When looking at the ACC representation in the 2017 NFL Draft, offense dominated. It started with the two quarterbacks taken in the top half of the first round, North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky and Clemson star Deshaun Watson. Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams and Miami tight end David Njoku were also taken in the first round.
Next year’s draft will be much different. With so many offensive players selected this year, the tables will turn and it will be the ACC defensive players in the spotlight in 2018.
Here’s a list of 25 ACC prospects (in alphabetical order) to keep an eye on for next year's draft.
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville (Jr., 5-11,192)
The Charlotte product blossomed as a sophomore, picking off five passes and earning second-team All-ACC honors.
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia (Sr., 6-2, 215)
The senior has had an extremely productive three seasons in Charlottesville. Pass coverage may be an area of concern on the next level, but Blanding is a sure tackler and will be a coveted strong safety prospect after the 2017 season ends.
Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (Jr., 6-1, 210)
With Mike Williams and Artavis Scott gone, Cain will get his opportunity to shine. The junior is big, fast, can catch, and his off-the-field issues are now a thing of the past.
Geron Christian, OT, Louisville (Jr., 6-6, 318)
Christian certainly has the frame that projects to being a tackle at the next level. The Ocala, Fla., native became more consistent as a sophomore and was an honorable mention All-ACC pick.
Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State (Sr., 6-4, 275)
Chubb was very good as a sophomore and then made a big jump forward last fall with 22 tackles for lost yardage and 10.5 sacks. Players his size with that production in a league like the ACC have a lot of value.
Duke Ejiofor, DE, Wake Forest (Sr., 6-4, 270)
Along with linebacker Marquel Lee, Ejiofor was the leader of a solid Wake Forest defense in 2016. Now, with Lee off to the NFL (taken in the fifth round by Oakland), Ejiofor is the unquestioned leader after piling up 17 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks for the Demon Deacons last fall.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech (Jr., 6-5, 236)
Edmunds will team with Andrew Motuapuaka to give the Hokies one of the best linebacker combos in the country. A very athletic player, Edmunds led the team with 18.5 tackles for lost yardage last season.
James Hearns, LB, Louisville (Sr., 6-3, 249)
Along with teammate Drew Bailey, Hearns gives the Cardinals two imposing figures in the front seven. He led the team with eight sacks in 2016 and will be asked to do even more due to the losses of linebackers Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields.
Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh (Jr., 5-8, 190)
Size is a question mark and he has to improve as a true pass-catching threat. But Henderson can beat you as a receiver, runner and kick returner.
Ro’Derrick Hoskins, LB, Florida State (Sr., 6-2, 240)
After battling injuries during much of his time at Florida State, Hoskins put things together in 2016, starting every game and finishing with 53 tackles.
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson (Jr., 6-5, 295)
Hyatt was inserted at left tackle the moment he stepped on campus. Since then, Clemson has been to two national championship games, winning one, and Hyatt protected the blind side of the program’s most valuable commodity, quarterback Deshaun Watson. I’d say he has been a success.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (Jr., 6-3, 200)
The Heisman Trophy winner is not your prototypical NFL quarterback. But the position is changing and no one is as electric on the collegiate level. One thing in Jackson’s favor is that he possesses decent size for the position.
Derwin James, S, Florida State (Jr., 6-3, 211)
James was sidelined much of last season. But now healthy, head coach Jimbo Fisher will use him in many different ways, similar to how he used 2016 first-round pick Jalen Ramsey.
Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia (Sr., 6-2, 240)
NFL scouts would probably like Kiser to be a little bigger, but you can’t argue with his production. The Cavaliers’ anchor led the ACC in tackles last season with 134, after finishing third in that department in 2015.
Harold Landry, DE, Boston College (Sr., 6-3, 250)
Whether NFL teams want him to put his hand on the ground or stand up, he will be asked to do what he’s done at Boston College: sack the quarterback, something he did 16.5 times last fall.
Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State (Jr., 6-2, 198)
In his first year as a starter, McFadden was a first-team All-ACC selection. His inclusion on that team was due in large part to his nation leading eight interceptions.
Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State (Sr., 6-1, 312)
There was speculation that the big interior lineman was going to come out this year. But Nnadi will return to lead what should be a stellar Seminoles defense.
Brian O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh (Jr., 6-6, 300)
O’Neill was named third team All-ACC and with Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson off to the NFL, it will be his offensive line in 2017. The Wilmington, Del., product has size that NFL scouts like.
Jaylen Samuels, TE, NC State (Sr., 5-11, 223)
At 5-foot-11, it’s doubtful that Samuels is a true tight end in the NFL. But he has caught 120 balls in the past two seasons and may have a role as an H-Back at the next level.
Kentavius Street, DT, NC State (Sr., 6-2, 282)
Street is a versatile player that can play inside or outside, though his size may make him a tweener in the NFL. Playing mostly at defensive end in 2016, Street registered 5.5 sacks.
Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State (Jr., 6-5, 250)
With consensus All-American DeMarcus Walker now off to the NFL, Sweat and Derrick Nnadi could emerge as one of the most fearsome pass-rushing combos in the country. Last season, Sweat finished second on the team in tackles for a loss (11.5) and third in sacks (7.0).
Chad Thomas, DE, Miami (Sr., 6-6, 275)
For Thomas, it’s more about potential than what he has actually accomplished at Miami. It’s not that 37 tackles, 11 tackles for lost yardage and 4.5 sacks represent bad production. But his size and athleticism make him someone that could go high in the draft.
Mark Walton, RB, Miami (Jr., 5-9, 205)
Walton started out by splitting action with Joseph Yearby, but in time he saw the majority of carries. Walton had 1,117 rushing yards last year and with Yearby and quarterback Brad Kaaya now gone, he will be the Hurricanes’ prime offensive weapon.
Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh (Jr., 5-11, 190)
Due to injury, Whitehead missed four games in 2016 and was limited in a few others. But he still finished fifth on the team in tackles and if healthy he will provide versatility that head coach Pat Narduzzi loves.
Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson (Jr., 6-4, 310)
He has played a lot of defensive end for Clemson, but his size dictates that he will be a tackle in the NFL. With his stature and tenacity, there is little doubt that Wilkins will be an impact player on the next level.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.