7 best NFL draft prospects from the ACC
With the 2015 NFL season officially over, everyone is shifting their attention to the 2016 NFL draft and we continue our series of collecting the top prospects by conferences. In this edition we look at the ACC — although the conference relatively lacks offensive talent, there are plenty of stars on the defensive side of the ball. As a reminder, these prospects are in no particular order, and the conferences will be re-evaluated as we continue our draft study.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh wide receiver is the only offensive player making our list of the top prospects from the ACC; however, it would still be a mild surprise if he heard his name on the first day of the NFL Draft. Even though he failed to reach the 1,000-yard milestone in 2015, he had another strong season as he finished with more than 120 targets for the second straight year. Whilst he has been targeted very frequently, Boyd did not drop many passes as he had only 10 drops on 252 targets over the past two seasons.
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
While Lawson flashed ability in 2014, he built on that and had an even more impressive 2015 season, which was largely due to the fact that he played more than twice as many snaps than in the previous year. He doubled his quarterback hurries with 24 and more than quadrupled the number of sacks (13) and quarterback hits (11) he recorded with all 344 of his pass rush snaps coming from the right side. Lawson took a big step forward in defending the run too, as he missed only one tackle all season compared to the two he missed in 2014.
Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
Although this Clemson edge rusher did not get the same attention as his partner in crime, Dodd was just as disruptive as Lawson. While he was not far behind Lawson in sacks (12) and hits (9) he recorded twice as many quarterback hurries with 48, which were good for second-most in the nation among 4-3 defensive ends. Consequently, one knock on his game has been that he failed to finish plays and take advantage of his hurries, while the 11 tackles he missed will not help his case either.
Sheldon Rankins, DE, Louisville
Rankins has been one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in college football over the past two seasons and will almost certainly be selected in the first round. He has been as disruptive in rushing the passer as you can expect anyone playing the position with the 16 sacks, 14 hits and 53 hurries he recorded over the past two years. However, while he recorded the second-most run stops at his position, his work against the run was not as impressive as in 2014. In addition, he lost momentum in the last month of the season as he recorded a grade above +1.0 in only one of his last six games while he graded out above +2.0 in all of the first seven games of the 2015 campaign.
Steven Daniels, LB, Boston College
Despite being the anchor of a stout defense at Boston College, Daniels is one of the most underrated prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was not only the best linebacker in the ACC, but he also received the highest grade among all college linebackers, which is largely due to his work in defending the run. His run stop percentage of 15.3% led all Power-5 inside linebackers and 50 of his 56 tackles in the running game were stops, which is a very impressive number. Although, he improved in pass coverage in the 2015 season and allowed only one touchdown in coverage; it is still to be seen whether he can be a three-down linebacker in the NFL, which will probably impact his draft position.
Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State
Most experts agree that Ramsey will be the first cornerback off the board and will probably be selected in the Top 5. The Seminole followed up a very good 2014 season at safety with an equally impressive 2015 season at cornerback. Ramsey was our second-highest graded cornerback behind Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis and was rarely beat deep as the completions he allowed averaged 8.5 yards, which was tied for the 11th lowest figure in the nation. Consequently, the 0.67 yards he allowed per coverage snap was also among the Top 10 for cornerbacks. Besides his coverage skills, Ramsey took a large step forward in 2015 in defending the run as he finished with the best run defense grade in the nation among cornerbacks and missed only 4 tackles compared to the 11 he missed the previous year. Our Sam Monson took a closer look at Ramsey in his Analysis Notebook the other day.
Jeremy Cash, S, Duke
While his position in the NFL is still debated, Cash seems to be the type of player who will find his way on to the field due to the numerous plays he makes. In college he was the prototypical strong safety as he led safeties in pass rush and run defense grades, but had a negative pass coverage grade. The Duke safety recorded a stop on 8.2% of the run snaps he was on the field, which was second amongst Power-5 safeties. However, he allowed a completion percentage of 70.7% and an (NFL) passer rating of 102.5 to opposing quarterbacks, which will make NFL head coaches scratch their heads when they want to find a place for him on the field.