught 40 passes last year, 12 of which went for over 20 yards and six of which went for over 30.
23. Dyshawn Davis – LB – Syracuse
All good football teams have players like Dyshawn Davis, guys that just do their jobs with efficiency and little fanfare. His play doesn’t necessarily jump off the screen, but he is always around the ball and making plays for his defense. His instinctive play and knowledge of offenses allows Davis to beat plays to the point of attack and squelch a play before it starts.
24. Bryn Renner – QB – North Carolina
Bryn Renner broke single-season school records for North Carolina last year in touchdowns thrown (28). Armed with some of the conference’s best receivers and tight end, Renner should be poised to break his own record for the second year in the a row. The third-year starter will have to deal with the loss of his three interior linemen, but should thrive in the second year of Larry Fedora’s offense.
25. Kyshoen Jarrett – ROV (S) – Virginia Tech
Kyshoen Jarrett is the ideal ‘Rover’ in Bud Foster’s offense. He can play down in the box as well as he can play in space and cover ground. He reminds me of Matt Elam, the former Florida Gator who was drafted in the first round last season.