As the 2016 NFL Draft comes to a close, even though it’s early, it’s time to look forward to 2017.
The ACC had 26 players drafted in 2016, good for fourth among all conferences, with Clemson leading the way with nine players selected. In the next cycle, look for the loaded Tigers to again carry the flag. The top overall pick of the draft could be Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, but there are plenty of other players worthy of mention.
Power Five Conference 2017 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch
ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC I Notre Dame
Here is an early projection for the top 25 prospects from the ACC, listed alphabetically.
Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh (Sr., 6-6, 300)
An All-ACC performer at left tackle, Bisnowaty was one of the top draft-eligible players to stay in school and figures to be a hot commodity this time next year.
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia (Jr., 6-2, 205)
One of the bright spots for a struggling Virginia program, Blanding should be one of the first safeties off the board. A first-team All-ACC selection, Blanding made 115 tackles as a sophomore.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State (Jr., 5-11, 206)
The running back class as a whole is outstanding, but along with LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Cook is right up near the top. The speedster became the Seminoles’ all-time single-season rushing leader as sophomore with 1,691 yards.
Ken Ekanem, DE, Virginia Tech (Sr., 6-3, 255)
Can find a home somewhere either at defensive end or as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Has started 26 consecutive games and posted totaled 26 tackles for a loss with 14 sacks over the last two seasons.
Brandon Facyson, CB, Virginia Tech (Jr., 6-2, 191)
Will have to answer some injury questions, as he suffered a broken leg in 2014 and was granted a medical hardship waiver. A third-team All-ACC performer in 2015, he broke up 10 passes opposite Kendall Fuller, who was just drafted in the third round by Washington.
Devonte Fields, OLB, Louisville (Sr., 6-4, 245)
Started his career at TCU before coming to the Cardinals, where he blew up toward the end of the 2015 season. Over the final four games, he collected 8.5 sacks to finish with 11 on the year.
Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech (Jr., 6-2, 190)
A first-team All-ACC selection in 2015, Ford should have another strong year under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Ford had 75 catches for 1,164 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.
Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson (Jr., 6-1, 215)
Gallman could no doubt be overshadowed by the number of top-shelf prospects at the position in the 2017 class, but his production could lure some interest, as he rushed for 1,565 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
Josh Harvey-Clemons, SS/OLB, Louisville (Sr., 6-5, 212)
Hybrid defensive back/linebacker types are gaining more and more value in the NFL, and Harvey-Clemons, a transfer from Georgia, fits that bill. He was a third-team All-ACC performer in 2015.
Jon Heck, OT, North Carolina (Sr., 6-7, 300)
Has started 37 of a possible 39 games for the Tar Heels since his redshirt freshman year. A second-team All-ACC player last year, Heck has been a starter at right tackle during his time at UNC.
Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech (Jr., 6-7, 245)
A high-level performer since his freshman year, Hodges could be one of the top tight ends taken. In his two seasons with the Hokies, Hodges has recorded 85 catches for 1,056 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State (Jr., 6-7, 307)
A first-team All-ACC selection in 2015, Johnson also earned the league’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy given to the best blocker. His potential as a left tackle could have him as one of the first linemen off the board.
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami (Jr., 6-4, 210)
After his true freshman year, many considered Kaaya a potential top overall pick. After some inconsistencies as a sophomore, Kaaya is still seen by many as the second-best QB option behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
Keith Kelsey, ILB, Louisville (Sr., 6-1, 233)
After testing the NFL waters following his junior season, Kelsey decided to return and improve his draft stock. Seen as a strong leader, he collected 107 tackles, 12 for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2015.
Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson (Sr., 6-5, 255)
Along with Hodges, Leggett helps head a strong tight end class in the ACC. Broke out in 2015 as one of Deshaun Watson’s top targets with 40 receptions for 525 yards and eight touchdowns.
Nick Linder, C, Miami (Jr., 6-3, 300)
Prepped at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which has seen its fair share of successful NFL players over the years. Started all 13 games in 2015 and is likely a mid-round selection.
Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State (Jr., 6-1, 303)
A third-team All-ACC selection as a sophomore, Nnadi could come out after his junior season if he builds on his strong 2015 campaign (45 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks).
Caleb Peterson, OG, North Carolina (Sr., 6-5, 300)
A member of one of the top offensive lines in the nation as a junior, Peterson will be part of another strong one in 2016. Seen strictly as an interior lineman, Peterson was a second-team All-ACC performer in 2015.
James Quick, WR, Louisville (Sr., 6-1, 191)
A highly recruited player coming out of high school, Quick has begun to live up to the hype over the last two seasons with 75 receptions for 1,190 yards and eight touchdowns.
Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson (Jr., 5-11, 190)
On a team full of talented pass catchers, Scott set himself apart last season with a team-high 93 receptions and 901 yards to go along with six touchdowns.
Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson (Sr., 6-1, 195)
Possessing good size for the position, Tankersley flirted with coming out a year ago but decided to return. A third-team All-ACC selection, Tankersley had 48 tackles and picked off five passes in 2015.
DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State (Sr., 6-3, 273)
Had a dominant junior season for the Seminoles with 58 tackles, 15.5 for a loss and 10.5 sacks to earn second-team All-ACC honors. Possesses strong leadership qualities and named captain for four games in 2015.
Carlos Watkins, DT, Clemson (Sr., 6-3, 300)
Another in what is becoming a long line of big-time defensive line prospects, Watkins’ name could come off the board fairly early if he builds on his 2015 season that included 34 tackles, 7.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (Jr., 6-2, 205)
After a breakout sophomore campaign as a Heisman finalist, Watson validated the hype with a standout performance in the national championship game against Alabama. Many have Watson projected as the top overall pick.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson (Sr., 6-3, 205)
The Tigers’ leading receiver in 2014 with 57 catches for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns, a fracture in his neck wiped out his 2015 season. Had he not gotten hurt, Williams likely would have been one of the top receivers taken in the 2016 draft.
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.