Will an ACC quarterback go No. 1 overall for the second year in a row?
Trevor Lawrence of Clemson was the top pick in this weekend’s NFL draft and five other ACC players were selected in the opening round. With the 2021 draft now history, it's time to look ahead to next year.
While Clemson will obviously be well represented in next year's draft, the top overall choice in 2022 may be a quarterback from a different ACC program. Also, NFL teams needing offensive line help should be looking to the Atlantic Coast Conference for prospects.
Here are 25 ACC players (in alphabetical order) that could have their names called in roughly 360 days.
Bubba Bolden, S, Miami (Sr., 6-3, 204)
After coming to Miami with much fanfare as a transfer from USC, Bolden made an impact in his second season with the Canes. With a big 2021 season, a first-round selection in next year's draft is not out of the question.
Andrew Booth, CB, Clemson (Jr., 6-0, 195)
Booth may have some consistency issues at times, but the skill set is off the charts. His acrobatic interception against Pittsburgh may have only been topped by his incredible one-handed pick to save a touchdown versus Virginia.
Tyler Davis, DT, Clemson (Jr., 6-2, 300)
A beast in the middle, Davis' biggest issue has been staying on the field. Nagging injuries limited his production this past season but an injury-free 2021 will send him flying up draft boards.
Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State (Jr., 6-4, 320)
Plays primarily tackle, but his frame is probably better suited for guard at the next level. Voted the team's best lineman in 2020, Ekwonu also earned third-team All-ACC honors.
Emeka Emezie, WR, NC State (Sr., 6-3, 212)
Despite already playing four years in Raleigh, Emezie has decided to take advantage of a free 2020 and return for another season with the Wolfpack. A consistent performer during his career, Emezie has a chance to become NC State's career receptions leader.
Joshua Ezeudu, OG, North Carolina (Jr., 6-4, 320)
The Tar Heels had a dominant run game this past season and though running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams were a big reason, so was Ezeudu and the offensive line. A member of the All-ACC third team, Ezeudu will be one of five returning Carolina starters up front.
Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College (Jr., 5-11, 178)
After a solid freshman season in 2019, Flowers burst onto the scene with 56 catches for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns in 11 games last fall. His ability to stretch the field will make him a coveted prospect in the 2022 draft, should he choose to enter.
Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina (Jr., 6-1, 225)
In what may be a soft year for quarterbacks, Howell could be the highest-ranked prospect and therefore could be selected No. 1 overall. He will lose his top two targets in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, but if Howell puts up comparable numbers to 2020 with a new receiving corps, he will not have to wait very long to hear his name called next year.
Nick Jackson, LB, Virginia (Jr., 6-1, 235)
Virginia has had a strong linebacking unit during Bronco Mendenhall's tenure and that should continue with Jackson leading the way in 2021. In his first year as a starter, Jackson paced the Cavs with 102 tackles and was named third-team All-ACC.
Sheridan Jones, CB, Clemson (Jr., 6-0, 185)
Jones was part of the Tigers' cornerback rotation along with Andrew Booth and Derion Kendrick. Now that Kendrick has left the program, Jones will take on an even bigger role. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently listed Jones as one of the top five corner prospects in the 2022 draft.
Phil Jurkovec, QB, Boston College (Jr., 6-5, 226)
The Eagles' signal-caller, due to a redshirt year and the free 2020 season, actually has three years of eligibility remaining. But if he continues to progress the way he did last fall, coupled with a weaker quarterback class in 2022, it is possible that next year could be his last. The NFL is looking for measurables and Jurkovec, with size and mobility, checks a lot of boxes.
D'Eriq King, QB, Miami (Sr., 5-11, 203)
King is smaller than many of his peers and will be competing on the collegiate level for the sixth time in 2021. His age and size could be detriments, but his athletic traits could give him a shot at the next level, especially if he makes a strong return from a torn ACL.
Alec Lindstrom, C, Boston College (Sr., 6-3, 295)
Lindstrom is one of three Eagle offensive linemen on the list and in reality, Zion Johnson could be included too. The brother of former Eagles and current Atlanta Falcons guard Chris Lindstrom, Alec was named first-team All-ACC last fall
Will Mallory, TE, Miami (Sr., 6-5, 245)
Mallory's statistics — 43 career catches for 659 yards and seven touchdowns — don't jump out at anyone. But he is a quality all-around tight end who could see his numbers spike now that Brevin Jordan has moved on to the NFL.
Jordan McFadden, OL, Clemson (Jr., 6-2, 300)
A right tackle in 2020, McFadden could slide over to the left side this season. But at 6-foot-2, his NFL future would appear to be at guard. His versatility could interest many pro teams.
Zion Nelson, OT, Miami (Jr., 6-5, 316)
Frame, check. Athletic ability, check. Experience, check. Nelson has what is needed to be an effective NFL tackle. Most 2022 mock drafts have him in the first round and several have him in the first 10 selections.
Joseph Ngata, WR, Clemson (Jr., 6-3, 220)
With Tee Higgins' departure after the 2019 season and Justyn Ross' injury, Ngata had a huge opportunity in 2020. But his own injuries kept him off the field for much of the season. Still, Ngata is a dynamic athlete that could explode in 2021. The same can be said for Frank Ladson, another junior Clemson receiver that was hampered by injuries this past season.
Ben Petrula, OG, Boston College (Sr., 6-5, 315)
Petrula weighed his NFL options after the season and decided to return to Chestnut Hill for another run. The second-team all-league performer in both 2019 and 2020 has started all 48 games during his four-year career, opening at center, switching to tackle for two seasons, then lining up at guard last fall.
Jaquarii Roberson, WR, Wake Forest (Sr., 6-1, 182)
Sage Surratt declared for the 2020 NFL Draft and Kendall Hinton used up his eligibility following the 2019 season, leaving Wake Forest with a huge hole at wide receiver. Much of that void was filled by Roberson, who went from six catches and 80 yards as a sophomore to 62 receptions and 926 yards as a junior.
Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson (Jr., 6-4, 205)
Following two outstanding seasons, Ross was viewed as a sure-fire first-round pick. But the neck injury that kept him on the sidelines for all of 2020 may have changed some minds. He will be back ready to go this fall and his draft stock will be tied directly to his health.
James Skalski, LB, Clemson (Sr., 6-0, 240)
It seems like Skalski has been at Clemson since the Danny Ford days, but this will be his last year as a Tiger. Not the most fluid linebacker, Skalski could find a role at the next level based on his strength, leadership qualities, and instincts.
Noah Taylor, LB, Virginia (Sr., 6-5, 225)
The rangy Taylor will team with Nick Jackson to give Virginia an exceptional linebacker duo. With 20.5 tackles for lost yardage and 9.5 sacks over his two seasons as a starter, Taylor is an explosive complement to Jackson on the inside.
Xavier Thomas, DE, Clemson (Sr., 6-2, 270)
Everything hasn't gone according to plan for Thomas, one of the top overall recruits in the nation from the class of 2018 who burst on the scene but has yet to fully play up to the hype. But it's his immense talent that has Thomas fully on the radars of NFL scouts who are hoping for a monster season after complications from COVID-19 hindered him throughout 2020.
Tyler Vrabel, OT, Boston College (Jr., 6-5, 305)
The Eagles' left tackle certainly has an NFL pedigree as his father is former Patriots linebacker and current Titans head coach Mike Vrabel. Tyler Vrabel has tackle size, but whether he can project on the left side will determine how high he goes in the 2022 draft.
Payton Wilson, LB, NC State (Jr., 6-4, 235)
The Wolfpack linebacker led the ACC with 108 tackles and his 10.8 stops per game were the most in the nation among those that played at least ten games. As a reward, Wilson received first-team All-ACC accolades.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Sam Howell photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati, courtesy of goheels.com)