Lamar Jackson, Dalvin Cook lead PFF's 2016 All-ACC team
Our team of college analysts graded every FBS player on every play in every game, and now it’s time to name the top talent.
The All-American list came out earlier in the week, and now we’re rolling through each conference. Here are our first- and second-team selections for 2016’s All-ACC team.
Quarterback: Lamar Jackson, Louisville
All the way back in spring training, Lamar Jackson’s potential was obvious. None, however, could have predicted he would not only make our All-American team, but also lead the race for the Heisman. In total he amassed an absurd 47 touchdowns this season, also cruising to over 5,000 yards. Jackson was frequently a one-man army, taking games upon himself. Louisville’s offense was only 151st in the nation by our grades, even with Jackson’s insane season accounted for. Although he may still lack a touch of consistency as a passer, Jackson’s physical traits set him apart in almost every game.
Second Team: Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Running back: Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Few backs can decisively alter the outcome of games alone. Cook has been doing that for the last three years. No lead is safe with his incredible breakaway ability. Over the past three seasons, he has amassed 45 touchdowns, 173 broken tackles and an average of 3.8 yards after contact. He has a career-high 79 broken tackles this year. Those numbers don’t even necessarily account for the vision that enables him to rip off big chunks untouched. Cook is one of the finest backs the ACC has seen.
Second Team: James Conner, Pittsburgh
Fullback: Sam Rogers, Virginia Tech
Sam Rogers fits into the traditional fullback mould, but also offers diversity to the Hokies offense. He has seen playing time at tailback, fullback and tight end this year. With the quickness to run routes, and the physicality to punish defenders between the tackles, Rogers offers a matchup problem for defensive coordinators. He ranked second in the nation at the position with 287 receiving yards, adding three touchdowns and six broken tackles. Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente has even used him as a passer on trick plays, with reasonable effectiveness. Oh, and he loves to smash linebackers at the point of attack, ranking second in the nation in the regard in 2016.
Second Team:George Aston, Pittsburgh
Wide Receivers: Mike Williams, Clemson, and Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse
If you like to watch physical receivers bully defensive backs, throw on the ACC and watch two freaks go to work. Mike Williams’ brief hiatus due to injury served only to remind the nation of quite how overpowering he can be. Challenging him at the catch point on vertical routes is almost impossible. He’ll happily take the ball on a slant over the middle alternatively, and decimate defensive backs after the catch (19 broken tackles this year). Much the same can be said of Etta-Tawo, who relishes the opportunity to play against press-man coverage. Little is complicated about Syracuse’s offense, stopping Etta-Tawo on a go route, though, is quite a different matter.
Second Team: Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech, and Jester Weah, Pittsburgh
Slot: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina
Switzer was the height of efficiency this year, ranking in the top ten in both yards per route run (7.72) and catch rate (78.6 percent) from the slot in 2016. His quick-twitch agility and safe hands (third best drop rate in the nation) are ideal traits for a slot receiver. In total, he managed 91 catches for over 1,000 yards and just three drops, all while battling a hand injury.
Second Team: Cam Philips, Virginia Tech
Tightend: David Njoku, Miami (FL)
Njoku’s lanky, lean frame suits the vertical passing game. He isn’t always the most reliable pass-catching option, but generate more than his fair share of big plays (17.2 yards per reception in 2016). The Hurricanes are happy to line him up tight, to use his speed against linebackers or safeties, or split in the slot to challenge nickelbacks physically. Ultimately, tackling Njoku proved an issue throughout the ACC (13 broken tackles from 38 receptions), earning him a spot on the All-Conference team.
Second Team: Cole Hikutini, Louisville
Offensive Tackles: Roderick Johnson, Florida State, and Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh
At times, Roderick Johnson still has moments that are downright ugly. Between those occasions, though, he will blow your mind with a block or two. His athleticism is evident, and he has the quick feet to match. Overall, he allowed only 13 pressures in 2016, in 438 dropbacks. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Brian O’Neill is raw power. He has excelled in Pittsburgh’s man blocking scheme. Even more impressive, he has given up just two hurries in 334 dropbacks. Quarterbacks would be delighted with this pair of bookends protecting them.
Second Team: Bentley Spain, North Carolina and Eric Smith, Virginia
Offensive Guards: Wyatt Teller, Virginia Tech, and Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh
Nothing is more satisfying than seeing an offensive line impose its will on a defensive front, breaking their spirit one first down at a time. With Wyatt Teller and Dorian Johnson, firing off the ball in a 3-point stance, this team would have no problem adopting that strategy. Teller is a beast in-line, capable of moving nose tackles on both combo blocks and individually. Johnson, meanwhile, is capable of crushing linebackers when he pulls out in front of power schemes. Between them, they have also allowed only 15 combined pressures.
Second Team: Danny Isidora, Miami (FL) and Tyrone Crowder, Clemson
Center: Lucas Crowley, North Carolina
Crowley is required to make tough blocks frequently in the Tar Heels spread run game. Reach blocking is difficult for centers already at a disadvantage having to snap the ball, yet Crowley makes them look effortless. He has perhaps only adequate strength, but makes up for it with athleticism and technique. The downside to that is a potential vulnerability to power moves, yet Crowley allowed only one sack and six hurries this year.
Second Team: Jay Guillermo, Clemson
Edge Defenders: DeMarcus Walker, Florida State, and Ejuan Price, Pittsburgh
Walker’s precise position might be up for debate, but there is no doubting his footballing ability. He is capable of everything. Whether winning with power or speed, blocking kicks or reading screens, Walker does it all. He finished the year with 15 sacks, ten hits and 28 hurries, leading a violent Florida State defensive line. Ejuan Price is also no stranger to quarterbacks writhing on the ground. A pure edge defender, Price runs tackles ragged with his speed and explosion off the edge. He even bettered Walker’s numbers, managing 15 sacks, 12 hits and 35 hurries.
Second Team: Harold Landry, Boston College, and Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
Defensive Interior: Dexter Lawrence, Clemson, and DeAngelo Brown, Louisville
The first freshman on the list, Lawrence has enough good tape to declare now if he was permitted. Thankfully, from Clemson’s perspective, he’ll be around for another couple years at least. Lawrence is an interior rusher of the highest-calibre, generating 43 combined pressures this year. Dirty work also comes naturally to the stud freshman, who clogged running lanes to the tune of 31 stops in 2016. DeAngelo Brown is more limited, but possesses the perfect skill set for an odd-front nose tackle. He managed 22 stops of his own, to go with 24 combined pressures.
Second Team: Derrick Nnadi, Florida State, and Carlos Watkins, Clemson
Linebackers: Stacy Thomas, Louisville, Matt Milano, Boston College, and Airius Moore, North Carolina State
Thomas played in fellow inside linebacker Keith Kelsey’s shadow early in his Cardinals career. Rapidly, though, he has found his wings. Thomas relishes the opportunity to shed blocks, combining physicality with outstanding instincts to find the football flawlessly. He topped the conference in run stop percentage (12.8), ranking 12th in the nation. Although Thomas is at his best on the front foot, he also possesses the athleticism to cover sideline to sideline underneath. The other pair on the list also fit the physical profile required in the ACC. Milano loves to decimate tightends from his strongside spot, while Airius Moore sets the agenda for the Wolfpack defensively.
Second Team: Matt Galambos, Pittsburgh, Andrew Motuapaka, Virginia Tech, and Marquel Lee, Wake Forest
Cornerbacks: Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson, and Jaire Alexander, Louisville
If any doubts lingered over Cordrea Tankersley, they were surely dispelled by his performance in the ACC Championship game. He has great quickness, great ball skills, a great frame and has scheme diversity. There is very little Tankersley can’t do, finishing the year with a QB rating allowed of only 42.2. For much of the year, Jaire Alexander stole the limelight in the conference. He finished the year a little quiet, but still managed to give up only 24 catches from 55 targets for 273 yards with five picks and eight passes defensed.
Second Team: Corn Elder, Miami (FL), and Jack Tocho, North Carolina State
Nickelback: MJ Stewart, North Carolina
Stewart regressed slightly in coverage this season, but still found a way to impact games. Even when isn’t quite up to his usual standard in the passing game, he is always active around the line of scrimmage. Stewart ended up with 17 stops, wrecking a number of other running plays where he didn’t make the tackle. A starter for the Tarheels, Stewart’s positional versatility is a huge key for their defensive scheme.
Second Team: Ryan Carter, Clemson
Safeties: Chuck Clark, Virginia Tech, and Jadar Johnson, Clemson
The top two safeties in the ACC are both specialists. Clark is a strong safety of the highest calibre, looking to set the tone in the box. Johnson, meanwhile, is a ball hawk at centre field. He tied for third in the nation with five interceptions this year, taking his total to nine the past three years. A single high defense should draft Johnson, and let the turnovers follow. Clark, meanwhile, is a violent box defender who relishes the scrap up front. Quite the duo they would make.
Second Team: Josh Jones, North Carolina State, and Chucky Williams, Louisville
Kicker: Nick Weiler, North Carolina
The conference is not blessed with great kickers. North Carolina’s Nick Weiler’s 73.7 percent success rate on 19 kicks is tops.
Second Team: Harrison Butker, Georgia Tech
Punter: Justin Vogel, Miami
Again, punting is not a priority in the ACC. Miami’s Justin Vogel is solid, recording an average net yardage of 40.2.
Second Team: Tom Sheldon, North Carolina
Returner: Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh
Henderson ensures two awards merge into one with his contributions in the return game this season. He earned All-American honors for his game-breaking ability, amassing four touchdowns this year. Henderson also averaged 31.1 yards per kickoff return, and 17.9 per punt. Special teams was a huge weapon for the Panthers, almost entirely because of Henderson’s historic year.
Second Team: TJ Logan, North Carolina (KR) and Braxton Berrios, Miami (PR)
Special Teamer: Zykiesis Cannon, Louisville
The Cardinals are content to allow their starters to play on special teams, and receive a significant field position bonus as a result. Cannon frequently appears, propelled at high speed smashing obstacles to pieces, whilst covering kickoffs and punts. He amassed 15 tackles in 2016, with just one miss.
Second Team: Ronald Walker, Louisville